Putin expands expedited Russian citizenship to all of Ukraine

KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) – As Russian missiles hit a major Ukrainian city, Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded fast-track measures to obtain Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians on Monday, another attempt to bolster Moscow’s influence over war-torn Ukraine.

Until recently, only residents of Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as residents of the Southern Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, large parts of which are now under Russian control, were eligible to apply for the simplified passport procedure.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kloiba said that Putin’s signing of the passport decree, which also applies to the stateless population of Ukraine, was an example of his “predatory lusts”.

“Russia is using the simplified procedure for issuing passports to tighten the noose around the population of the temporarily occupied territories of our state, forcing them to participate in the criminal activities of the occupation departments and the army of Russian aggression,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Between 2019, when the measure was introduced to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, and this year, more than 720,000 people living in the rebel-controlled areas of the two regions – about 18% of the population – obtained Russian passports.

In late May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the fast-track procedure was also offered to residents of the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions.

The transfer of the Russian passport appears to be part of Putin’s political influence strategy, which also included the introduction of the Russian ruble into the occupied territories of Ukraine and could eventually lead to the annexation of more Ukrainian lands into the Russian Federation. Russia already annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

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The Russian president paved the way for such moves even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, writing an article last summer claiming that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and trying to downplay Ukraine’s legitimacy as an independent country. There have been reports of Russian authorities confiscating Ukrainian passports to some citizens.

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The passport announcement came hours after Russia bombed Ukraine’s second-largest city on Monday, killing at least six people and wounding 31, prosecutors and local officials said. Russian forces launched three missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in an attack one official described as “absolute terrorism”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the attacks targeted the deployment points of Ukraine’s “nationalist battalions”. The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Senehubov, said on Telegram that the shelling came from several rocket launchers, and that the wounded and those treated in the hospital included children aged 4-16.

Only civilian buildings – the shopping center and the homes of the peaceful residents of Kharkiv – were hit by the Russians’ fire. Several shells hit the courtyards of private homes. Garages and cars were also destroyed. Sinihopov wrote that several fires broke out.

Earlier, he said, a missile destroyed a school, another hit an apartment building, and a third landed near warehouses.

“The three (three) were fired exclusively at civilian targets. This is absolute terrorism!” Sinihopov said.

Alexander Beresulin, a resident of Kharkiv, said the attacks came without warning, with an explosion so violent that he lost consciousness. Neighbors carried him downstairs, where he regained consciousness.

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“I was sitting and talking to my wife,” he said. “I didn’t understand what happened.”

The strikes came two days after a Russian missile attack It hit apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine. The death toll from the attack on Chasiv Yar town rose to 31 on Monday. Emergency officials said nine people were rescued from the rubble, but more are believed to be still trapped.

The attack, which occurred late on Saturday, destroyed three buildings in a residential neighborhood mostly used by factory workers. On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry insisted that Chasev Yar’s target “was a Ukrainian regional defense brigade, and that” more than 300 nationalists were killed.” The city is also the birthplace of Ukraine’s president.

Russian attacks continued in eastern Ukraine, with Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Hayday saying on Monday that Russian forces had carried out five missile strikes and four bombing rounds, hitting settlements on the border with the Donetsk region.

Luhansk and Donetsk regions make up the eastern industrial heartland of Ukraine known as Donbas, where separatist rebels have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014. Earlier this month, Russia captured the last major stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lyschansk.

Monday also:

// Liberation //: – The main Russian natural gas pipeline to Germany began to be closed for 10 days for maintenance, adding to European concerns that Moscow may not re-flow again after it is completed. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany and is the main source of Russian gas. The onward gas is usually sent to other countries as well. Work is scheduled to stop until July 21. German officials are skeptical of Russia’s intentions, especially after Russian energy giant Gazprom last month cut gas flow through Nord Stream 1 by 60%. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Monday, “There is no doubt that Russia will try not only to restrict as much as possible, but to completely stop gas supplies to Europe at the most acute moment. This is what we need to prepare for now, this is what is being provoked now.” “.

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Western countries pledged more support and military supplies to Ukraine. In Kyiv, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that his country would provide self-propelled howitzers and shells. Rutte also pledged financial support to Ukrainian teachers, doctors and pensioners. Zelensky said he spoke with Rutte about the potential role of the Netherlands in rebuilding Ukraine.

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Jovana Jake in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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