One of the tools for the accelerated assimilation of the occupied territories is the voluntary-compulsory passportization of the local population. However, despite the Russian protectorate over the “DPR” and “LPR”, the Kremlin initially did not seek to facilitate the acquisition of Russian citizenship by residents of the occupied part of Donbass. Settlers could apply for a Russian passport only on a general basis, passing all the administrative steps provided for foreigners, including passing an exam for knowledge of the Russian language. Any benefits would lead to a mass exodus of the pro-Russian part of the population from the territory of the "DNR" and "LNR". As a result, the citizens of Ukraine were offered to obtain passports of the "republics" that are not recognized anywhere, including in Russia itself. They were reluctantly taken even by representatives of local authorities. By early 2019, there were only 250,000 “republican passports” for the 3.8 million residents of the Russian-controlled Donbass enclave.
Citizens of Ukraine were offered to obtain passports of "republics" not recognized anywhere, including in Russia itself
The situation changed dramatically in April 2019, when, amid the presidential elections in Ukraine, Putin signed a decree on the simplified granting of Russian citizenship to residents of the “DPR” and “LPR”. At the same time, the preliminary acquisition of “citizenship” of the unrecognized republics still remained a mandatory step for obtaining a Russian passport. The Kremlin sought to force the new president of Ukraine to comply with the Minsk agreements that were beneficial to the Russian Federation, blackmailing them by increasing its presence in the Donbass and the potential annexation of these lands.
As relations with the new Kyiv administration worsened, the benefits for obtaining a Russian passport only expanded. In 2021, the Russian identification number of the Pension Fund - SNILS - began to be intensively imposed on the residents of Donbass. Such an initiative was associated with the involvement of "new citizens" in the Russian elections. SNILS turned out to be necessary for registration in the remote electronic voting system. About half of the holders of Russian passports of the unrecognized republics received these identification numbers for the elections.
Formally, the system of Russian passportization was not of a coercive nature. Among the residents of the "DPR" and "LPR" there was even some excitement about obtaining documents that would allow them to escape from the "gray zone" or claim Russian pensions in the future. However, over time, obtaining a Russian passport (or its ersatz in the form of "Ausweiss" "LNR" or "DNR") has become a mandatory requirement. For example, to work in budgetary organizations, doing business or buying and selling real estate. According to the testimonies of local residents, if during the police check of documents only a Ukrainian passport was available, then its owner could be taken to the police station for “identification” and an educational conversation. Due to pressure on the inhabitants of the region, by the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion, 860 thousand Russian citizens lived there. However, here one can rely only on the opaque data of Russian statistics, which the Duma deputies referred to when voting for the recognition of the "LPR" and "DPR".
After the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the official annexation of Donbass, all these processes accelerated: obtaining Russian documents became a non-alternative requirement. Passportization also unfolded in the new occupied lands - in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. In May 2022, Putin extended the right to simplified citizenship to residents of southern Ukraine, and in July of the same year to all residents of Ukraine, regardless of region. According to the occupation administrations, by March 2023, 134,000 people in the Zaporozhye region (about a third of the inhabitants of its occupied part) and 90,000 in the Kherson region received Russian passports.
After the invasion of Ukraine began, obtaining Russian documents became a non-alternative requirement
In March 2023, Putin approved a simplified procedure for renunciation of Ukrainian citizenship, and in April he legalized the deportation of Ukrainians who refused to accept Russian citizenship and pose a danger to “national security” (the rule will come into force next year).
The Ukrainian government does not recognize Russian passports issued in the occupied territories since 2019. However, Putin's policy puts Kyiv in a difficult position. The Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada for Human Rights Dmitry Lubinets calls on Ukrainians in the occupation to take passports when it comes to survival and personal security. Other officials see such calls as encouragement of collaborationism. Thus, in the future, despite the legal insignificance of the distribution of “simplified citizenship” from the point of view of the laws of Ukraine, this may become a source of problems during the de-occupation of Ukrainian regions.
In the "LNR" and "DNR", according to local "constitutions", the Ukrainian language was recognized as the second state language. However, in fact it was only a propaganda declaration. On the territory of the “republics”, a systematic curtailment of the scope of the Ukrainian language began, including the renaming of urban objects. For example, the central cinema in Luhansk "Ukraine", named so in Soviet times, is now called "Rus".
Similar pogrom changes took place in the education system. Despite the traditional dominance of the Russian language in the large cities of Donbass, until 2014, processes were underway in the region to expand the scope of the Ukrainian language. Thus, in Donetsk at the time of the seizure of power by the separatists in May 2014, there were 750 Ukrainian classes, in which 30% of schoolchildren were educated in the state language. Since 2015, the process of Russification of the school began, teaching was transferred to Russian-style textbooks, and in September 2016, all Ukrainian classes were closed , allegedly due to a lack of people willing to study in them.
