| 4 July 2022, Monday |

Ukraine: Emigrant men trapped by martial law

Many of Ukrainian men permanently living abroad, and were visiting their native country when the war broke out, can’t leave.
Andrei has lived outside of Ukraine for over a decade, but when his father died, he returned with his wife to the country of his birth to attend the burial in mid-February. After a short visit, they planned to fly back to his home in Miami.

One week after he arrived, Russia invaded, and Ukraine declared martial law, banning Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country. Andrei is now stuck alone in Ukraine with only a single suitcase of mostly winter clothes.

Andrei’s sister and mother fled to Latvia, and his wife, whose visa for Ukraine was about to expire, returned to the United States. Andrei is desperate to get back there, too — to his wife, his house, his job, and his normal life.
Andrei’s predicament may sound like bad luck, but there are many more like him: Vitalij, a medic in a Czech hospital, took a vacation to visit his parents in Ukraine three days before the war began; Vito, a museum employee in the United Arab Emirates, flew to Ukraine on February 17 and now has no income to support his family; Mykola, a scientist at a research institute in Germany, needed to file paperwork at the German Embassy for his wife’s visa but the embassy closed shortly before the border closed to Ukrainian men; Aleksy, who returned to Ukraine from Poland to fight on the frontlines and now, after completing a tour of duty, cannot return to his family and job in Gdansk. The men requested DW use only their first names to prevent possible repercussions.

DW talked to eight men in this predicament. Some of them continue to work remotely, others have taken unpaid leave in the hopes of returning to their jobs. Most of them have been separated from their families, and all of them say the exit ban has caused them emotional and financial distress.
Andrei started a Telegram channel for emigrant men unexpectedly trapped in Ukraine, and now over 130 members discuss their situation. But he believes there are many more.

“I can’t understand why the government made these decisions,” says Andrei. “They probably think, ‘Maybe we have these guys, but it’s only a few thousand, so, too bad.'”

Officially, the ban on leaving the country does not apply to non-resident Ukrainian men, but foreign residency documents do not suffice as proof of this status. Border guards require a passport stamp from Ukrainian authorities that was not mandatory before the war in order to leave the country and is now all but impossible to get as fighting continues around the country.
Mykola says that it’s been difficult to get help, or even empathy, because of emigrants’ complicated legal status.

“On paper, it looks fine, like people can go home,” Mykola says. “But in reality, we can’t.”

Following pressure from affected men on Facebook, the State Border Guard Service confirmed that an appropriate Ukrainian passport stamp approving a move out of the country is the only acceptable proof of permanent residence abroad. “If a person actually lived abroad,” authorities wrote, “but did not register his departure according to the official procedure… unfortunately, he cannot leave Ukraine.”

‘Like a quest you can never complete’
To get the stamp, a Ukrainian man must first get permission from the state migration office, deregister from his local military conscription office and deregister from his local address. The procedure took up to three months even before the Russian invasion. With a war on, many administrative offices in the east and southeast have been destroyed or shut down by Russia. Even in Ukrainian-controlled territory, many offices have closed or are unable to access files making it impossible to obtain the stamp. “It’s like a quest you can never complete,” says Mykola.

The administrative office of Andrei’s hometown in the Kyiv Oblast confirmed to DW that the “certificate of registration of residence” he requires to begin his application is unavailable because the database is not accessible.

  • DW