As Ukrainian forces continued counterattacks to wrench back land in southern Ukraine, Russia took another step in its efforts to deepen its hold on the region: the proxy government in the Kherson region announced on Friday that all newborns would be granted Russian citizenship.
“Children born after 24 February in the Kherson region will automatically receive citizenship of the Russian Federation,” Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Moscow-imposed regional administration, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, referring to the date of Russia’s invasion. Orphans will also be registered as Russian citizens, he said.
The move comes after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed a decree to speed up the citizenship process for Ukrainians living in occupied territories and local authorities began issuing Russian passports to local residents. It is part of a broader effort by Moscow to integrate occupied territories with Russia.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said that Russian forces were clearly moving to make their presence in Kherson permanent.
“Russia has intensified the movement of families of Russian occupation forces to the Ukrainian settlements captured by the Russian aggressors, including the city of Kherson,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “The newcomers, or the so-called ‘Russian migrants,’ illegally move into vacant houses and apartments of Ukrainian citizens who have fled.”
But there are signs that Ukrainian guerrillas and loyalists living in occupied areas are complicating the Kremlin’s plans. Russian political proxies have been attacked, partisans have helped direct Ukrainian military strikes behind enemy lines, schoolteachers have refused to teach Russian curriculums and many essential workers are refusing to work for local authorities who support Russia.
Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military command, said that Ukrainian forces continued to make tactical gains in targeted counterattacks. They are now fighting in villages within 20 miles of the regional capital city of Kherson, according to the Ukrainian military. Ms. Humeniuk said that she would not go into detail about where exactly Ukrainian forces are advancing because “every name mentioned could provide information for the enemies.”
She said Russian forces were fortifying their defensive positions and directing long-range artillery fire at Ukrainian forces and recently liberated towns and villages.
It is increasingly difficult for civilians to escape occupied territory as Russian forces are mining many of the roads. “Even when people intend to evacuate, there is the high risk of people being directed to these mined areas,” she said.
Russia has already given Russian citizenship to orphans from other parts of occupied Ukraine, prompting outrage in Kyiv.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of illegally taking some 200,000 children to Russia since the start of the war. That number, he said in a speech last month, includes children from orphanages, children taken with their parents and those separated from their families.
“The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to steal people, but to make those who are deported forget about Ukraine and unable to return,” he said.