In September 2016, all Ukrainian classes were closed, allegedly due to the lack of people willing to study in them.
In 2017, the Ukrainian language was officially removed from the list of compulsory subjects. Library book repositories were subjected to systematic cleaning, from which "Bandera literature" was confiscated. In Lugansk, the Ukrainian-Canadian Cultural Center, founded back in the 1990s at the expense of the Ukrainian diaspora, was destroyed . His unique library was destroyed as a "warehouse for neo-Nazi books."
In March 2020, the "DPR" officially announced the abolition of the status of the Ukrainian language as the state language and the Russification of the education system. The head of the "DPR" Denis Pushilin motivated this decision by the fact that "the use of the Ukrainian language as the state language has not found its practical implementation for the period from May 14, 2014 to the present." In June 2020, a similar decision was made by the “parliament” of the so-called LNR. In August of the same year, the Ukrainian language was excluded from the school curriculum (you can study it optionally).
After the start of full-scale aggression, these processes began to spread to the new occupied territories - from September 1, 2022, all schools were transferred to Russian educational standards. The language norms "DPR" and "LPR" are now used in the captured parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. At the same time, in the occupied territory of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, the authorities declare official bilingualism, in the Kherson region, Crimean Tatar was added to the Russian and Ukrainian languages. However, in practice, as in the Donbas at one time, gradual but systematic Russification is taking place in the occupied south of Ukraine - from September 1, 2023, the compulsory study of the Ukrainian language will be canceled in schools in the occupied part of the Zaporozhye region.
From September 1, 2023, the compulsory study of the Ukrainian language will be canceled in schools in the occupied part of the Zaporozhye region
In July 2022, the Minister of Education of the Russian Federation Sergey Kravtsov announced a massive retraining of teachers from the occupied territories. The Ministry of Education sent 15,000 education workers for “training”. In the meantime, there are not enough “retrained” personnel, teachers from the regions of Russia are being intensively invited to the Donbass. Schools in the occupied regions are also waiting for new textbooks on the history of Russia with a description of the "neo-Nazi coup" in Ukraine and propaganda of the SVO.
An ideological cleansing of libraries is also planned in the occupied territories. “The Law of Ukraine “On Decommunization” has borne its bitter fruits: for 8 years most of the collections of public libraries have been actively replenished with neo-Nazi, pseudo-historical and Russophobic literature, the removal of which requires a legal decision,” complains the director of the Lugansk Republican Universal Scientific Library named after. M. Gorky Natalia Rastorgueva.
Monuments to Ukrainian figures are also systematically destroyed. The Memorial to the Defenders of Ukraine and the monument to Hetman Sahaidachny were dismantled in Mariupol, and the monument to Taras Shevchenko and a memorial plaque to the ideologist of Ukrainian nationalism Dmitry Dontsov (a native of this city) were dismantled in Melitopol. At the same time, the monuments to Lenin demolished during the decommunization period, the old Soviet names of settlements and streets were restored, and new monuments to "socially close" heroes were erected. So, in Melitopol and Donetsk , monuments to the Chekist Pavel Sudoplatov , who was involved in the murders of the leaders of the Ukrainian anti-communist resistance, appeared.
Attempts to force Russification and erasure of the Ukrainian presence in the symbolic space logically fit in with Putin's views on Ukraine as an artificial state. The Kremlin is ready to come to terms with the existence of certain elements of Ukrainian culture in the spirit of ethnographic scenery, just as imitation multinationality is encouraged in Russia itself. Hatred for Ukrainian post-Maidan politics takes on absurd forms, especially in the case of the decommunization of toponymy. So, in Melitopol, the occupation authorities renamed Yaroslav the Wise Street back into Rosa Luxembourg Street, which caused indignation even among Z-patriots.
"Re-education" of children
A separate aspect of Putin's occupation is the desire to erase the Ukrainian identity of children. In the Kherson region, it was announced that all children born after February 24, 2022 will automatically become Russian citizens. In May 2022, Putin signed a decree simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for orphans from Ukraine and the "DPR" and "LPR". International organizations see this as a gross violation of international law. On January 27, 2023, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated : "Granting Russian citizenship to [Ukraine's children] or adopting them is contrary to the fundamental principles of protecting children in situations of war."
