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Maksym Tymochko (UHHRU): “The issue of collaborationism in Crimea needs to be addressed”

What is there to know about the new Ukrainian Draft Law No. 8297 on dual citizenship? How can Crimeans get Ukrainian documents in the mainland? What kind of help are Crimeans asking for from Ukrainian human rights defenders?

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UHHRU lawyer Maksym Tymochko spoke about these issues with Crimea.Reality radio.

– What problems do Crimeans come to UHHRU lawyers with most often?

– 30-40 Crimeans contact us every day. About 60% of their problems have to do with getting passports, specifically Ukrainian biometric passports, and Ukrainian birth certificates. Last week, when the registration of Draft Law No. 8297 on dual citizenship was announced, up to 50 people would call us with questions about citizenship. The issue of education is also relevant; parents in Crimea want their children to study in Ukrainian universities. We’re getting fewer inquiries regarding PrivatBank, since litigations have already been initiated over the years.

– Why are Crimeans asking lawyers for help with getting Ukrainian documents? Is it a difficult procedure?

– Yes – for an ordinary citizen who lives in Crimea and does not encounter such issues every day. The procedure itself, however, is quite simple, and we have some useful infographics on our website that show where you need to go and what documents to bring along. But, besides this information, we also share a number of tips, little life hacks that help, for instance, with dealing with the State Migration Service. It is important to keep in mind that only those understand the problems related to the occupied Crimea who are constantly working with them, as well as those who actually live in Crimea. Employees of migration services, however, are not as familiar with the subject. This leads to situations when they demand a certificate from Crimeans that would confirm that they are not Russian citizens. Why ask citizens for a certificate on the absence of citizenship that Ukraine does not recognize? Thus, we provide advice to help people overcome such barriers, to ask said employees for a written reply and then appeal against it in court. Therefore, our advice to Crimeans is to call us or send us an email should they encounter any problems. We will help.

– During one of our broadcasts, a radio listener from Crimea asked how to get a Ukrainian passport for a child who has reached the age of majority and has no Ukrainian documents for crossing the border? Please tell us about it.

– In case of underage Ukrainian citizens getting a passport for the first time, the verification procedure is skipped, so they only need to have the original of their Ukrainian birth certificate and the passport of one of their parents when crossing the border. Ukrainian border guards will let them through without a problem. To return, you have to fill out a questionnaire in a body of the State Migration Service to confirm that you have handed documents over to get a passport, and with that questionnaire, border guards will let you through when you will be going back home. This applies to all citizens, even those who are travelling to get their passport: you need that questionnaire to prove that you do not have your Ukrainian passport with you because you have handed it over. A border guard cannot let a person through if he or she claims to be a citizen of Ukraine. You should keep this in mind.

A border guard cannot let a person through if he or she claims to be a citizen of Ukraine

– The PrivatBank’s issue is especially painful for Crimeans and Crimean IDPs. Is it possible to get back a deposit opened before 2014 in the Crimean branch of this bank?
– The situation has changed for the better. Over the past few years, some of our clients managed to recover their money through courts. They are few; they launched their lawsuits in 2015. The situation can be changed only if a person goes to court. Everyone else encounters a number of problems: the bank claims that their deposits have been blocked and the system does not see them. People are given a standard reply that they will only be able to get their money back after Crimea’s de-occupation. Those who want their money back are welcome to contact us, we provide legal assistance free of charge.

– There’s also the issue of social payments for Crimeans – authorities in mainland Ukraine require them to prove they are not getting similar payments in Crimea. Ukrainian government bodies sometimes ask Russia for information about these people. Why are they doing this?

– Obviously, the Pension Fund is doing this to save budget money. Why else draw out the issue of pensions owed Crimeans for months, sometimes even years? Moreover, if the Russian Pension Fund’s reply arrives from Crimea where it is written that you were allegedly receiving a pension there, Ukraine’s Pension Fund will consider such payments legitimate and will not refund your pension for the period it was paid by Russia. This procedure is meant to avoid paying a single penny to those who may have been receiving it in Crimea. However, some of our clients were living in the mainland and never even visited Crimea, being unable to for fear of persecution. And they still received papers from Crimea confirming that they allegedly had been getting a pension there for half a year. Russia’s Pension Fund is obviously profiting from it, stealing from the budget. In its turn, our Pension Fund is withholding payments from people, consequently recognizing everything the occupant does in Crimea. This is trading in our sovereignty.

Our Pension Fund is withholding payments from Crimeans, consequently recognizing everything the occupant does in Crimea. This is trading in our sovereignty

Counting pennies, instead of refusing to accept the decisions of occupation authorities, the Pension Fund keeps in contact with the occupant’s pension fund through Russian government institutions. This is in violation of legislation on the protection of personal data and the right to privacy. Why should people coming from Crimea lose money owed them by their state, which on top of it is sharing their personal information with the country that has taken over their home? The Pension Fund claims it is communicating with Russia, not Crimea. But what difference does it make if letters still end up in the hands of the occupation authorities? This is against the law and should have been stopped long ago. I believe that law enforcement will give it a proper assessment sooner or later.

– The Draft Law No. 8297 on dual citizenship sparked a heated discussion among Crimeans and human rights defenders. In your opinion, why are people finding provisions there that make Crimeans concerned?

– The draft law has made so much noise that we’ll be talking about it for a long time yet. Russia immediately used its ambiguous provisions for propaganda, claiming that “Ukraine will abandon its citizens, depriving them all of citizenship for participating in the elections in Crimea”. The elections that no civilized state recognized as legitimate. Naturally, this caused massive outrage. The discussion is actually a good thing, because the question of what to do with the Crimeans’ Russian passports arose four years ago. And although the bill was developed to address other issues, namely the dual citizenship held by some Ukrainians, it also led to a discussion in the context of Crimeans. To all those contacting me with these questions, I offer my own: “Do we actually recognize such citizenship?” We just need to answer this one question. Because all other debates – who voted in the elections, who’s a collaborator… It all comes down to the question whether we recognize the citizenship granted in Crimea. As soon as we answer it, all the other questions will go away.

Crimeans that were forced to accept a Russian passport and those who were glad to do it are different people

It is unclear what the draft law’s author had in mind. Two weeks passed and the author has still given no comment, even though it is high time to offer some clarification to ease the tensions in society. There’s a lot of cries of “treason” on social networks! Society demands a discussion of these issues. It wants to address the issue collaborationism. You have no idea how many people have written: “Let’s take away the citizenship from these traitors for supporting the invaders!” Very few Ukrainians realize that there are Crimeans that were forced to accept a Russian passport and those who were glad to do it. But these are different people.

As for collaborationism, war crimes and actions that violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, these issues need to be addressed. Ukraine has several legislative initiatives. I believe that people simply have the concepts of collaborationism and citizenship confused. Regarding the bill itself, it requires additional work to eliminate ambiguities.

– But how to decide who should be punished for collaborating with the authorities of the occupying power and who acted under duress? This question has Crimeans very concerned.

One of the requirements of transitional justice is to address the issue of accountability

– For this purpose, several civic initiatives and discussion platforms are being created today. I don’t have a clear formula for you as to who will be called to account. Experts and public authorities are working on the mechanism. It is safe to say that those guilty of violating international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention and those who committed war crimes will not escape justice. This includes colonization, unlawful recruitment of Crimeans into Russian army and property seizures. All this will be documented. But since the issue is a high profile one, it’s being discussed both with experts and the public. We must work on this because it is one of the requirements of transitional justice – to address the issue of accountability. We realize that it is impossible to bring criminal charges against everyone, and not all those working for the occupation authorities pose a serious threat.

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