Decree Could Give Ukrainian Citizenship to Foreign Fighters, President Zelenskyy

FILE - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, Dec. 19, 2023. He announced a decree on Jan. 22, 2024, that could grant Ukrainian citizenship to foreigners fighting in Ukraine against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a decree Monday that could grant Ukrainian citizenship to foreigners fighting in Ukraine against Russia.

The legislation was introduced Monday on the anniversary of Ukraine’s Day of Unity, commemorating the unification in 1919 of western and eastern Ukraine, which has faced numerous invasions over its long history.

Thousands of foreigners rushed to Ukraine to defend the country alongside its soldiers when Russian forces invaded the country in 2022.

“Foreign volunteers who took up arms to defend Ukraine, all those who fight for Ukraine’s freedom as if it were their homeland. And Ukraine will become such for them,” Zelenskyy said in a post on social media.

Zelenskyy also announced that the new proposed legislation would formally allow ethnic Ukrainians and their descendants from all around the world to gain dual citizenship, with the exception of Russia.

“Those who, with the outbreak of a full-scale war, regardless of their place of residence, birth or passport, said in the affirmative, ‘I am Ukrainian.’ … Ukrainians by origin, who have long proven that they are Ukrainians in spirit. And after many years of waiting, they should finally become Ukrainians by passport,” he added.

The decree, if approved by the Ukrainian parliament, would bypass Ukraine’s constitution, which does not give Ukrainian citizens the right to dual citizenship. So, millions of people of Ukrainian origin who live abroad have not been able to hold Ukrainian passports so far.

The process would take about a year, so long as Ukrainian lawmakers approve and the constitutional court authorizes the decree.

The presidential decree also called for an action plan that would help preserve the identity of about 4 million Ukrainians living in Russia, the largest Ukrainian diaspora group in the world.

The decree, Zelenskyy said, would help restore the “truth about the historical past for the sake of Ukraine’s future,” and counter Russian “misinformation” that aims to undermine the ethnic identity of Ukrainians living in Russia.

The Day of Unity has been marked as a national holiday in Ukraine since 1999.

The idea to mark the Day of Unity appeared almost a decade before that, when the country was still part of what was then the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians joined together on January 21, 1990, to form a live chain connecting Kyiv, the capital, with several other nearby cities in a show of unity and nationalism.

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