Pensioners queuing in front of a state bank branch in government-controlled Stanitsa Luhanska. March 22, 2018.

© 2018 Tanya Cooper

Ukrainians living in regions controlled by Russian-backed armed groups face many challenges when crossing the line of contact between their homes and Ukrainian-controlled territory. But many have no choice: Half the one million people who cross each month are older people, many of whom do so in order to collect their pensions.

However, Ukraine’s Minister of Social Policy, Andriy Reva, said recently he “[didn’t] feel pity” for those living behind conflict lines in eastern Ukraine, and characterized people still living there as “scum.” He clarified his comments this week, saying they were directed at those who fought against the Ukrainian government, adding he wanted to help those who were mere “hostages of the situation.” But he also misleadingly suggested some Ukrainians “are awaiting a Russian passport and along with it, double pension payments.”

While, the Kremlin recently announced that it would allow Ukrainians living in regions held by Russia-backed armed groups to apply for Russian passports in an expedited process, such applicants do not suddenly become eligible for Russian pensions. Reva’s statement reveals not only his ignorance, but also his lack of sympathy over the challenges faced by Ukrainian pensioners in the east who struggle to access pensions and social benefits.

Since 2016, the Ukraine government has required those living in areas controlled by Russia-backed armed groups to collect pensions in Ukrainian-government controlled areas. But it also forced this category of Ukrainians to register as displaced persons in government-controlled territory in order to be pension-eligible, a discriminatory practice. This, in turn, requires them to register at an address in areas of Ukraine controlled by the government. Authorities conduct house checks to strike people from the rolls if they aren’t found to be consistently living there – a practice Ukraine’s Supreme Court recently struck down. Further, the government requires that they spend no more than 60 days consecutively in areas controlled by Russia-backed armed groups, or risk losing their pension. 

Whatever the Kremlin’s provocative moves, the Ukrainian government should do the right thing and stop requiring pensioners who are Ukrainian citizens to register as displaced people in order to receive pensions.