Parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine have been under occupation for more than a year now. Russia is trying to integrate these territories into their own economic space in order to weaken their connections with Ukraine. In particular, the hryvnia came under the strike, as Russia seeks to replace it with the ruble. The occupiers introduced new rules for receiving social benefits and pensions: they can only be available to people who had become citizens of Russia.

Recently, Ukrainian people who refused to accept the passports of the aggressor have been declared "foreigners." However, neither economic, nor enforcement, or moral pressure will allow Putin to seize Ukrainians “in three days,” even in the occupied territories.

Attempts that have not been successful so far

First, the Russians announced about their plans to introduce their currency into circulation in the temporarily occupied territories (TOTs) from April 2022. Later, at the end of April, the “deputy head” of the occupation administration of the Kherson region Kirill Stremousov declared that the process would begin on May 1. According to him, the region will have a "transition period" for another four months, when both rubles and hryvnias will be used at the same time. After that, there will be a full transition to the Russian currency.

In practice, however, it turned out differently. The occupiers have been failing for a long time to “knock out” the hryvnia. They started a new attack on the Ukrainian currency, immediately after the pseudo-referendums. So, at the end of October, the Russian authorities announced that from January 1, 2023, the ruble will become the only payment currency in the parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine under their control. Moreover, the Association of Russian Banks estimated that to implement this plan, 900 billion rubles would need to be brought to the occupied territories. Then one inhabitant will have an average of 100,000 rubles in cash (approximately 50,000 hryvnias), assuming that eight million people live in the temporarily occupied territories.

The Russian authorities allowed the use of the hryvnia until December 31, 2022. However, in the fourth month of 2023, when the Ukrainian currency should no longer be in circulation, it is still used, even if partially. This was reported to Civil Network OPORA by Polina, a resident of Kherson oblast (her name was changed for security reasons). Her parents live in the occupied part of the oblast. She explained that hryvnia can be paid in cash (although rather under the counter), and online — when you need to transfer the money from one card to another. The latter option is possible only where there is a normal Internet connection available.

According to her, the occupiers know that people use the hryvnia, that is why they deliberately lower its rate. Sometimes it drops to 65 Russian kopecks per hryvnia, or 1000 hryvnias can be exchanged for 650 rubles. At the same time, under the official exchange rate of the National Bank of Ukraine as of April 18, 2023, for 1000 hryvnias you can buy a little more than 2500 Russian rubles.

Information that the Russians are setting an unfavorable hryvnia rate has been confirmed to OPORA also by Bohdan (name changed for security reasons) who now lives in the temporarily occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region. According to him, 1000 hryvnia can be exchanged on average for 800 rubles.

It is impossible to leave the TOTs, but the inflow of hryvnia still continues

Deputy of the Zaporizhzhya Regional Council, Askad Ashurbekov, explains: the occupiers set a low rate so that it would be unprofitable for people to use the hryvnia and they would have to switch to the ruble. Moreover, the hryvnia in cash has no ways to get to TOTs because since December 15, 2022, the occupation troops blocked the possibility for civilians to leave the occupied territories or enter them from the free part of Ukraine.

Previously, residents of TOTs could theoretically  go to the Ukrainian government-controlled territory and withdraw cash at any bank branch, at the cash desk in pharmacies, at supermarkets, and at gas stations. In addition, those who received pensions in cash, having concluded the relevant agreements, could withdraw their money at the branches of Oschadbank or another bank, or at Ukrposhta post office. It is difficult to say how many people used this option but this contributed to the fact that the hryvnia, albeit in small quantities, still got to TOTs.

In addition, according to the deputy, the Russians blocked access to TOTs for another reason. “I think it is connected with the aggravation of hostilities: first they were advancing, now our counterattack is being prepared. Civilian logistics will unbalance the front line. Apparently, that is their rationale. And another reasoning comes from the fact that they understand that with open checkpoints, the colossal outflow of the population will continue. It will be noticeable that people do not want the “Russian world”, that they do not want to stay there. And the Russians need to show a different picture. Also, any contact with free territories will strengthen ties with Ukraine, which the Russians are not interested in,” Ashurbekov explains the rationale of the occupiers’ actions.

However, if there is no access to cash hryvnia in the occupied territories, it still gets there cashless. Ukraine fulfills its financial obligations and transfers to bank cards the salaries for state employees, retirement pensions and social benefits for residents in TOTs.

This information was confirmed by all our interlocutors. Also, according to the deputy, in the temporarily occupied territories, employees of regional municipal enterprises who did not collaborate with the enemies continue to receive their salaries.

