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Russia begins handing out passports to Ukrainians from conflict zone

Russian passports. (MediaPhoto/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia has begun handing out Russian passports to Ukrainians from separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, a move condemned by Kyiv as “legally void.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to simplify the process for Ukrainian citizens in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions to get Russian citizenship just days after Volodomyr Zelenskiy won the country’s presidential runoff on April 21. The move was slammed in Ukraine and abroad as an attempt to undermine Zelenskiy.

According to Russian state media, more than 60 Ukrainians from Donetsk and Luhansk were reportedly handed Russian passports at a ceremony in Russia’s Rostov region on June 14.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the Russian move won’t “have any legal consequences and won’t be recognized by the Ukrainian side and the world,” a statement quoted by Ukrainian media said.

Ukraine has threatened to revoke the citizenship of those who accept Russian passports through the program.

Earlier this week, the European Union threatened that it would not recognize Russian passports obtained through what it denounced as an illegal method.

Giving Russian citizenship en masse to people in Ukrainian regions “runs counter to the spirit and the objectives” of the cease-fire commitments, the EU said in a statement.

Russia’s Interior Ministry has received 12,000 passport applications under the program in the Rostov region, the state-run TASS news agency reported.

Zelenskiy has mocked the passport offer, telling Ukrainians not to bother since Russian citizenship means “the right to be arrested for peaceful protests,” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections.”

Russia-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian military in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions for the past five years.

Some 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.