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On October 18, a Law that clearly defined the procedure for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine must have come into force. In fact, this has not happened. Still-existing legal gap is a real problem for the people with whom specialists of the Right to Protection CF work every day. Ms. Larysa (name changed) is one of those who received legal help from our lawyers. Her story is the evidence of the urgent need to introduce an adequate procedure for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine.

Larysa lost her passport as the USSR was dissolving. Consequently, she spent nearly 30 years on the verge of statelessness, and she passed her own legal non-existence on to her own four children. Her eldest son has also passed the status on to his own two children. Statelessness is generational. 

Larysa was born in a village called Kolomiya in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, but when she was young she frequently travelled around the Soviet Union because her father was in the military and he was assigned to posts across several Soviet Republics. Larysa grew up all over the USSR, but in 1987 she returned home to Ukraine, she got married, and she moved to a small town called Borodyanka in Kyiv oblast. 

In 1990, not long before the formation of an independent Ukraine, Larysa lost her passport. She made several attempts to replace it, but at that time she was met with the chaos of the collapsing Soviet system. The turbulence of that moment mixed with the already burdensome and convoluted process involved in getting a replacement passport, and so Larysa was confronted with a never-ending bureaucratic process that gave her an interminable list of things to do and documents to provide. 

At one point, she even had to contact the Estonian authorities to get proof of her prior residence there. Nevertheless, and despite her Ukrainian birth certificate and Ukrainian marriage certificate, Larysa’s attempts were rebuffed, and it was determined that she had insufficient proof of her residence in Ukraine at the time of the birth of the new nation in 1991. Interestingly enough, Larysa’s mother, who lived in Estonia at the time, managed to replace her own Soviet passport with a new, Ukrainian one. This, ultimately, served no aid in helping Larysa’s cause, however. 

For decades, Larysa was stateless. As a result of her legal nonexistence, her challenges multiplied. She couldn’t legally work because a passport is a necessary condition of employment; she couldn’t get government assistance because she was legally non-existent; she couldn’t get a bank account, and she couldn’t legally rent or own property. Slowly, step by step, she was removed from existence; without a passport or documentation, living a normal life was not possible. This condition of legal nonexistence was also passed on to her children, and then onto their children, and after a while, the whole family had legally disappeared everywhere. 

It wasn’t until 2018, nearly 30 years after becoming stateless, that Larysa learned about the legal services of Right to Protection. She was told about the services for stateless persons by a friend, a former stateless woman from Armenia, who had recently received her own passport with the help of R2P’s attorneys. Larysa called R2P’s offices, and she got in touch with Victoriia — the woman who would become her lawyer. 

Victoriia brought Larysa’s case to court where she demonstrated Larysa’s residence in Ukraine in 1991 through her employment certificate in Borodyanka from that time. The court accepted the evidence, and late in 2018, Larysa received her passport for the first time in nearly 30 years. The first thing she did upon getting her passport was travel to Russia to see her father and her sister in Sochi, and to visit the site where her mother had been buried years earlier. Her mother had passed away in Russia, and Larysa had never been able to see the grave. 

Since receiving her passport, Larysa has worked on those of her family too. Three of her children now have their passports, but Larysa’s eldest son, who was born in Tallinn prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, continues to have trouble getting his. He has passed his statelessness on to his own two young children as well, and they are likely to face difficulties proving their citizenship in the future. 

But the overall situation is improving, and Larysa thinks there is hope for her son and her grandchildren. With her official documentation in hand, Larysa is employed as shop assistant, and she is now qualified to receive a pension. Her advice to others who face similar hardships:

“Don’t be afraid and ask for help. The thing is you have to take the first step, and then everything will be okay. But you have to put in the effort…You have to knock on all the doors.” 

Following this link we offer you to read the analytical document on the procedure for recognition as a stateless person in Ukraine, neighboring countries and in throughout the world, prepared by the “Right to Protection” CF, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine (UNHCR Ukraine)