“I can’t just sit around and wait to be deported to Russia,” laments Maxim Pashchenko. The Russian is married to a Ukrainian and has mostly lived in Ukraine in recent years.
Since February 24, when Russia’s attack on Ukraine began, the Ukrainian Migration Service has stopped accepting documents from Russians. “I can’t extend my residence permit,” he says.
Pashchenko is one of 175,000 Russian citizens who already had a residence permit and remain in Ukraine. Their status is actually governed by the Aliens Act and regulations.
However, since the start of the Russian war of aggression, the Migration Service has stopped issuing extensions. In some cases, the authority even threatens deportation.
Pashchenko confirms that he knows from acquaintances that they have had a corresponding stamp in their passport. He is afraid of that, because in Russia he took part in opposition protests and in Ukraine he is now collecting donations for the Ukrainian army as a volunteer.
Maxim Goschkowski also no longer has a residence permit and is threatened with deportation. He has lived in Ukraine for over ten years, where he has been a volunteer since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan).
His naturalization process has been going on for eight years, but in order to finally receive Ukrainian citizenship, he must first be released from Russian citizenship.
But he could not regulate this: “I should have gone to Russia, but I would have ended up in prison there. I was involved in the protests on the Kiev Maidan, I was active as a volunteer in the Donbass and I rescued the dead from Ilovaisk. There are definitely criminal cases against me in Russia.”
In the early days of the war, news from the Ukrainian authorities gave hope to both Pashchenko and Goshkovsky. It said that foreigners in Ukraine were initially also allowed to “present an expired document”.
Relieved, Goshkovsky began volunteering again, helping to procure protective vests for Ukrainian soldiers. But in May he was unexpectedly stopped at a checkpoint in the Poltava region and taken to the migration service for a check.
Only a few hours later he had the stamp in his passport, according to which he had to emigrate to his country of origin or to a third country. But he stayed in Ukraine and filed a lawsuit against the agency’s decision.
According to the Migration Service, 635 Russian citizens have received such a stamp in their passports in the past six months. Xenia Prokonova, a lawyer specializing in migration law, says the agency’s actions are a kind of defensive reaction to the unexpected war.
But now there is a lack of legal certainty in the relationship between the authority and the foreigners. “Since the beginning of the war, Russian and Belarusian citizens have not been able to count on any decisions or foresee the circumstances that arise when communicating with the migration service,” said the lawyer.
Prokonova has received dozens of requests for legal assistance from citizens of Russia and Belarus. Everyone’s situation is different, but the lawyer notes that it is now almost impossible for people with Russian passports to extend their residence permits or get Ukrainian passports.
She believes that the migration service should better regulate its relationship with Russian citizens instead of ignoring them.
When asked by DW, the agency said it was waiting “until parliament passes a law that regulates how to deal with citizens of the aggressor state”. Until then, the acceptance of applications from citizens of the Russian Federation will be suspended for the time being. According to its own statements, the authority has at the same time submitted a legal regulation for dealing with Russian citizens to the government itself for examination.
Lawyer Volodymyr Shbankov believes that as long as there are no official regulations, the state will turn people into “illegal immigrants”. This poses risks for the country.
“It is logical to register such people for security reasons. They come to the authorities themselves because they need something, and they will go through all the necessary checks and present everything that is required,” Schbankow told DW.
The lawyer adds that the migration service’s current behavior is forcing people into hiding, which harms the country’s security.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told DW that there is no ban on asylum for Russian citizens in Ukraine. The office is not responsible for monitoring other legalization procedures, including extensions of residence permits.
However, it points out that “there are certain problems in accessing the asylum procedure, as there are different practices of the territorial offices of the migration service and some of them cannot work at full capacity due to the security situation in the regions”.
Maxim Pashchenko emphasizes that he would like to have Ukrainian citizenship. If his problem is not solved, then he and his wife would settle in another European country. “Instead of gaining a Ukrainian, Ukraine will then lose a citizen,” said the man.
Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk
Author: Tamara Kiptenko
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The original of this article “How Russians become illegal immigrants in Ukraine” comes from Deutsche Welle.