Kremlin-installed officials occupying parts of southern Ukraine have started handing out Russian passports to local residents. RIA Novosti, a Russian state-run news agency, said 23 residents in Kherson and an undisclosed number in Melitopol received passports on Saturday.
“For me, this is a truly historic moment. I have always thought that we are one country and one people,” the news agency quoted Kherson's governor, Volodymyr Saldo, as saying.
Tass, another agency ran by the Kremlin, said thousands in the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia region, which covers Melitopol, applied for the documents, but this claim could not be verified.
Russia captured much of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia early in the war.The occupying administrations in both Zaporizhzhia and the wider Kherson area have previously talked about plans to become part of Russia.
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And when Russian deputy prime minister Marat Khusnullin visited the regions in mid-May, he indicated they could become part of the “Russian family”.
An office of Russia’s migration services previously opened in Melitopol, taking applications for Russian citizenship through a fast-track procedure. The procedure was first implemented three years ago in the rebel-controlled areas of the Donbas, where more than 700,000 people have received Russian passports.
However, Washington-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War, said Russian-installed officials face growing resistance among the local population.
The institute cited accounts on Russian Telegram channels of threats against locals who received Russian passports. The Ukrainian Centre for National Resistance, which established a website to advise people on sabotage and other techniques, said Kherson residents were encouraged to burn down a Russian passport centre.
According to senior Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian delegation in stalled peace talks with Ukraine, referendums on joining Russia could take place in the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as early as July.