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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Putin offers incentives to Ukrainians to come to Russia and stay

Refugees from the separatist-held territories of eastern Ukraine seen at a temporary refugee shelter in Taganrog, Russia, Feb. 20, 2022.

By James C. McKinley Jr.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a pair of decrees over the weekend providing Ukrainians with financial benefits and the right to work, widening the Kremlin’s efforts to integrate those now living in Russia and the territory it occupies.

In one decree, the president gave Ukrainian citizens the right to stay and work in Russia without a time limit or special work permit, provided they meet certain requirements, including passing a drug test, state media in Moscow reported.

The other measure establishes a monthly pension of about $170 for people who have been forced to leave Ukraine since Feb. 18, a week before Russia launched its invasion and plunged the region into war. It also provides monthly pensions for disabled people and a one-time payment to pregnant women.

The decrees are the latest in a series of moves by the Kremlin that seem intended to knit the Russia-occupied territories in Ukraine’s east and south closer to Russia. Moscow has been offering Russian passports to Ukrainians in those regions, asking people to use the ruble as currency and rerouting the internet through Russian servers.

Kremlin-appointed local officials in occupied territories are also preparing to hold tightly controlled referendums in which the outcome of the vote is preordained to justify annexing those regions as part of the Russian Federation.

There is no precise estimate of the total number of Ukrainians currently living in Russia and in the 20% of Ukraine’s territory that Russia is now estimated to control. Before Russia’s invasion, millions lived in the parts of eastern and southern Ukraine now occupied by Moscow’s forces, although many have since fled.

From the start of the war, people from Russia-held territories in Ukraine have been moving in large numbers into Russia. Some evacuated willingly, fleeing the chaos and danger of the invasion, but others were deported or compelled to move, Ukrainian officials have said.

Russia has acknowledged that 1.5 million Ukrainians are now in Russia and has asserted that they were evacuated for their own safety.

Ukrainian and American officials, however, have accused Russia of forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of people, including children. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken estimated Russian authorities had “interrogated, detained and forcibly deported” between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, taking them from their homes into Russian territory. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has described the deportations as “one of Russia’s most heinous war crimes.”

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