New ci­ti­zens

How the sys­tem of grant­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship to for­eign­ers breeds fears and ten­sions that are es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous for a coun­try at war

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

Anal­y­sis from var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tan­cies says that Ukrainian pass­ports have be­come more at­trac­tive. Ukraine ranked 80, i.e. 19 steps up from last year, on the list of 168 coun­tries in the most re­cent an­nual Qual­ity of Na­tion­al­ity In­dex by Hen­ley&Part­ners, a provider of global res­i­dence and cit­i­zen­ship plan­ning ser­vices. The top coun­tries on the list are France, Ger­many and Ice­land, while Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship is in the “high qual­ity” cat­e­gory. There are some ob­vi­ous rea­sons for this im­prove­ment, in­clud­ing visa-free travel for Ukrainian pass­port hold­ers to the Schen­gen Area and many other coun­tries. But the cur­rent po­si­tion is not the best Ukraine has seen in this in­dex — it ranked 74 in 2013. The rea­sons for go­ing down are ob­vi­ous, too: Ukraine has lost a lot in terms of its do­mes­tic se­cu­rity as a re­sult of the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and the war in the East.

Ac­cord­ing to Ukraine’s State Sta­tis­tics Bureau, the num­ber of for­eign­ers ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship has de­clined ever since the war be­gan. In 2014, 7,777 peo­ple got their Ukrainian pass­ports based on their ter­ri­to­rial ori­gin, i.e. Ukrainian ori­gin of their im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers, or Pres­i­den­tial De­crees — these are the two pos­si­ble ways to ob­tain Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship. In 2015, the num­ber dropped to 4,723. It barely changed in 2016 and 2017 with 4,803 and 4,581 re­spec­tively. The num­ber of im­mi­grants reg­is­tered with the State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice of Ukraine, has barely changed too, go­ing slightly up from 252,000 in 2014 to 262,000 in 2017.

By con­trast, the is­sue of ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship has be­come much more vis­i­ble in pub­lic dis­cus­sions. The best known case of a for­eigner ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment was MP Vadym Novyn­skyi. This Rus­sian cit­i­zen re­ceived his Ukrainian pass­port in 2012 “as a per­son with sig­nif­i­cant ac­com­plish­ments on be­half of Ukraine”. The Pres­i­den­tial De­cree by Vik­tor Yanukovych grant­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship to Novyn­skyi did not spec­ify what ex­actly these ac­com­plish­ments were. A year later, Novyn­skyi be­came an MP and re­mains in Par­lia­ment as part of the Op­po­si­tion Bloc to­day. He is a proac­tive pro­moter of the in­ter­ests of the Ukrainian Or­tho­dox Church, Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate in Ukraine.

Af­ter the Maidan, more for­eign­ers have been granted Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship un­der Pres­i­den­tial De­crees. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent ones, Ukrainian pass­ports were given to “in­di­vid­u­als whose Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship is in the in­ter­ests of the State.” For­mer min­is­ters Ai­varas Abro­mav­ičius and Na­talia Jaresko, ex-Chief of Na­tional Po­lice Kha­tia Dekanoidze and her deputy Eka Zgu­ladze, for­mer Head of Odesa Oblast State Ad­min­is­tra­tion Mikheil Saakashvili and Olek­sandr Borovyk, an ex-can­di­date for the Odesa Mayor of­fice, and many more have re­ceived their Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship un­der this for­mula. Many of these peo­ple have al­ready quit their Ukrainian pass­ports. Act­ing Min­is­ter of Health Uliana Suprun is prob­a­bly the only rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this co­hort who re­mains ac­tive in Ukrainian pol­i­tics to this day.

