Kremlin authorities are reportedly planning to deport all Ukrainians in occupied areas of the country who have not taken Russian citizenship on Jan. 1, declaring them “foreigners” in what experts have said will constitute a “war crime.”
According to Ivan Fedorov, the head of occupied Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainians will need to obtain a Russian residence permit with fingerprints, a migration card, or a Russian passport to stay in the occupied territories beyond this date.
Speaking on TV on Wednesday, Fedorov said: “So just imagine – our residents who are forced to stay in the temporary occupation will wake up on Jan. 1, and the enemy will tell them: ‘You are already foreigners, and you have to leave your home, where you have lived all your life.’”
Fedorov added that Russia was taking the step “to intimidate all our residents who remain in the temporarily occupied territories (TOT) into taking the rashist’s passport.”
Russia has had a policy of forced passportization of Ukrainian citizens in occupied territories since it invaded Ukraine in 2014, a process that has only increased since the start of the full-scale invasion last year.
Authorities in the occupied territories make necessities such as food aid and pensions dependent on possessing a Russian passport, giving many Ukrainians no other option than to receive one.
But it carries its own risks – Russian passport holders can be mobilized into Moscow’s army.
The process also has propaganda value: “The enemy wants to show their herd living in Russia that everyone seems to have gotten passports, and therefore everyone agrees that they have seized our lands,” Fedorov said.
“Secondly, they want to make our residents, who live under occupation, feel like they are part of this government that has seized our territory.”
Mykhailo Savva, an expert at the Center for Civil Liberties, told the Kyiv Post that such actions by Russia are a gross violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Persons in Time of War.
“Article 49 of the Convention prohibits deportation for any reason. Deportation can be recognized as a war crime under the Rome Statute,” Savva said.
There has been no official announcement from the Kremlin about the Jan. 1 deportation date but under current Russian law, Ukrainians in occupied territories can only stay without a Russian passport until July 1.
There is also no word on where exactly Ukrainians could face being deported to.
Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine's military intelligence (HUR), told Kyiv Post: “They are threatening to send them deeper [into Russia], and people are afraid that they will be sent to Siberia.”
Yusov also said Russia uses deportations “for the illegal seizure of property of Ukrainians in the occupied territories.”
He added: “The aggressor country is interested in mobilization resources, labor force and children.”
As previously reported by Kyiv Post, the Ukrainian government has issued advice to those living in occupied territories. Receiving a Russian passport is not viewed as a crime that would cause problems when areas are liberated.
“People have no choice under occupation,” Dmytro Lubinets of the Office of the Ukrainian Ombudsman for Human Rights, said. “For example, they are not allowed to pass through checkpoints if they do not have a so-called ‘passport,’ they are not provided with medical assistance, and pensions are not paid.
“All these actions are aimed at the fact that without a Russian passport, our citizens are doomed to remain without the basic means of subsistence.
“Therefore, the mere fact of obtaining a passport cannot be considered a crime. Ukraine does not recognize forced passporting in temporarily occupied territories and documents issued by the occupying power.”
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