Ukraine is where Galina was born. She resides in a village south of Vinnytsia, the capital of Ukraine, speaks Ukrainian, and her spouse is in the army there.
Galina, though, is legally a Russian. She migrated there as a child and later obtained citizenship there.
It implies that she is currently in legal limbo, just like hundreds of other Russians living in Ukraine.
“People think you’re something strange when you show your documents,” she says as she works on making T-shirts for injured Ukrainian soldiers in her kitchen.
According to the state migration agency of Ukraine, there is no discrimination based on nationality and all international visitors are accorded equal privileges.
However, some claim that this is untrue. For example, attorneys representing Russians in Ukraine informed the BBC that their clients risk having their accounts frozen.
The National Bank of Ukraine imposed financial services restrictions on all Russian and Belarusian citizens following Russia’s full-scale invasion, claiming that individuals holding a residency permit are unaffected.
Galina isn’t sure. She claims she is unable to find employment due to her passport and worries that her bank account might be frozen.
Despite being seven months pregnant, she is unable to get free state health services due to her illegal Ukrainian status.
Galina is also concerned that she won’t be able to register the birth of her child since, according to her, officials refused to recognize her marriage to Maksym, a Ukrainian, in a church after it was consummated.
According to Galina, “They told me to come back when I have a passport.” “They can’t understand who I am.” Although some people do, joint citizenship is illegal in Ukraine.
She began the application procedure to become a citizen of Ukraine, but due to Russia’s full-scale invasion, she was unable to finish it. Galina claims she feels like a “hostage of Russia” now that her temporary Ukrainian passport has expired.
“Changing passports was difficult even before the war – now it’s impossible,” she claims.
In the heart of Kiev, on Povitroflotskyi Avenue, stands a three-story white structure surrounded by an overgrown garden. The shutters are firmly closed, and a towering fence with barbed wire surrounds it.
They have been since Russian Embassy employees left for “safety reasons” on February 23, last year. What little diplomatic ties remained between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed the day after Moscow began its full-scale assault.
It implies that thousands of people, including Galina, are living in fear in Ukraine.
More than 150,000 Russians currently hold permanent resident permits in Ukraine. About 17,000 of them are transitory.
They must formally renounce their Russian citizenship before they can seek for a passport or Ukrainian citizenship. Moscow exacerbated that process by requiring them to turn in their documents in Russia or at a Russian consulate outside.
There’s no assurance that Galina wouldn’t get detained along the way or become lost outside of Ukraine.
Galina’s eyes light up with agony when her kids get home from school. a worry that she tries to keep hidden from her kids.
However, she declines to accuse Ukraine of prejudice or to hold it responsible.
She places all of the responsibility for her predicament on Russia and her relatives who have opted to back their nation during its alleged “special military operation” in Russia.
“How can I support a robber, a rapist and a murderer who breaks into my home?” she asks.
I ask Galina what would happen to her family if her husband Maksym was killed in action before he ends their video call.
She covers her mouth with her hand. Suddenly, a notion that she had attempted to ignore comes to the forefront of her consciousness.
It scares me a lot, she admits. “Even if he gets wounded, I wouldn’t be able to visit him in hospital, because we’re not technically married.”
“To the rest of the world we’re strangers.”
‘I chose Ukraine’
Friends forewarned Russian Anastasia Leonova that “there were only Nazis there” and that she “wouldn’t be allowed to speak Russian” when she relocated from Moscow to Kyiv in 2015.
She was irritated by the Russian propaganda story since she had relatives and uncles in Ukraine.
After criticizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels online, Anastasia lost her job in Russia and started receiving death threats. As a result, she moved.
Anastasia claims that on February 24, 2018, when Russian forces advanced on Kyiv, her sole idea was to stay and fight.
“I have some Ukrainian ancestry,” she claims. “I was born as a part of Ukraine.”
“I chose Ukraine as my homeland; I could not betray this choice” .
She offered her services to the Ukrainian military as a battlefield medic, helping them repel troops from her own nation as they were defending the capital.
I inquire as to whether her Russian heritage affects how she is regarded.
She smiles and continues, “Nobody was asking for my passport when I was working.”
“For sure, my colleagues know.”
She acknowledges that because of what they were doing, it was first incredibly difficult to treat injured Russians.
However, as time went on, she claims to have realized that helping them was “the way to get our people back, the Ukrainians who were captured by the Russians”.
“Since I came here from my first day, I’ve been dreaming of having a Ukrainian passport,” she explains.
“I am fighting for this.” For my passport as well as for freedom.”
In the eighteen months since the full-scale invasion, only a few hundred Russians have been granted Ukrainian citizenship, compared with 1,700 the previous year.
Anastasia believes she is getting closer to her dream than Galina is. Her military service has probably aided her cause.
When applying for citizenship, factors such as period of residency, marriage to a Ukrainian, and military service are taken into account. The authorities point out that changing one’s identify alone is insufficient to grant one the legal right to remain in Ukraine.
Thousands of Russians, like Galina and Anastasia, are struggling in Ukraine as a result of this war.
According to Natalia Naumenko, the head of Ukraine’s State Migration Service, there is no discrimination based on nationality when it comes to obtaining citizenship.
A new law that would make it easier for individuals fighting for Ukraine to apply for citizenship and residency is now being developed.
However, Ms. Naumenko notes that Russians won’t find the procedure any simpler as a result of the full-scale invasion.
“We have already simplified it for those who are fighting for Ukraine,” she continues.
“Why does Ukraine have to simplify it for all Russians in general?”