Russia Imposes Citizenship on Ukrainians in Occupied Territories

In the midst of the fighting in Eastern Europe, there's a quieter battle happening that's just as serious.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Russia Imposes Citizenship on Ukrainians in Occupied Territories
© Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

In the midst of the fighting in Eastern Europe, there's a quieter battle happening that's just as serious. The Russian government is forcing Ukrainian people in areas it controls to become Russian citizens. This move breaks a lot of international rules and really attacks the heart of what Ukraine is.

By using threats and sometimes violence, Russians are putting Ukrainians in a tough spot where getting a Russian passport feels like the only option to keep their lives somewhat normal.

Living Under the Shadow of Coercion

Vyacheslav Ryabkov had to go through a lot before he gave in and took a Russian passport.

He was beaten up three times by Russian soldiers, with the last time leaving him knocked out and badly hurt. Sadly, his story isn't unique. Many people living in areas of Ukraine that Russia controls are being forced into a corner.

If they don't become Russian citizens, surviving gets really tough. These passports aren't just about keeping track of people. They're also used to make men join the army and fight against their own country. Owning property, getting healthcare, and even receiving pension money all depend on having a Russian passport.

If you say no, the consequences can be really scary, including losing your kids, ending up in jail, or facing even worse. But it's not all threats. The Russian government tries to make the deal sweeter by offering money, help, and other benefits to convince people to accept their citizenship.

Each time someone accepts a Russian passport, it makes it harder for Ukraine to get back its land and its people.

The Legal and Political Quagmire

According to the rules of international law, it's not okay to force people in occupied areas to become citizens of the occupying country.

There are old rules from 1907, called the Hague Regulations, that specifically say you can't make people pledge loyalty to a country that has taken over their land. But what's happening in Ukraine shows us that sometimes, these rules are ignored because of bigger political goals.

This isn't the first time we've seen something like this. Since Crimea was taken over by Russia in 2014, there's been a pattern. Russia has been making it easier for people in occupied parts of Ukraine to get Russian passports and has been punishing those who don't want them.

This is all part of Russia's plan to strengthen its hold on these areas. The problem with forcing people to change their citizenship goes beyond just the immediate harm and feeling of being left out. It's a strategic move to change who lives in these areas and who has power, making it much harder to bring these communities back together or find peace in the future.

Western Kyiv© Getty Images/Chris McGrath

Stories of Resistance and Desperation

In the middle of all this trouble are real people and their families, whose normal lives have been completely turned upside down.

Take Natalia Zhyvohliad for example – she's a mom to nine kids and she's been standing strong against the pressure to make her family take Russian passports. She's scared of losing their Ukrainian roots and worries her sons might be forced to join the army of the country that's trying to take over their home.

Choosing whether to accept or reject this new citizenship is really risky. Saying no could mean losing access to important things like medical care, school, and other basic services. Hospitals and schools are being used to push people into taking Russian passports by making it a condition to receive care or education.

People are being forced to choose between keeping their identity and just trying to survive – and that's a choice no one should ever be faced with.

Weaponizing Healthcare and Education

The way Russian passports control life in the areas they've taken over touches everything.

Even healthcare, which everyone should have the right to, is being used as a way to force people's hands. If you don't have a Russian passport, you might not get the medical help you need, which is really harsh, especially now when so many people are hurting.

And it's not just health care. Kids are being sent to schools that make them forget who they are and where they come from, teaching them things that make the invaders look good instead. The story of Alexander Dudka, who Russia put in charge of Lazurne village, really shows how mean this whole situation is.

He's actually threatening to cut off medical help and other kinds of support to people who don't have Russian passports. It's a clear sign of how they're using basic needs—things we all need to live—as a way to keep control over the area and its people.

The Bureaucratic and Psychological Battle

The whole situation with Russia forcing its citizenship on Ukrainians isn't just about filling out a ton of paperwork; it's a deep, mental struggle too. People are trying to make sense of a bunch of complicated rules, all while Russia tightens its grip.

Lawyers and folks who want to help, both in Ukraine and other places, are working super hard to offer some support and guidance through this mess, helping people hold onto who they are and fight for their rights. For everyone watching from around the world, these stories really hit hard.

They show us the real, painful side of what happens when countries clash. It's a big wake-up call that we need to do something, whether it's talking it out, using international laws, or sending aid. The courage of people like Natalia Zhyvohliad, and the tireless work of those trying to help, really show how strong and unbreakable the spirit of the Ukrainian folks is, even when things look pretty grim.

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