In accordance with the “paper” signed on March 18 by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, on the one hand, and Volodymyr Konstantynov, Serhii Aksionov, and Oleksii Chaly, on the other, citizens of Ukraine and stateless persons (!), who have permanently resided up to this day (the day Crimea joined Russia) on the territory of the annexed peninsula, “automatically” (!) become citizens of the Russian Federation.
Those who do not want a double-headed eagle to nest on their passport’s cover page must notify a passport office about this within thirty days.
Incidentally, it is everybody’s guess what passport offices are meant, whether they have been set up, where they are located, and when they are open.
Meanwhile, experts fear that the only way for the Crimeans to keep the Ukrainian state emblem intact on their passport is… to leave for mainland Ukraine. It is alleged that, due to a legal stalemate (Ukraine does not recognize the document that imposes Russian laws on the Crimean territory), the Ukrainian authorities are unable to guarantee their citizens that they will be safe and their material and civil rights will be observed on the peninsula.
Actually, pensioners and other socially unprotected groups of Crimea’s populations have already seen official Kyiv’s helplessness before the Crimean separatists, when they were not paid their March pension “for technical reasons,” as Ukraine’s Social Policies Minister Liudmyla Denysova put it. “The money was sent to Crimea on March 17, only to come back. Crimea has disconnected the electronic system of payments, and the treasury does not function within the framework of the state of Ukraine. In other words, we are unable to do this,” Denysova said.
As a result, well informed about a likely turmoil on the peninsula, Ukrainians are actively leaving Crimea. In the past day alone, 265 people with their families and belongings left the territory of Crimea, says Oleh Slobodian, a spokesman for the State Border Security Service.
“A friend of mine says some people came into the beauty parlor she owns and told her to donate 15,000 hryvnias in the morning for Crimean Self-Defense and if she refused, she would no longer have the parlor and be in trouble herself,” the Kyiv-based private beautician Oksana Sych says. “So she packed up at night, locked the parlor, and left the place in the morning. She is now in Kyiv but plans to go abroad.” Naturally, our interviewee says, her friend does not even expect to ever restore her business in Simferopol. After all, life is dearer, as is dignity, the “refugee’s” friend concludes.
To tell the truth, far from all the Crimeans can do what the Simferopol beautician did, for they may have a family, children, limited financial resources, etc. And, after all, it really hurts to give your own house, for which you have been working all your lifetime, to the criminals who have unscrupulously broken into your life.
So how can the Crimeans, who will continue to live on the occupied territory as citizens of Ukraine, protect their property, job, and the right of their children to education and what the Kyiv authorities can do to help these people? The answer is in the comments of The Day’s experts.
HOW CAN THE CRIMEANS PRESERVE THEIR PROPERTY, BUSINESSES, AND…MARRIAGE?
“The individuals who reside in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea may not be deprived of property. It is not true that people must reregister and confirm their ownership rights. It is enough to refer to the document on the basis of which one was granted the right of ownership (a sale or gift contract, etc.). It is today a sufficient and lawful instrument to confirm the legality of receiving the right of ownership. Other documents that confirm registration of the right of ownership also remain valid,” says Stanislav Batrin, director of the law firm Lions Litigate. Yet he forgot to explain – remain valid for the courts of which country? And, as his colleagues point out, is a very essential point.
This is why Batrin’s colleagues do not share his optimism at all: there are too many flaws in the Ukrainian law, while the State Register is too slow to react to all this. So they are drawing their own, deplorable, conclusion: owners of real estate in Crimea may well lose it. “There may emerge a temptation to engage the independent republic’s judicial bodies in the ‘optimization’ of property rights and to recognize the right of ownership by a court ruling based on all kinds of ‘proof,’” says Maria Shvets, managing partner of the law company Golden Mean.
“As is known, it is impossible to register a proprietary interest in Crimea now because access to the register has been disconnected. But, formally, Crimea remains a territory of Ukraine which has not terminated its commitments to this region. Therefore, a person who owns real estate in Crimea can register the property right to it at the State Registration Service of Ukraine in Kyiv at his or her request,” Bocharova explains.”
