Kyiv avoids granting citizenship to foreign volunteers who fought for Ukraine
Timur Tumgoev, a Russian citizen who sought asylum in Ukraine, was recently extradited by Ukraine to Russia, where he was wanted for fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. This has sparked a number of protests outside the Verkhovna Rada by nationalists and volunteer fighters. Their sole demand is that it be made easier for foreigners to obtain Ukrainian citizenship for fighting on Ukraine’s side in the Donbas. Timur Tumgoev was one such volunteer, who fought for four years in eastern Ukraine to protect the country’s territorial integrity, but was still unable to acquire Ukrainian citizenship.
According to estimates by human rights activists, there are currently thousands of foreigners in Ukraine who fought in the Ukrainian volunteer battalions from the start of the war in the Donbas, and later remained to serve as contractors in the Ukrainian army. The volunteers come from Georgia, Croatia, Norway, Italy, the US, Russia and Belarus. In an address before the Verkhovna Rada in 2014, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised to grant citizenship to foreigners who took part in the combat in eastern Ukraine.
To date only ten such volunteers have received citizenship. “All of these people obtain citizenship the normal way. The only thing is that, if they have served on contract in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they only need three years of uninterrupted residence, and not five like everyone else,” said Inna Herasyuk, a representative of Ukraine’s State Migration Service, as quoted by Deutsche Welle.
However, even this benefit does not apply to the people who enrolled in the volunteer battalions in 2014.
“These people can submit documents to acquire refugee status,” Herasyuk explained. However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN HCR) disagrees, having issued a declaration which stipulates that people with weapons may not be given refugee status.
Boris Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Advocacy Group, asserts that Ukraine has the right to grant refugee status despite the UN HCR’s resolution. He believes that it should be possible to give volunteers some kind of special status, or simply grant them Ukrainian citizenship.
Despite Poroshenko’s promises to deal with the issues, Ukraine has turned a blind eye to it for four years, Zakharov complains. “This is reluctance on the part of the president and the SBU. According to their logic and the government’s logic, all kinds of chancers came here during the armed conflict. At the time, the government’s interests to protect the country’s territorial integrity coincided with these people’s interests, but they don’t coincide now with respect to their legalization,” Zakharov explains.
Zakharov believes that Petro Poroshenko and the Ukrainian security service are yet to determine the potential threat which the former volunteers could pose to them, and how they can be controlled, which is why the problem has not been dealt with. Zakharov himself is of the opinion that a unique approach will be needed for each foreign volunteer who applies for citizenship.