Kyiv, November 13, 2014. “My dream is that Ukraine will become a European America.” A panel of legal experts, politicians, Russian political refugees, and civil servants met at Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kyiv to discuss the issue of Russians seeking asylum in Ukraine because of political oppression in their homeland. Panelists discussed the legal obstacles facing those seeking asylum in Ukraine, the country’s potential as a destination for more asylum-seekers, and the benefits that foreigners can bring to Ukraine.
The panelists were nearly in full agreement that Russian citizens seeking political asylum in Ukraine can bring benefits to the country. Not only has Ukraine become a symbol of freedom and resistance for some Russians and other nationalities, but it can also benefit from new voices and diversity. Some panelists think that Ukraine might see an influx of Russians to the country, especially dissidents and those opposed to the Putin regime. “This is due to the political regime getting stricter and stricter there,” said Yevgeniy Kyselyov, a journalist and Russian national who came to Ukraine seven years ago. “Since when I moved the situation has drastically changed,” he noted. Russian intellectuals, journalists, and others can provide Ukraine with a crucial voice and deepen Ukraine’s cultural vibrancy.
Unfortunately, many Russians and those of other nationality arriving in Ukraine face daunting challenges when it comes to seeking asylum or registering their residency. “I’m stressing that quite a lot here depends on the position of Ukrainian authorities, and Ukrainian society,” said Kyselyov. Other speakers said that there is a need for the simplified procedures to become Ukrainian citizens, especially for those fleeing political oppression at home. One recent Russian asylum-seeker in Ukraine, Andrey Teslenko, expressed his frustrations with Ukrainian bureaucracy and said that he was given a refugee certificate that had already expired. Borys Tarasiuk , a Ukrainian member of parliament, pledged to help make the process easier. “I’m deeply convinced that the Ukrainian state has the duty, that those who disagree with Russian leadership and those who suffer the repression of the Russian authorities because of their position on Ukraine, should be allowed a simplified procedure for citizenship,” he stated. Tarasiuk later noted that he had introduced a draft bill to parliament to simplify the procedure for Russian citizens.
Several panelists echoed the sentiments that the emigration process to Ukraine is still too complicated and bureaucratic, projecting Ukraine’s future as a host for people of all backgrounds. Hennadiy Druzenko, Ukraine’s Government Commissioner for Ethnonational Policy, stated that he would like modern Ukraine to resemble the historical Zaporizhian Sich, which gave sanctuary to people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. “Asylum should be granted on the basis of freedom, dignity and human rights, not ethnicity, religion, or another basis” he said. “My dream is that Ukraine becomes like a European America, where people rely on themselves, not the state, and where they value freedom.”