Shvets suggests that owners of Crimean real estate take such a property right protection measure as registering their right of ownership at the State Register of Proprietary Interests. This institution now keeps registered the real estate rights which were obtained after January 1, 2013, or belong to the individuals who have voluntarily registered them at the State Registration Service. The percentage of this kind of registered rights is very small. “In our view, although a registration entry in this register is not compulsory by law (as it was said above, an earlier registration of the property right at the Recorder of Deeds is quite sufficient), this will allow one, if necessary, to get additional proof of the property right and other proprietary interests,” says lawyer Natalia Bocharova.
It is possible today to register rights at the State Register of Proprietary Interests in two ways: via the notary public who certifies a concrete real estate deal or via the State Registration Service at the owner’s request.
“As is known, it is impossible to register a proprietary interest in Crimea now because access to the register has been disconnected. But, formally, Crimea remains a territory of Ukraine which has not terminated its commitments to this region. Therefore, a person who owns real estate in Crimea can register the property right to it at the State Registration Service of Ukraine in Kyiv at his or her request,” Bocharova explains.
There is also another way out – to register rights with a notary public. “To do so, one will have to make some deal about real estate with a friendly person, which would provide for transfer of the property right – for example, to sign a lease contract. This contract can be certified by a notary public, and, before it is certified, the notary performs a primary registration of the property right in the register. This deal can be certified at the place of residence of one of the parties so that the deal can be transferred from Crimea to another region of Ukraine,” Bocharova says, giving a practical piece of advice.
But nobody knows how the situation will unfold after the Russian law has been applied to Crimea. Lawyers say that recognition of the right to the real estate acquired under Ukrainian laws will now solely depend on the “good will” of Russia. They find it possible that Crimea, as a constituent part of the federation, will be invited to independently lay down the rules of right recognition on its territory. And, with due account of the people now wielding power in the unrecognized republic, these rules may surprise all.
In this connection, The Day has asked the State Registration Service to explain in what mode the state body is now functioning on the occupied peninsula and where citizens of Ukraine can apply, after all, in order to protect their property rights. For, taking into account the lawyers’ conclusions, a situation, when any person can knock on a Crimean door and show a slip of paper where it is written that this door and the apartment it leads to belong to him, Citizen X, does not look like “big fantasy” at all.
The State Registration Service, which deals, incidentally, with not only registration of Ukrainian citizens’ real estate rights, but also with governmental registration of legal entities and individual entrepreneurs, legalization of public associations, governmental registration of the print media and news agencies, and governmental registration of the acts of civil status, very quickly responded to our query. Half an hour after we had sent a letter in which we asked: 1) In what mode is the State Registration Service functioning in Crimea today? 2) In what way are the Crimean residents’ real estate rights being registered today? 3) In what way can the citizens of Ukraine, now living in Crimea, protect their real estate proprietary interests from encroachment by unauthorized persons? 4) Who should these people turn to in case problems arise? the official website showed the answer. Here is its text: “The State Registration Service informs you that even under force majeure circumstances the system of governmental registration of real estate rights is capable of fully meeting the interests of Ukrainian citizens. For example, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko has signed an instruction aimed at making it possible to carry out the governmental registration of rights under the current conditions in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. This instruction sets out that, to register the ownership rights with respect to real estate on the territory of Crimea, the owner of this property can apply to the rights registration bodies in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol as well as to the rights registration bodies in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts. In case the real estate owner applies to the rights registration bodies in Sevastopol or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the documents that s/he has submitted for governmental registration will be electronically forwarded to rights registration bodies in other regions of Ukraine. The applicant will be notified by mail about the results of the consideration of his/her application for governmental registration of rights.”
However, we failed to find the decree itself or any information about the office hours of registration bodies on the occupied peninsula. So we turned directly to the Registration Service of the Main Directorate of Justice at the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. We found on the organization’s website a post dated March 13, 2014 (i.e. before the so-called referendum) of the following content: “The department of civil status acts registration of the Registration Service of the Main Directorate of Justice at the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea hereby informs that all civil status registration departments and registration services of territorial directorates of justice in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea work in a routine mode according to the approved work schedule [Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., lunch break: 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. – Author].
For the kind information of the public, all civil status registration departments in Crimea perform their functions in line with the current legislation of Ukraine.” But The Day was told in the reception room of the Main Directorate of Justice at the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea that they could not comment so far on how they would register and protect the rights of Crimeans. They only promised that as soon as something was clear they would explain the situation via the media.
