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In Kherson, 'pressure' to register Russian babies

STORY: When baby Kateryna was born, her grandmother rushed her to one of the last registry offices in Kherson still giving Ukrainian citizenship.

The country's newest citizen was born that day into one of Ukraine's darkest times.

Russia occupied Kherson, and it was pressuring Ukrainian parents to accept Russian citizenship for their newborns.

According to Kateryna's mother, Nataliia Lukina, this included denying parents access to free baby food and other handouts made necessary by the deprivations of war.

“When we asked for diapers, the Russians said if we came without a Russian birth certificate, they wouldn't give us any. We refused, because we didn’t want to have it re-issued by Russia. Why should we? We said: 'she was born in Ukraine. She is Ukrainian, not Russian'.”

Reuters could not independently corroborate her account.

Russia controlled Kherson for eight months until Ukraine retook it last November.

Later in the occupation, Russia required all newborns to receive Russian citizenship, says Leonid Remyga, chief doctor at the city's only working hospital.

“You see, the Russians conducted such a propaganda campaign, that Russia was here forever. Some people thought they could just wait it out. But then the FSB officers would threaten that if they didn't get Russian documents, they would have problems and could be deported. There were such cases. These cases were not systematic, but they occurred.”

Russia's FSB intelligence service, which helps enforce rules in occupied territories, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ukrainians under occupation often had to navigate sudden and sometimes dangerous changes in rules and requirements.

According to Kherson's registry office, it's unclear how many babies received Russian citizenship, because Russian officials recorded them and Ukrainian registration workers did not cooperate with the occupiers.

Remyga said the number of babies born in the hospital dropped, as many mothers left to give birth in Ukrainian-controlled regions, or abroad.