For those who used to receive pensions in cash and now can not travel to free territories, Ukraine has prepared detailed instructions on how to create a bank account remotely, via the Internet, and transfer your pension or other payments to it. In other words, if before February 24, 2022, a person had received cash payments through Ukrposhta post offices, now they can transfer them to a bank card and have resources for survival.

Either a Russian passport, or you will be left without a means of subsistence

Instead, Russia is actively imposing payments in rubles, seeking to make people who stayed to live in TOTs depend on Russia. Since March 1, the occupiers have introduced new rules for receiving social benefits and pensions. As reported in the Center of National Resistance (CNS), now they will be available only to those who accepted Russian citizenship.

Our interviewees say that if someone refuses to accept the passport of the aggressor country, this person receives threats that they will “come to visit” and talk in a different tone, “like with Ukrainian collaborators.” This status does not mean anything good because the disappearance of pro-Ukrainian activists or even mayors has been repeatedly recorded in the occupied territories. The fate of many of them remains unknown. For example, this is the story of the mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaev, who was abducted by the Russian invaders on June, 28, 2022. However, despite threats and not too optimistic prospects, many Ukrainians do not accept Russian passports as a matter of principle.

This information has been also confirmed in the CNS. According to them, the occupiers are inventing new methods of coercion to speed up the pace of passportization because Putin himself is not happy about the progress. “At the end of March, Vladimir Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with the pace of passportization in TOTs. In response, the occupation administration developed passportization plans and launched “mobile groups” for passportization,” the organization's press service reports.

The National Resistance Center reports that these groups travel to the homes of the local population and “encourage” residents to accept passports. During such visits, the invaders would often resort to pressure: from threats to the use of physical force.

Another example of such a policy is the blackmail of car owners. The occupiers obliged residents of TOTs to re-register their vehicles in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation until May, 1. Cars without re-registration will be seized.

Also, according to the first Deputy Chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, Yuri Sobolevsky, the occupiers threaten to restrict access to medical services.

“They say that if there is no Russian passport, there will be no policy of compulsory medical insurance of the Russian model. If there is no medical insurance, there will be no medical services,” Sobolevsky said during a briefing at the Media Center Ukraine-Ukrinform.

The Russians went even further. On April 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree that recognized all Ukrainians without Russian citizenship living in the occupied Ukrainian territories as “foreigners”.

Ukrainians who lived on the TOTs at the time of their illegal “accession” to Russia were “granted the right” to live on their lands in this status until July 1, 2024. In addition, they can be deported for participating in rallies, which, according to the Russian authorities, creates “threats to national security” of Russia.

According to Pavlo Romaniuk, legal adviser of the Civil Network OPORA, actions of the Russian authorities aimed at forced displacement of Ukrainian citizens and their illegal deportation, as well as persecution of Ukrainians on political, national and ethnic grounds, will have signs of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The lawyer also adds that this decree of Putin, like his decree on the forced displacement of Ukrainian children, can be evidence of international crimes and the subject of investigation by the International Criminal Court.

As we can see, the point of forced passportization is that Russia brings people to the survival threshold. They will not be given a choice: either Russian citizenship, or everything will be taken away from you. They will be forced to leave their homes, they will be deprived of income, and in the worst-case scenario — of their life.

However, even in such difficult conditions, Ukrainians refuse to accept Russian passports and resist the enemy. With the help of the chatbot єВорог , many Ukrainians inform the Ukrainian military about the movement of the Russian army. Therefore, according to the Center for Strategic Communications under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, the occupiers do not trust Ukrainians increasingly more often, and are afraid of them. For example, in the city of Tokmak, Zaporizhzhia region, the Russian military was forbidden to communicate with local people, in particular, to take food from them. Also, they turned off street lighting in the city to cover the movement of machinery.

In addition, there is a public movement of resistance to the occupation “Yellow Ribbon.” The activists clandestinely conduct various patriotic flash mobs to demonstrate to Russians that they are not welcome in Ukraine. Activists distribute educational leaflets against passportization, and put up Ukrainian symbols. Some of the recent activities include placing pro-Ukrainian slogans on Russian rubles, covering signs with Soviet street names and putting on them the name of the Hero of Ukraine Dmytro Kotsiubailo, “Da Vinci”, who sacrificed his life for the free Ukraine.

All this confirms yet again that Ukrainians at TOTs are waiting for the counter-offensive, whenever it comes, and for the liberation of Ukrainian territories from the occupation troops.