On a hot August day, I stood in line at the Migration Service of Ukraine. I had just gotten married and needed to change my last name in my passport.
For most Ukrainians, this wouldn’t require significant effort. But I’m registered in Donetsk – a city in eastern Ukraine currently not under Ukrainian government control. When the official looked at my passport and saw my propiska (legal address), she said: “The list of documents for changing passports for Internally Displaced Persons is at the end of the corridor.” Without waiting for me to respond, she shouted “Next!”
It was another reminder to me that, despite being a Ukrainian citizen, I have to follow a different set of rules, which are at times discriminatory. So do the 1.4 million other Ukrainians forced to flee their homes due to the armed conflict with Russia-backed armed groups.
It took a week to gather the documents. It was frustrating.
My 86-year-old grandmother faces a different set of frustrations. She lives in Donetsk and, along with other Ukrainians living in non-government-controlled territories, had to get Internally Displaced Person status to be eligible for her pension. This is one of several discriminatory barriers they face in accessing pensions and other benefits guaranteed by law.
Last year my grandmother broke her leg. Because she couldn’t travel, her pension got cancelled. This was the result of another discriminatory government policy that requires pensioners living in non-government-controlled areas to travel across the “contact line” at least once every 60 days to remain pension-eligible. Four months later, my grandmother recovered enough to travel to government territory, where she had to go through the difficult process of restoring her pension that shouldn’t have been cancelled in the first place. She never received the back payments for the four months her pension was cancelled.
I’m also not allowed to vote in local assembly elections in the district where I’ve been living for several years. So I have no say in choosing the officials who will determine whether a new neighbourhood school will be built or a road near my house repaired.
Every time I have to give my official registration address for government services, I worry that I’ll face additional obstacles accessing them. This shouldn’t happen – not to me, not to any Internally Displaced Person. No older person should have to go through what my grandmother did for her pension. We are citizens of our country and should be treated equally.