Human rights defenders expressed their position on the seizure of property of Ukrainian citizens by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation

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At the end of March 2024, the occupying authorities of the Russian Federation in the temporarily occupied territories (hereinafter – TOT) of the Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Kherson regions of Ukraine announced that the owners of housing located in this territory must register the ownership of residential immovable property in the Unified State Register of Real Estate of the Russian Federation. In the absence of a corresponding entry in the register, or if the residential premises have signs of being “ownerless” (non-use, non-payment of fees for communal services during the year), it will be seized (appropriated) by the so-called municipal bodies of the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation. In this regard, there have been more frequent cases when, in order to prevent the seizure of property, Ukrainians attempt to go to the TOT of Ukraine through the territory of the Russian Federation.

Photo: gettyimages

In order to enter data into the specified register, to preserve the right of ownership, it is required to arrive at the TOT of Ukraine, after which apply with the passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation to enter the relevant data into the register. In this way, the aggressor country forces Ukrainians to return to the TOT and receive Russian passports. Russia continues to impose Russian citizenship on Ukrainians, this practice is widespread and systematic.

Due to the risks of the occupiers seizing housing located on the TOT of Ukraine, the number of appeals to Coalition organisations has increased. We consider it necessary to express a position regarding the actions of the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation in the TOT of Ukraine, as well as to provide recommendations to citizens of Ukraine who own property in the TOT.

  • Ownership of immovable property located in the TOT is guaranteed and protected by Ukrainian legislation and international law. According to Article 41 of the Constitution of Ukraine and Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights, no one can be unlawfully deprived of the right to property. The right to private property is inviolable. According to Article 11 of the Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring Civil Rights and Freedoms, and the Legal Regime on the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine” natural persons retain the right of ownership and other property rights to immovable property located in the TOT of Ukraine, and the acquisition and termination of ownership of such property is carried out in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine and outside the TOT. Any changes regarding the legal status and title of housing can be carried out only in the territory under the control of the Government of Ukraine, by the decision of the state registrar of property rights to immovable property and by making appropriate changes to the State Register of property rights to immovable property. Any actions committed by the occupying authorities regarding housing in the TOT of Ukraine are invalid and do not entail any legal consequences.
  • Ukraine does not and will never recognise the seizure of immovable property by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation as legal. According to the occupation “legislation”, the right of communal ownership of ownerless residential premises is established by a court decision, and after that it is subject to state registration. However, any documents issued by the occupation authorities have no legal force in Ukraine and are invalid. In particular, we are talking about court decisions regarding the recognition of housing as ownerless. Therefore, the decision of the occupation court to recognize a residential premises as ownerless and transfer it to communal ownership does not create legal consequences in Ukraine, and also does not deprive a person of the right to own their home, which is located in the TOT of Ukraine.
  • The actions of the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation in the TOT of Ukraine regarding the seizure of immovable property of Ukrainian citizens are a crime. Russia violated international humanitarian law by extending its legislation to the TOT of Ukraine and seizing (expropriating) residential immovable property. Seizing residential immovable property by declaring it ownerless and transferring it to communal ownership to occupying structures is a violation of international humanitarian law. In the context of an international armed conflict, the appropriation of immovable property, which is illegal and not justified by military necessity, is considered a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In addition, large-scale destruction and appropriation of property not caused by military necessity and committed illegally constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. These actions are also subject to criminal liability under Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Violation of the Laws and Customs of War”). Likewise, coercion to obtain citizenship of the Russian Federation is a violation of the laws and customs of war.
  • Returning to the TOT of Ukraine for the purpose of “re-registration” of immovable property threatens the life and health of Ukrainian citizens. The only checkpoint in the Russian Federation for citizens of Ukraine is Sheremetievo Airport (Russian Federation, Moscow). Returning to the TOT through it is accompanied by significant security risks. Citizens of Ukraine are forced to stay in the Sheremetievo border control zone for a long time (sometimes up to several days) to undergo “filtration”. Personal belongings (in particular, telephones and other equipment) are thoroughly checked, people are interrogated about connections and contacts in Ukraine, about relatives and acquaintances. Often, citizens of Ukraine are unable to pass the “filtration”, instead they are banned from entering the Russian Federation, and this also becomes a reason for deportation.

In the territory of the Russian Federation and the TOT of Ukraine, citizens of Ukraine may be illegally detained by the occupying authorities and special services of the Russian Federation, there is a risk of torture of civilians, accusations of espionage or cooperation with intelligence agencies. One of the many examples is the case of Leniie Umerova, a 25-year-old Crimean woman, who was detained by Russian security forces on December 4, 2022, after crossing the Georgian-Russian border, when she was trying to return to temporarily occupied Crimea to care for her father, who is suffering from cancer. Moscow’s Lefortovsky Court arrested Umerova on charges of espionage.

Trips to the TOT are not prohibited by the legislation of Ukraine, but may cause significant risks for the personal safety, life and health of Ukrainian citizens. It is impossible to predict or prevent the actions of the occupation authorities.

We are convinced that the actions of the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation regarding the seizure of immovable property of Ukrainian citizens in the TOT not only violate the legislation of Ukraine and the norms of international law, but also constitute a war crime in accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. None of the actions of the occupying authorities regarding housing in the TOT of Ukraine are recognized by Ukraine and the world, so the ownership right of a citizen of Ukraine and property located in the TOT is preserved.

We urge citizens of Ukraine to refrain from travelling to the TOT of Ukraine and the territory of the Russian Federation, obtaining a passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation for the purpose of “re-registration” of immovable property. Despite the fact that such trips do not violate the legislation of Ukraine, they can threaten the life and health of Ukrainian citizens.

In order to properly record and investigate the criminal seizure of immovable property in the TOT, we recommend:

  • to monitor what is happening with housing in the TOT of Ukraine and collect information about it. It is worth keeping a notebook or an electronic document with the date of seizure (expropriation) of the immovable property and any other facts that will help establish the chronology of events, and later – the fact of the violation of the right to ownership of immovable property;
  • to check the data on the ownership of residential immovable property, because for technical reasons the State Register of Property Rights to Immovable Property  may not contain information on the ownership. In case of absence, it is necessary to take steps to enter data into the State Register of Ukraine. The availability of information in the specified register will be useful in case of loss of documents confirming the right of ownership. At the same time, we emphasise that the absence of data in the register does not deprive a person of the right to ownership;
  • to apply to law enforcement agencies of Ukraine (national police or prosecutor’s office) with a statement of a criminal offence under Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Violation of the Laws and Customs of War”) or report the violation through the website https://warcrimes.gov.ua/, because the imposition of Russian legislation and the illegal expropriation of property in the TOT of Ukraine are crimes.

Human Rights Centre ZMINA

“Civil Holding GROUP OF INFLUENCE” NGO

“Donbas SOS” NGO 

Charitable Foundation “Stabilization Support Services”

“CrimeaSOS” NGO

Charitable Fund “Right to Protection”

Charitable Foundation “EAST-SOS”

Crimean Human Rights Group