This mas­sive in­volve­ment of for­eign­ers in gov­ern­ment has led to the ap­pear­ance of dou­ble stan­dards in ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship. Oleh Levyt­skiy, lawyer and di­rec­tor of the Ukrainian Helsinki Hu­man Rights Union’s pub­lic as­sis­tance of­fice, says that most av­er­age ap­pli­cants for Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship face non­trans­par­ent bu­reau­cracy of the State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice (SMS). It is the key in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween the ap­pli­cant and the Pres­i­den­tial De­cree that marks the fi­nal­iza­tion of the pro­ce­dure. Ac­cord­ing to Levyt­skiy, the State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice starts the cit­i­zen­ship grant­ing pro­ce­dure by ver­i­fy­ing the ap­pli­cant’s pre­vi­ous doc­u­ments. In most cases, the SMS finds some for­mal flaws. “What they mostly dis­cover is mis­takes made un­der the pre­vi­ous SMS ad­min­is­tra­tions from 7, 10 or 15 years back. As a re­sult, in­stead of ob­tain­ing cit­i­zen­ship, the ap­pli­cants tend to lose even the doc­u­ments they al­ready have,” Oleh ex­plains.

A Ge­or­gian-born ap­pli­cant has re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced this. A res­i­dent of Ukraine since 1994, he had to go through over two years of court pro­ceed­ings against the SMS which the Supreme Court ended in June 2018. Ac­cord­ing to his case files, the Ge­or­gian-born ap­pli­cant re­ceived his im­mi­gra­tion and tem­po­rary res­i­dence per­mits for an un­lim­ited pe­riod 10 years ago. In May 2015, he ap­plied to the SMS to get a Ukrainian pass­port. The SMS can­celled its ear­lier de­ci­sion to is­sue the res­i­dence per­mit to him be­cause the ap­pli­cant had failed to pro­vide the orig­i­nal ver­sion of his Soviet Union pass­port back in the day. The sit­u­a­tion was quite ab­surd: the ap­pli­cant could not sub­mit that pass­port be­cause a Kyiv Depart­ment for Visas and Reg­is­tra­tions, a pre­de­ces­sor of SMS for some func­tions, had lost it in 2000. In turn, the Depart­ment re­ceived it from the po­lice which con­fis­cated the pass­port from the Ge­or­gian-born holder and sent it to the Depart­ment for a check-up.

The Supreme Court sided with the ap­pli­cant and ruled the SMS’ de­ci­sion to an­nul his doc­u­ments il­le­gal. The rea­son: “an in­di­vid­ual with­out cit­i­zen­ship thus ended up on the ter­ri­tory of Ukraine with­out any re­spec­tive doc­u­ments and can­not be ex­pelled to any other state be­cause he has no other cit­i­zen­ship.” In other words, the SMS’ de­ci­sion put the ap­pli­cant out­side the state sys­tem and any guar­an­tees of ba­sic rights.

Levyt­skiy claims that the key prob­lem faced by for­eign­ers in Ukraine is that they can find them­selves with no papers what­so­ever. “I don’t see any prob­lem with the cit­i­zen­ship is­sue. Peo­ple can live with­out it. How­ever, other doc­u­ments are of­ten rec­og­nized il­le­gal for for­mal rea­sons. For ex­am­ple, in­ac­cu­rate trans­la­tion from an ex­otic lan­guage — a client of mine from Ethiopia had a prob­lem

when the of­fi­cials put her name and last name in the wrong lines. She ap­plied for cit­i­zen­ship with those doc­u­ments and ended up with of­fi­cials re­ject­ing both her cit­i­zen­ship re­quest and the ex­ten­sion of her stay in Ukraine,” he ex­plains. Oleh says that the sys­tem Ukraine cur­rently has is ex­tremely non-trans­par­ent.

The of­fi­cials of­fer a dif­fer­ent view. As the su­per­vi­sor of the mi­gra­tion ser­vice, the Min­istry of In­te­rior Af­fairs de­scribes the cur­rent sys­tem as ex­ces­sively trans­par­ent: “We are now do­ing a mas­sive check-up of ear­lier de­ci­sions by judges and come across out­ra­geous prece­dents. We an­nul cit­i­zen­ships is­sued based on such fic­ti­tious de­ci­sions. But this is just a re­sponse. What we need is to plug the loop­hole in leg­is­la­tion com­pre­hen­sively and elim­i­nate op­por­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov told in an in­ter­view in April. Ac­cord­ing to him, all the ap­pli­cants had to do ear­lier was to bring a wit­ness to court who could con­firm their res­i­dence on the ter­ri­tory of Ukraine be­fore the col­lapse of the Soviet Union [this is one of the ba­sic op­tions al­low­ing an ap­pli­cant to ob­tain Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship — Ed.]. The judges made their de­ci­sions with­out due ver­i­fi­ca­tion and fraud­sters used this. The Ukrainian Week has en­quired the In­te­rior Min­istry about the re­sults of the in­spec­tions an­nounced by Avakov. The Min­istry replied that it only mon­i­tored cit­i­zen­ship de­ci­sions is­sued on the ba­sis of ter­ri­to­rial ori­gin un­der in­ter­na­tional sim­pli­fied pro­ce­dure agree­ments with Be­larus, Ta­jik­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan over the five years un­til 2017. There­fore, 2,975 out of 30,000 cases have been in­spected and “in­di­vid­ual vi­o­la­tions” were dis­cov­ered in 1,781. All these vi­o­la­tions re­quire ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Min­istry of­fi­cials re­ported. So it is too early to speak of fi­nal con­clu­sions.

