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Victoria was under pressure to obtain a Russian passport even though she insisted that she was a “citizen of Ukraine” before leaving the occupied country.
She was advised by soldiers on the street to obtain one because she could not file important paperwork without it and because she had heard of instances where persons who lacked Russian papers were deported as a result of door-to-door checks.
According to experts, Moscow has been gradually enforcing its passports as a means of both undermining Ukrainian identity and justifying its occupation and escalating control.
I didn’t want to do that at all, said Victoria, 43, who spoke to AFP in Ukraine-controlled Zaporizhzhia on the condition that her last name not be used.
However, she gave up when she had to register a car and a house deed—transactions for which Moscow-installed authorities required Russian documentation.
When she escaped eastern Ukraine in January, she had not yet finished obtaining the necessary Russian translations of her Ukrainian marriage and birth papers.
Ukrainians living in the eastern Donbass regions controlled by pro-Moscow separatists and the annexation of Crimea had been granted passports by Russia for years.
beginning the queue at night’
The passport drive has, however, increasingly become more forceful since President Vladimir Putin began his invasion 15 months ago.
Russian-issued documents are necessary for a variety of everyday activities, including receiving government benefits, finding or maintaining employment, and accessing medical care, according to experts and locals who spoke to AFP.
Putin even passed a law in April allowing for the potential deportation of Ukrainians living in occupied territory if they do not obtain a Russian passport by July 1, 2024.
There are lines at the passport offices, said Alyona, 40, who spoke to AFP from occupied Ukraine on the condition that her full name not be used.
“My friends recently went, and at 8 am, there were already 48 people waiting for the passport office to open. In the evening, people begin to queue.
Alyona, a resident of the Donetsk region, claimed she received a passport from pro-Russian separatists in 2020, but it largely lay unused for the following three years.
The shop employee continued, “Now a Russian passport is required everywhere.
It’s hard to estimate exactly how many passports Russia has granted in occupied Ukraine, and it’s even harder to estimate how many of those went to willing receivers.
The number of passports distributed since Putin allegedly grabbed four Ukrainian areas in September was revealed by Moscow in late November at 80,000.
Sergei Gaidai, the governor of the eastern Lugansk area, told AFP that Moscow had attempted to buttress its claim that it invaded Ukraine to defend Russian speakers by using the passports.
For the first few months of the occupation, he did add, passports were more or less optional, but they are now required.
Eliminate Ukrainian identity
Humanitarian organisations have taken a harm-reduction attitude on the subject, arguing that people must be able to survive, and that occasionally having a Russian passport is part of that.
Mykhailo Fomenko, a lawyer with the Donbas SOS relief organisation, stated, “We know that the vast majority of these individuals still received them under the influence of threats, under the influence of violence.”
These passports “will be removed from our lives and forgotten when it’s all over,” he continued.
The fingerprints, pictures, and familial information gathered from applicants will nevertheless be in Russia’s control for a very long time after the documents are issued, which is advantageous for its security apparatus.
The data also acts as a ready-made list for recruiting personnel for Russia’s war effort, which, according to experts, has already occurred.
Despite preventing persons without Russian passports from accessing essential services, there are some activities that can only be done with them.
Russian passports issued in Ukraine’s annexation by Moscow won’t be recognised by the European Union, according to that organisation.
The decision, which also applies to two Georgian territories under Kremlin control, prevents inhabitants of those regions from obtaining visas or entering the Schengen area using Russian travel credentials that were issued to them.
The Lugansk governor Gaidai argued that their usefulness in Russia is likewise in doubt.
We have numerous instances of people who obtained passports in occupied Lugansk, travelled to Russia, and then ran into difficulties, such as when attempting to obtain a mortgage, he said.
Regardless of the passports’ practical ramifications, some supporters view their very issuing as a fundamental assault.
According to Alena Lunova, the advocacy manager for the Ukrainian human rights organisation Zmina, “they want to erase Ukrainian identity.”