EBU investigation uncovers aggressive 'Russification' in occupied Ukraine

In an extensive investigation spanning several months, the EBU Investigative Journalism Network found millions of people living in occupied locations including Donetsk, Luhansk and parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are being denied access to basic services such as pensions and healthcare and free movement unless they take on Russian citizenship and swear allegiance to Russia.

Residents told the journalists that Russian authorities have threatened to remove children from parents without Russian passports.

New legislation signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in April states that residents who have not acquired citizenship by July 2024 will be considered ‘foreigners or stateless people’, and subject to deportation.

The journalists' report said in places where Moscow's rules apply, breaking them can make it hard to survive, but adhering to them could mean prosecution for collaboration by the Ukrainian state.

According to the EBU investigation, eyewitness and expert accounts reveal incidences of torture, coercion, deportation, cultural erasure, and military indoctrination, contravening international law and in some cases amounting to possible war crimes.

People interviewed spoke of relentless pro-Russian propaganda.

''The Russians' task was to eliminate the existence of the Ukrainian state here in the Kherson region,'' Alexander Samoilenko, head of Kherson Regional Council said.

''And to suggest that the inhabitants of 'Novorossija', or 'little Russians' as they called them, lived and live here. And that the people who live here have nothing to do with the Ukrainian State and Ukrainian culture and so on.''

The report found Moscow is influencing the younger generation through the education curriculum.

School lessons are taught in the Russian language, and history from a Russian perspective.

Ukrainian textbooks are banned.

Agnes Callamard, General Secretary of Amnesty International, said the education system aims to erase children's Ukrainian identity.

''Basically, the textbook is a tool of propaganda. It is denying the Ukrainian children access to their own culture, and their own history. And it is trying to transform those children into the model citizen that Russia wants them to become,'' she said.

So-called Russification efforts in eastern Ukraine have accelerated since the military invasion last year.

Ukrainian historians said the Kremlin has been doing everything possible to win the hearts and minds of local populations.

It has taken control of the media, and erected billboards with pictures of Russian tsars and commanders in public spaces.

The EBU Investigative Journalism Network, drawing on the skills of journalists from EBU Members’ DR, LRT, ORF, RSI, RTVE and UA:PBC, conducted more than 20 interviews with experts, witnesses, and victims of torture to expose these issues.

Moscow declined invitations to be interviewed for the report.