Anthony Gale is filling in for Andrew today.
Last month, Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the procedure for issuing Russian passports to residents of Russian-occupied parts of Zaporizka, Khersonska, Donetska, and Luhanska regions of Ukraine.
You could be forgiven for mistaking this as some sort of administrative initiative, but the ramifications are startling. Under this new provision, Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territories who fail to obtain a Russian passport before July next year, will be considered foreign nationals in their own country. This means they could be forced from their homes and deported - an egregious violation of international law.
This decree is just the latest in a raft of measures aimed at pressuring Ukrainians in occupied territories to adopt Russian citizenship. As we saw in Crimea following the occupation in 2014, Ukrainians who refuse to assimilate face intimidation, threats and discrimination.
My colleague, Kseniya Kvitka, has been documenting the lengths local “authorities” will go to threaten and cajole Ukrainians. One woman she spoke with, originally from Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine, told how her family were threatened with confiscation of their land if they didn’t become Russian citizens: “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.”
Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. In Mariupol, a city devastated by the conflict, Kvitka heard how funding for reconstruction work is only available to residents who present a Russian passport.
Abusing and intimidating its citizens won’t change simple facts: these territories are Ukrainian and the rights of its people are enshrined in international law.