EDUCATION: CRIMEAN STUDENTS WILL BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE STUDIES IN UKRAINIAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
“The situation in various regions of the country is very tense now. Schoolchildren are and perhaps will be missing classes. Therefore, with due account of their interests, the final attestation should be easier, for this will be followed by external independent testing (EIT). We must ease the life of our school leavers who will be applying [to universities],” says Education and Science Minister Serhii KVIT. “As for the rules of admission to higher educational institutions, we will pay special attention to the applicants whose life is associated with Crimea. We do not know what kind of certificates – Ukrainian or Russian – will be issued to Crimean school leavers. Maybe, there will be none at all. We do not know how many Crimeans will choose to apply to Ukrainian universities. We will not allow formalism and casuistry to make applicants lose time.”
Mr. Kvit says that the Ministry for Education and Science has opened a hot line and is in touch with teachers, rectors, and students. “Next week we will hold an enlarged session of the Rectors Council. Crimean universities’ rectors will also be present. We are also preparing a visit of our delegation to Crimea. The situation is very difficult, but the Ukrainian state continues to fulfill its duties: salaries and scholarships are being paid it time. We are planning to hold EIT in Crimea, too. We are not breaking contacts and do not think that Crime has seceded. What is going on now is temporary,” the minister concludes.
Lilia Hrynevych, chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee for Education and Science, says that the committee is receiving a lot of calls from students, their parents, and professors who fear repressions in an unstable situation. “Students wish to continue studies outside Crimea. We guarantee the people who strive to gain Ukrainian education the right to transfer to another educational institution in Ukraine,” Hrynevych notes.
In her words, there is also a different category of students who want to stay behind in Crimea but receive Ukrainian education there. “It is very important for us now to preserve Ukrainian higher educational institutions on the Russian-occupied territory. The Ukrainian state must do its utmost so that teachers could work and students study as close to the place of their residence as possible. It is being decided now how these educational institutions will function,” the parliamentary committee chairperson says.
In her words, the situation with Ukrainian schools in Crimea is also complicated. “Naturally, we want to support all the schools that strive to remain Ukrainian, but there are very few of them. About 90 percent of the Crimean schools use the Russian language as medium of instruction. The Ukrainian state has always guaranteed ethnic minorities the right to receive education in the native language. There are also a lot of Russian speakers who want their children to be educated through Ukrainian. This problem is expected to be solved in the next few days.
“Our state knows that there are Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, who have the right to be furnished with both secondary and higher education. We will try to organize their education in Crimea, but if need be, we will create a possibility for these students to go on studying in other universities of Ukraine,” Ms. Hrynevych explains. She says it is planned to enable all those who have registered to do EIT (more than 15,000 people) to do this at the place of residence. “But we do not know now what attitude the local authorities will take to this kind of measures. For this reason, we are considering a possibility to organize testing in the adjacent regions, particularly, in Kherson oblast,” she says in conclusion.
As for daycare facilities, schools and kindergartens in Lviv oblast have already taken in 96 children who came with their parents for temporary residence from Crimea and Sevastopol, says the education and science department of the Lviv oblast administration.
Our information says that most of the children (40) have been settled in Lviv’s educational institutions, eight in Skoliv district, seven in Horodok district, and other children in other districts of the oblast.
On the whole, as of March 17, Lviv oblast had given refuge to 777 Crimeans, while almost 1,700 people have agreed to come here and receive assistance.
IF A CRIMEAN WANTS TO PRESERVE UKRAINIAN CITIZENSHIP, S/HE SHOULD…”
According to the treaty on the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation, residents of Crimea and Sevastopol automatically become citizens of Russia unless they choose otherwise within a month.
And what about the Crimeans who do not want to live by Russian laws and assume Russian citizenship? Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko is calling upon peninsula residents not to surrender Ukrainian passports and promises those who want to move to mainland Ukraine that the authorities will furnish them with housing and social benefits. “At present, the operational headquarters at the Cabinet of Ministers is taking all the necessary measures. Ukraine has a lot of social sphere facilities, such as boarding houses and health centers, to receive our citizens who wish to leave the flashpoint,” the minister said.
