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Russia Threatens Ukrainians Who Refuse Russian Citizenship

Russian Occupation Authorities Depriving Residents of Their Rights

 A newly built apartment block, part of Russia’s efforts to swiftly reconstruct severely damaged Mariupol, occupied by Russia since May 2022, February 15, 2023. © 2023 Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

On April 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing a simplified procedure for issuing Russian passports to residents of Russian-occupied parts of Zaporizka, Khersonska, Donetska, and Luhanska regions of Ukraine. The decree states that Ukrainian citizens or those holding “passports” issued by the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic will be considered foreign nationals if they fail to obtain Russian passports by July 1, 2024. These new rules leave Ukrainian citizens at real risk of being deported from their own homes in violation of international law.

The decree is the next step of the fast-track “passportization” process that Russia put in place for residents of occupied territories of Ukraine since February 2022. Those who hesitate to apply for a Russian passport quickly fall under the scrutiny of the occupation authorities. As in Crimea after the Russian occupation in 2014, they can expect to endure threats and face discrimination, including in accessing medical care or social services.

A Tokmak district resident told me that soldiers came to her house six times. “They asked why we haven’t applied for Russian passports,” she said. They searched her property and took her family members’ phones for a “security check.”

Hanna, originally from Melitopol, said that her relatives, who still live there, have been constantly threatened. “The community leader told them that if they do not take passports, their land will be confiscated and the whole family, including young children, will be deported.”

The occupation authorities hold lists of “unreliable” persons, which includes those who have not registered to receive social payments or have not applied for a passport. They are perceived as likely to oppose the occupation and are subjected to regular checks and other pressure.

For months, Russia has been promoting its reconstruction efforts in the city of Mariupol, which has suffered considerable destruction from the war. Liudmila, whose apartment was badly damaged during fighting in March 2022, said that money and materials for repair works are only given to the owner if they can present a Russian passport.

As an occupying power, Russia is obligated to comply with international humanitarian law. The occupying power does not acquire sovereignty over the occupied territory and must generally respect the laws in force. Civilians in occupied territories retain all the protections provided by international law, and cannot be compelled to renounce their rights. Russia has international legal obligations to ensure that everyone’s rights in occupied territory are protected.

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