As to the loop­holes in laws that have led to the vi­o­la­tions, the Min­istry of­fi­cials claim that they are quite nom­i­nal. The prob­lems de­scribed above were ac­tu­ally cre­ated by un­scrupu­lous judges, first and fore­most. For ex­am­ple, some is­sued their ter­ri­to­rial ori­gin-based de­ci­sions to peo­ple from coun­tries out­side of the for­mer Soviet Union.

The Min­istry’s pro­posed so­lu­tion is to nar­row down the list of grounds for ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship — they see this as a cam­paign against the threats to Ukraine’s na­tional se­cu­rity. Avakov’s state­ment came at the same time when amend­ments to the law on cit­i­zen­ship were un­der­go­ing an in­tense de­bate. Two weeks later, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko sub­mit­ted the amended cit­i­zen­ship bill to Par­lia­ment. The cur­rent cit­i­zen­ship law dates back to 2001. It has been amended sev­eral times ever since, but not sig­nif­i­cantly. The bill pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Poroshenko would abol­ish the pos­si­bil­ity of ob­tain­ing Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship on the ba­sis of hav­ing lived in its ter­ri­tory be­fore 1991, ban ter­ri­to­rial ori­gin-based cit­i­zen­ship for crim­i­nals and more. Among other things, the bill would solve the is­sue of dou­ble cit­i­zen­ship.

The cur­rent laws nei­ther al­low, nor de facto pro­hibit dou­ble cit­i­zen­ship in Ukraine. There is no le­gal frame­work for es­tab­lish­ing cases of dou­ble cit­i­zen­ship. In other words, the cur­rent laws do not qual­ify a holder of the pass­port of Ukraine and an­other coun­try as a per­son with es­tab­lished dou­ble cit­i­zen­ship.

Poroshenko’s bill is not the first at­tempt to solve this. Ac­cord­ing to the Main Re­search and Ex­pert Depart­ment of the Verkhovna Rada, seven more bills on the topic were be­ing con­sid­ered by Par­lia­ment at the time when Pres­i­dent Poroshenko spon­sored his bill. But this at­tempt has failed, too. Pres­i­dent Poroshenko re­voked his bill in May, pledg­ing to im­prove it as the bill faced crit­i­cism for one of its pro­vi­sion whereby the res­i­dents of Crimea par­tic­i­pat­ing in elec­tions on the oc­cu­pied penin­sula would have their Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship re­voked. The prob­lem was that mech­a­nisms for es­tab­lish­ing who ex­actly par­tic­i­pates in elec­tions in Crimea have not been de­tailed — Ukraine does not rec­og­nize any en­ti­ties of the oc­cu­pa­tional au­thor­i­ties in Crimea, so it can­not rec­og­nize any of their sta­tis­tics as well. The Main Re­search and Ex­pert Depart­ment has crit­i­cized some other pro­vi­sions of the bill, in­clud­ing the one on pre­ven­tion of dou­ble cit­i­zen­ship. An­other source of the prob­lem is cor­rupt bu­reau­crats. There are no widely known ex­am­ples of cor­rup­tion in the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, but a re­cent case of Dina Pi­makhova, ex-Deputy Head of the State Mi­gra­tion Ser­vice, has gained a lot of spot­light. She found her­self in the epi­cen­ter of a clash be­tween dif­fer­ent law en­force­ment agen­cies in the late 2017. It all started with the Se­cu­rity Bureau of Ukraine (SBU) de­tain­ing a NABU agent as he worked un­der­cover try­ing to bribe Pi­makhova. Sub­se­quently, the SBU searched a num­ber of lo­ca­tions used by the NABU staff. NABU claimed that the SBU un­der­mined its mas­sive op­er­a­tion to re­veal cor­rup­tion in mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties. The SBU never pro­vided de­tailed com­men­tary while Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko ac­cused NABU of com­mit­ting vi­o­la­tions dur­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The me­dia fo­cused on the clash be­tween law en­force­ment agen­cies, firs and fore­most, which over­shad­owed the de­tails of Pi­makhova’s case. Ac­cord­ing to NABU, she re­quested a US $30,000 bribe from a for­eign ap­pli­cant to fal­sify his doc­u­ments for a Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tion.

