Under the portrait of Putin, some Ukrainians kiss Russian passports

“I love Russia. Glory to Russia!” said 58-year-old Ihor Chaika, one of the three, after promising to defend the Russian Federation. Another, 92-year-old Oleksandra Safronova, wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m happy. Thank you,” she said after an armed man in a medical mask handed her a Russian passport.

This week’s ceremony in the city of Kherson, which took place under a portrait of President Vladimir Putin and the emblem of Russia, a golden double-headed eagle, is one of many that took place in the Kherson region, in the city of southern Ukraine, in recent weeks.

Officials appointed by Russia say more than 2,300 Russian passports have been handed out and more than 11,000 applications submitted, which Ukraine and the White House say are illegal attempts by Moscow to annex territory it has occupied as part of what they see as an imperialist land grab.

Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” to protect Russian-speakers it says are being persecuted by Ukrainian authorities, which Kyiv denies.

Control of the Kherson region gives Russia a land corridor from its border to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as a canal used to supply Crimea with fresh water. Much of its pre-war population of one million has since fled.

Russian-appointed officials say they are planning a referendum, possibly in September, in which they expect the region to vote to become part of Russia. Ukraine declares that this vote, if it takes place, will be illegitimate. She wants to take back the region by force.

THE SET OF THE EARTH

For now, the Russian flag flies over the main administrative building of Kherson, and a Russian armored truck is parked nearby for security.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said Russia was handing out passports ahead of the referendum “to justify the occupation” so they could claim the region had voluntarily joined Russia, which he said would be completely wrong. .

“We see that the Russian Federation is trying to absorb territories. They are trying to create occupation administrations,” Nikolenko told Reuters.

Demand for Russian passports is very low and “not very (popular) among the local population,” he said, but some elderly people feel compelled to obtain passports to access humanitarian aid.

The Kremlin has repeatedly told reporters during daily conference calls that its forces in Ukraine are liberating, not occupying, and that Ukrainians decide their own future. Obtaining a Russian passport is completely voluntary, say officials working in Russia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian-appointed Kherson administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Nikolenko’s statements.

Nikolenko says Kyiv is unlikely to punish people he says were forced to obtain Russian passports, although the new law could apply to Ukrainians who obtained them to get jobs in Russian-installed administrations.

TREATMENT CENTERS

Applicants for Russian citizenship are processed at a rate of about 300 a day at 11 passport centers across the region, where they line up to turn in their documents, which often include Soviet-era birth certificates, officials say. Applicants are allowed to retain Ukrainian citizenship.

During a visit by Reuters reporters to the passport office last Monday, an armed Russian soldier, dressed head-to-toe in camouflage and with only his eyes visible, ran a metal detector over everyone who entered the center, located on the first floor of a two-story building. commercial building.

outside, elderly people, mostly women, lined up to enter. Posters near the first registration desk proclaimed “Russia is here forever!” and “Into the future together with Russia”.

Sitting on a bench opposite the passport desk, a man who gave only his first name, Pedro, said he had applied for a Russian passport. He said the region was going through a difficult transition period that could last six months, but he was looking forward to the Russian pension.

According to the official data of both countries, the average pension in Russia is higher than in Ukraine.

“Maybe we’ll live long enough to see a good time in life when people smile and sing songs,” Pedro said.

Dozens of people lined up outside the government building on Monday to receive a one-time cash transfer from officials appointed by Russia.

“10,000 rubles ($173) won’t hurt,” says 83-year-old pensioner Svitlana Stepanova, standing in line. Stepanova reported that officials have drawn up lists of people who are entitled to payment. Reuters was unable to determine what criteria must be met to be on such a list. The average monthly pension in Ukraine is about $120, according to the country’s Pension Fund.

Not all residents feel the same attitude from the new rulers of the city.

Stumbled upon a lantern in the center of the city, an improvised call for help.

“My father… has disappeared. Between 8 and 9 a.m. on June 7, they broke into his apartment and took him away with a bag over his head. I am asking everyone to help,” the woman said in a leaflet published by the woman. gave only his name Anna.

Reuters could not immediately determine the details of the case, but officials installed by Russia in the region said some Ukrainians who had tried to thwart Russia’s efforts to root out people it considers dangerous nationalists had been targeted by security forces.

($1 = 57.5250 rubles)

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