However, Volodymyr Vasylenko, an international affairs lawyer and Meritorious Jurist of Ukraine, does not think that things are that easy. “If the Ukrainians of Crimea do not acquire Russian citizenship, they will be in for trouble. They will be considered foreigners. They will be stripped of the right to vote, to be elected to local and central government bodies, etc. This will also affect their pensions. Russia will not pay pensions to this kind of individuals,” the lawyer says. “They will also be employed in compliance with Russia’s current laws that concern foreigners.”
Incidentally, earlier this year Russia adopted tough laws about job-seekers from the neighboring countries, and this category may also include the people now living in Crimea. To get a job, one must ask for permission from the Federal Migration Service. If you are a high-skilled specialist, you will also have to pay a tax in case you quit the job. And foreigners who have overstayed in Russia for 30 days may be forbidden to enter the country again. Vasylenko does not rule out that non-Russian citizens will be deported from Crimea.
“I was told that 16 Crimean families had come to Kyiv the day before yesterday. They were threatened: either you leave the peninsula or we will kill you. And this harassment of non-Russians will go on,” the professor continues. “But, to leave Crimea fast, one must have housing and work. A civilized way would be as follows: Ukraine and Russia conclude a treaty on the temporary stay of people of this territory so that they have time at least to sell their property. But, since Ukraine does not recognize this annexation, there can be no juridical agreement.”
Majlis Chairman Refat Chubarov said recently that Crimean Tatars should be granted the status of Crimea’s indigenous population. But experts do not think this will change anything. “Everything depends on the Russian authorities: if they meet international human rights standards, they will also observe the rights of Crimean Tatars. But they are being harassed at the moment, they are being evicted and pressured into leaving Crimea,” Vasylenko says. “If these people relocate to mainland Ukraine, they will be full-fledged citizens of Ukraine, not refugees, and the authorities will have to furnish them with housing, work, and social benefits.”
As far as entry to Crimea is concerned, if the peninsula chooses to live by Russian laws, Europeans will have to apply for entry and exit visas, as is required by Russian legislation. But this is not the worst thing, the lawyer believes. In his words, we can regain the peninsula under favorable circumstances. This could be done though the UN International Court. But the case can only be heard with the consent of both sides. Russia is unlikely to give its consent, Vasylenko concludes.
“UKRAINE DOES NOT HAVE A LAW ON FORCED RESETTLERS”
While the state is pondering on how to help the Crimean refugees, the public is taking the situation in their own hands, as it has often done before. Since March 1, there has been an initiative, “House of Friends,” which gathers information on who can offer housing and who need it. At the moment, 170 Ukrainians from various regions have voiced their readiness to help. As of March 19, there were 70 requests from the families that want to leave dangerous areas. According to Oleksandra Nazarova, a coordinator of House of Friends and the project “Without Borders,” they have already managed to help a third of the families to resettle. Incidentally, this applies not only to Crimeans, but also to residents of eastern regions.
As these people come from other regions of their own country, not from abroad, they are not considered refugees. They are forced migrants. But no Ukrainian laws write what rights they have and what the state can guarantee them. “The trouble is that Ukraine does not have a law on this category of the population. There has been no need in this in the 23 years of independence, and no actions have been taken to this effect,” Nazarova says. “This is the main problem because formally, for all the governmental bodies of Ukraine, these people are just citizens of Ukraine. But if some families find themselves in a situation, when all their logic and norms of life are upset, they should be helped to restart living a customary life. In Lviv, the city authorities saw to it that children were admitted without problems to kindergartens and schools. It is so far impossible to do so in Kyiv because, to go to a kindergarten, the child must have a number of documents from a heath care institution. In Crimea, these documents differ in form from those issued in Kyiv. Most of the parents have no time to go round doctors again. And the trouble is that this will continue until the state intervenes to settle this situation.”
“House of Friends” activists suggest forming a governmental advisory board that will include representatives of various ministries and NGOs. The next step is to introduce changes to the laws that govern rendering social services to this category of the population. The municipal authorities should make an account and an analysis of the property on their balance sheet. “It is a good idea to settle people in apartments, but if there are 50,000 forced migrants, as it sometimes forecast, then no one knows what to do,” Nazarova adds. “The state should address this problem and take some steps to solve it, but this does not occur so far. But every day and every hour means new people who need help.”