In 2014, 7,777 peo­ple got their Ukrainian pass­ports based on their ter­ri­to­rial ori­gin or Pres­i­den­tial De­crees — these are the two pos­si­ble ways to ob­tain Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship. In 2015, the num­ber dropped to 4,723. It barely changed in 2016 and 2017 with 4,803 and 4,581 re­spec­tively.

She was dis­missed in March but that was not the end of the story. The Con­sol­i­dated Reg­is­ter of Court De­ci­sions con­tains quite a few files on her case. One de­scribes the fol­low­ing episode: Pikhamova al­legedly promised a cit­i­zen of Viet­nam to help him get a tem­po­rary res­i­dence per­mit in Ukraine for a bribe of US $1,800.

When Pi­makhova’s case was al­most forgotten in April, NABU re­ported that an SBU em­ployee was de­tained with a bribe of US $47,500. The de­tained em­ployee was Ma­jor Olek­sandr Kara­mushka, head of the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence sec­tor at the Left Bank Depart­ment of the SBU in Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast. His case re­veals cor­rup­tion at ev­ery level: back in May 2017, SBU coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence no­ti­fied the lo­cal po­lice of a scheme with il­le­gal is­suance of preg­nancy cer­tifi­cates at a di­ag­nos­tic cen­ter in Dniprovsky Dis­trict of Kyiv. The SBU dis­cov­ered 58 fic­ti­tious cer­tifi­cates is­sued over 10 months of 2016. These cer­tifi­cates helped for­eign­ers quickly en­ter into fic­ti­tious mar­riages with Ukrainian ci­ti­zens. Once the mar­riages were recorded of­fi­cially in Ukraine, the for­eign­ers would go back to their home coun­tries and re­ceive D-type visas to re­unite with their fam­i­lies in Ukraine. Ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Ukrainian women charged be­tween US $100 and 1,000 for such ser­vices.

NABU’s op­er­a­tion to un­cover cor­rup­tion in mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties was developing along­side that case. Some for­eign­ers who caught the law en­forcers’ at­ten­tion bribed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to set­tle their cases. These in­cluded ci­ti­zens of Uzbek­istan, Ta­jik­istan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Ge­or­gia and Rus­sia. The me­di­a­tors they chose for brib­ing were NABU’s un­der­cover agents that were at the time work­ing at a agency of­fer­ing ser­vices to stream­line the is­suance of doc­u­ments to for­eign­ers. These agents even­tu­ally got to Kara­mushka who al­legedly pro­posed to set­tle the ap­pli­cants’ cases for US $47,500.

Even the tough­est laws will hardly elim­i­nate cor­rup­tion in Ukraine’s mi­gra­tion sys­tem. What Ukraine needs in­stead is uni­form and clear rules and pun­ish­ment for vi­o­la­tions. There is a short­age of both. None of the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in the cases men­tioned above have been pun­ished so far. Some have just been dis­missed. Mean­while, the for­eign­ers ap­ply­ing for Ukrainian pass­ports start the process by fo­cus­ing on the key un­spo­ken rule of the lo­cal so­ci­ety: you can hardly get any­thing done by the state with­out con­tacts and money.

High qual­ity. The agree­ment on visa-free travel with the EU has strength­ened the course of the Ukrainian pass­port in the world

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