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Latvian court orders asylum for Russian who fought for Ukraine

by Martin Fornusek January 3, 2024 9:10 AM 3 min read
The flag of Latvia (Gints Ivuskans/AFP via Getty Images)
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An administrative district court in Latvia ordered to grant asylum to a Russian citizen who fought for Ukraine in 2014, the Delfi news outlet reported on Jan. 2.

A number of Russian citizens have sought asylum in the Baltic country on the grounds that they oppose Moscow's war against Ukraine.

The man applied for refugee status or alternative status in Latvia in 2022, but the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs denied his request in August, Delfi wrote.

The Russian citizen was reportedly born in Latvia and had lived in Ukraine since 1997, but, according to him, he could not obtain Ukrainian citizenship.

The man reportedly joined the Donbas Battalion in 2014, spending a month and a half at the front. During his deployment, he suffered a concussion and injuries to his spine and knee, Delfi said.

After the EuroMaidan Revolution ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia launched its aggression against Ukraine in early 2014 by occupying Crimea and initiating hostilities in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The Donbas Batallion was founded to fight Russian proxy forces in Donetsk Oblast. Initially an independent unit, it was later fully integrated into Ukraine's National Guard.

The man avoided speaking publicly about his participation in hostilities so as not to attract the attention of Russian intelligence services, Delfi reported.

The Ukrainian state simplified in 2019 the acquisition of citizenship for foreign nationals and stateless persons who fought for Ukraine. The law waived the requirement of living on the country's territory continuously for five years and to speak the Ukrainian language.

Foreigners applying for a Ukrainian passport must nevertheless renounce their original citizenship, as Ukraine does not recognize multiple citizenships.

Between March 1, 2022, and Oct. 31, 2023, 970 Russian citizens and 120 Belarusians were granted Ukrainian citizenship on various grounds.

When the man tried to obtain Ukrainian citizenship before the start of the full-scale invasion, he was allegedly told by Ukrainian authorities to go to the Russian consular department in occupied Crimea to "settle all formalities."

Fearing for his life, the Russian citizen did not go to the occupied peninsula.

According to Delfi, the man's Russian passport was destroyed during shelling. In 2021, he began collecting documents to obtain refugee status in Ukraine as the only means to obtain Ukrainian citizenship without presenting a passport.

Following the start of the full-scale invasion, the man, along with his wife and children, traveled to Latvia via Poland seeking asylum, Delfi wrote.

He was initially denied the request by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, which pointed to a lack of evidence of serving in a Ukrainian volunteer unit.

The Russian citizen then appealed to the court, who backed his case. Latvian judges noted that the man lost the desire to maintain ties with Russia. The court also said that he was a member of the Ukrainian nationalist political group Right Sector, which is branded as extremist in Russia, thus creating an additional threat for him.

Latvia's State Security Service also did not uncover any information that would prevent the man from obtaining refugee status, Delfi said.

Putin threatens Latvia with consequences over Russian minority policies
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Latvia would face repercussions “inside their own country” due to Riga’s policies regarding the Russian-speaking minority. He made the statement at the meeting of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights on Dec. 4.

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