Today I have a human interest story from Zilv about a man named Dionis Petrov. He is a Ukrainian blogger from the Poltava region who is trying to cope with life as a political refuge/undocumented immigrant to Crimea, Russia. Petrov’s story also exposes some of the administrative weaknesses and inefficiencies in the Crimean government; deficiencies which revealed themselves more recently (as crises and emergencies so often do), in Crimea’s lack of preparedness for the electricity blackout.
After the February 24 2014 “Revolution” (most pro-Russian bloggers call it a “junta” or “coup”), Petrov, along with hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians (some say up to a million people) fled Ukraine for Russia. This is somewhat unusual however for a man from Poltava, which is traditionally a bastion of Ukrainian patriotism. But Petrov is not a typical Poltava Ukrainian, as his story shows: He is a politically active blogger; he and his family are “pro-Russian” which is anathema to the new government which took over.
In fact, due to his former place of residence, Petrov is finding it difficult to gain the official status of “refugee”, which he seeks, in order to legalize himself and his family. Official Russia does not consider people to be valid “refugees” unless they fled from the Donbass region (Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics).
Here is Petrov’s story, based on the interview with him. I switch things around somewhat to tell in more chronological order:
What was your life like before Maidan?
Before Maidan we lived in a village near Poltava and ran a small family dairy (crafted hard cheeses). I also did a bit of blogging on the side. The cheese thing started at first as a hobby, just for the family. Then I started to get customers, my business expanded, the kids were growing up. We decided to move closer to Kiev. We were thinking of buying a house in the Vasilkov region, we had already started the process. Then Maidan happened, and we didn’t end up buying the house. Once it became clear that the Maidan forces were going to win, then my wife and I decided we had to flee from the Ukraine.
I had no illusions about exactly who had come to power, who stood behind these people, and what this thing was going to turn into. We (my wife and I) didn’t want to live in a country where our children would be taught to hate and kill Russians.
By that time (when it came time for us to flee), I had already been to Russia a couple of times (by myself) and found a job in Tula. I had even passed my probation, but when I returned home to put my papers in order, we were visited by some people…
I was expecting phone calls from the SBU, maybe warnings or a summons. That sort of thing had happened with some people I knew. Some of my friends had been taken in and detained for a month or two. But that wasn’t what happened. It was some locals – my neighbors, whom I had known for a long time. At first it was just one guy, who was partly drunk, he started with jokes, and then proceeded to threats. Later I come to find out, that rumors had been circulating the village, that I was supposedly a Kremlin agent and Separatist. Probably some people had been reading my blog and making the appropriate conclusions. Based on this, the (drunken) guy started trying to scare me, as in, “We’re going to burn down your house with everybody in it.”
We spoke for about 20 minutes. Towards the end we even achieved a type of consensus about a couple of things. This guy, this neighbor of mine, was an Afghan veteran. “Stop doing this,” he warns me. “Stop doing what?” “Oh, I don’t know, people are just saying….” I say to him: “Look here, Uncle Vanya, I’ll tell you exactly what I’m doing.” And I tell him exactly what I think, about what is happening (in the country). He replies: “Well, of course, it’s all exactly like you say, but you won’t convince other people.”
We parted. I went home, consulted with my wife, we were wondering what to do, maybe send the kids away to stay with our relatives. As we were talking, several men drove up in a car, Uncle Vanya among them. They stopped in front of our house, blew the horn a couple of times, then drove away. We didn’t know how this was going to end. We left (Ukraine) that very day.
What made you decide to settle in Crimea, instead of Tula, as you had planned originally?
(The plan was never for us all to move to Tula.) My wife Alyona really loves the Crimea, and she had been there many times, unlike me. After Crimea became part of Russia, she really yearned to live there. The original plan was for me to live in Tula by myself, without the family. I found a job there as a manager in an eco-firm. It’s really the boondocks there – they don’t even have a kindergarten. So, we decided to move as a family to Crimea. We planned to buy a small house there.
So, we fled. A couple of weeks later my mother visited our old house (in Poltava), and found everything all in a mess there: the windows had been broken, and stuff removed. We had to quickly rent a car and rescue the rest of our stuff. One of my neighbors bought some of my equipment. When I went to get my stuff, I walked around the village a bit, and people looked at me like I had two heads. Turns out, there were rumors floating around the village, that I had been arrested for separatism and was already sitting in jail.
Why weren’t you able to legalize yourself in Crimea?
I initially wanted to gain status as a temporary refuge. I visited the government organs, they told me, “You have lots of time. Come back again when you’re closer to the 90-day limit.” Later, they told me I should pop back over the border, and then back again, to move back the 90-day window. Because there wasn’t enough time to fill out all the documents! Then the administrative “football” began, and I stopped going to the FMS (Federal Migration Service), I would just keep popping over the border [to start the clock ticking for another 90 days].
This went on for over a year. After which the special dispensation for Ukrainians was repealed. And that’s when our real problems began. It was impossible to get permission for a temporary residence permit. We had to pay a significant amount of money for a “patent” which didn’t actually get us anything, not the kids, or my wife, who doesn’t work. Her status remains “undetermined”, since she has to stay at home with small children.
I called the FMS hotline, they told me, “Get the patent, and your wife can live with you.” But at the (local) migration service, it was a different story: “There is no such procedure. You will get the right to live in the Russian Federation, but not your wife and kids – they need their own papers.” Everything came down to filling out a timely application for temporary refuge. But this had to be done in some other region of the Russian Federation – it doesn’t work in Crimea! As they explained to me at the FMS: “Because Crimea has an undefined international status.”
[to be continued]