In addition to administrative measures and the Russification of education, special measures are also applied to children and adolescents from the occupied territories to change their identity. In its report, the Humanities Research Laboratory (HRL) of the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) describes in detail the system for "re-educating" children from Ukraine. The report mentions a network of 43 institutions, with geography from the annexed Crimea to the Russian Far East, in which about 6,000 children were indoctrinated in 2022-2023:
“At least 32 (78%) of the camps identified by Yale HRL appear to be conducting systematic educational re-education work, exposing children from Ukraine to Russia-centric education in terms of curriculum, cultural, patriotic and/or military education. Many camps formed by the Russian Federation are called “integration programs” and have the obvious goal of integrating children from Ukraine into an environment consistent with the views of the Russian state on national culture, history and society.”
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said that "difficult teenagers" from the Lugansk region were being transported to Chechnya for "military-patriotic education." According to the Ukrainian portal "Children of War", the number of Ukrainian children deported to Russia may be 19.5 thousand. On May 31, 2023, Volodymyr Zelensky announced that only 371 children taken by Russia had been returned to Ukraine.
Mykola Kuleba, head of Save Ukraine, former Children's Ombudsman of Ukraine (2014–2021), points to the consequences of such deportation followed by “re-education”:
“The boys who were in the Donbas in 2014 are now fighting in the Russian army against Ukraine with weapons in their hands and say that they are fighting against the Nazis. Deport, reflash (consciousness), re-educate and further use for their own purposes. Everything is very simple. And over the past hundred years, this strategy has not changed, Lenin did it, Stalin did it, all the leaders of the Soviet Union did it, and Putin is doing it today.
It was these criminal acts that forced the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin and Russian Children's Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova.
The legacy of Russia's totalitarian past
History knows many examples of violent changes in the ethno-cultural image of the population of the occupied territories. In addition to the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, one can also recall the policy of “Sovietization” of the Stalinist regime regarding, for example, Western Ukraine and the Baltic countries, accompanied by repressions against national elites and rebels, mass deportations of the population and the forcible introduction of a new ideology.
Vladimir Putin formulated the basis of the attitude of the current Russian regime towards Ukraine even before the start of a full-scale invasion. In his article on the “Ukrainian issue”, he wrote that Ukraine is an artificial state that appropriated historical Russian lands after the collapse of the USSR. “...modern Ukraine is wholly and completely the brainchild of the Soviet era. We know and remember that to a large extent it was created at the expense of historical Russia. It is enough to compare which lands were reunited with the Russian state in the 17th century and with which territories the Ukrainian SSR left the Soviet Union. Then followed a practical conclusion from the digression: Russia has been robbed and must restore historical justice and return its own, including the population, processed by enemy propaganda.
Later, this basic attitude was "creatively" developed by various interpreters and interpreters of Putin's wisdom, going as far as quite frankly substantiating cultural genocide, erasing the former identity. For example, the state-owned RIA Novosti published an op-ed by a certain “political strategist” Timofei Sergeytsev, who wrote about the collective guilt of Ukrainians who supported the anti-Russian authorities:
“Further denazification of this mass of the population consists in re-education, which is achieved by ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi installations and strict censorship: not only in the political sphere, but also necessarily in the field of culture and education ... The Bandera elite must be liquidated, its re-education is impossible. The social “swamp”, which actively and passively supported it by action and inaction, must survive the hardships of the war and learn the experience as a historical lesson and atonement for its guilt.”
In an interview with The Insider, Russian ethnologist Sergei Abashin, a candidate of historical sciences, notes that Russia is trying to pursue a “hybrid policy” with regard to the occupied territories, combining various approaches:
“Imperial – “these are historically our lands,” Russification – “Ukrainians and Russians are one people” and Sovietization – “the main thing is not ethnicity, but some ideological unity, a common destiny, including victory in the Patriotic War.” The current regime is trying to use all these policies depending on the audience in Russia and Ukraine, some local regional or social conditions.”
Another interlocutor of The Insider, historian and translator from Kharkov Sergey Lunin sees the main task of the occupation regime in blurring the line between the local Russian-speaking Ukrainian population and the Russians themselves:
“A Russian-speaking voter of the Party of Regions (a conventionally typical resident of the occupied lands) is by no means a Russian. I doubt even his pro-Russian sentiments, especially now. There are profound differences: firstly, passive command of the Ukrainian language; secondly, involvement in the all-Ukrainian context, at least at the level of a football team; thirdly, the general history of the last thirty years. As an illustration: I remember that at PR rallies in mainland Ukraine there were always Ukrainian flags - rarely when one came across a Russian one ... Now they want to make sure that people themselves do not take the Ukrainian flag in their hands.