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Emigration/The Netherlands

"I just felt nothing". Iryna Yakovleva about official renouncing her Russian citizenship


On August 22nd, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that checks on individuals wishing to renounce their Russian citizenship will now be intensified.

Thus, individuals who have already initiated the process of renouncing Russian citizenship will continue to be considered Russian citizens if the Ministry of Internal Affairs finds any violations in the procedure.

To this end, the Ministry has developed two orders - one on organizing work to conduct checks on the presence or absence of Russian citizenship, and the other on organizing statistical and personal records of individuals who have been granted Russian citizenship or have had it terminated, as reported by "Vedomosti" with reference to the documents.

According to the first order, the main responsibility for the checks will be carried out by the Main Directorate for Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, migration units of territorial bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as the consular department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, diplomatic missions, and consulates.

The storage period for the conclusions drawn from the checks will be 85 years.

"All 'new former' Russian citizens who have renounced Russian citizenship can be checked for the correctness of the procedure and, possibly, for unfulfilled obligations to Russia, which at the moment can be interpreted somewhat more broadly than before," explains Konstantin Dobrykin, Senior Partner at the law firm Pen & Paper.

Currently, there is no information on whether the law will have retroactive effect and whether former Russian citizens who have already received confirmation of their exit from citizenship should be concerned about checks.

Media Loft journalist Irina Iakovleva renounced her Russian citizenship a year and a half ago when this process was still a standard bureaucratic procedure.

If I had been asked ten years ago whether I was going to leave Russia, I would have only laughed. At the time, I had just returned to the job I loved after maternity - in a major travel company, in the coveted Italian department - and a career growth and an unclouded future awaited me. Tourist traffic was growing and strong, the industry was recovering from the 2008 crisis and nothing seemed to interfere with the peaceful flow of life.

Then came 2014, the year of the annexation of Crimea.

I couldn't believe it was happening in front of my eyes for a long time, asking my acquaintances how this was possible. But everyone laughed, clapped me on the shoulder and said that it was no big deal, it was even cool that now we had a new territory.

Basically, after that, I made the decision to leave - when I realized that the government's actions, on the whole, met the aspirations of the people.

The obvious country of emigration for me would be Israel - it would be warm, sunny, and most importantly - my grandfather's origins gave me the full right to be legally repatriated. Alas, obvious does not mean probable. My resourceful grandfather in the Soviet times had eliminated any mention of his origins - they did not admit him to high positions with a fifth graph, and he was ambitious. My grandfather achieved his career goals, but his granddaughter had to give up palm trees and heat in favour of rain and wind.

I welcomed new year 2015 already in the Netherlands.

When you write it, it looks very quick: in the first paragraph I'm still in Moscow, and in the second I'm already in Amsterdam. In fact, in between this miracle of teleportation there were ten excruciating months of choosing, packing, selling my flat, inhumanly long nights, during which I kept imagining that the borders were about to close.

Could it be that time is particularly ghostly at night, and that I was tossed back and forth across the decade?

I was afraid until my flight, and even in the air I kept thinking that something was about to go wrong and the plane would be grounded before the border. Then I would dream about trains taking me back to my homeland for years to come - and I would wake up terrified and look out the window to make sure it was just a dream.

Two months after I left, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated - right in front of the Kremlin - a good old-fashioned public execution in front of the sovereign. It was the second major wake-up call after the Crimea. By then I had no doubts about the course of the ship.

I had a plan to acquire Dutch citizenship from the very beginning. For myself and my children that was the most important thing. But the answer to the question of whether to keep my Russian citizenship was not so clear-cut.

It has to be said that among Russian emigrants it is customary to retain the citizenship of the country of departure. Just in case, so to speak. People are used to having stores: cucumbers in a jar, skis on the balcony - well, citizenship will not be superfluous, let it lie there, maybe it will come in handy.

There are even special grey schemes, when you can not do it officially - and I have seen people who have successfully crawled through the cracks of the law, so as not to lose the official connection to the homeland. In fact, when they were climbing through these cracks it was clear that their mental connection to Russian traditions was stronger than ever.

I did not have to think thoroughly: workarounds did not attract me, and there was only one way - refusal and a solemn farewell with my Russian passport.

Well, I reasoned. If I refused, I would also refuse for the children. Officially they could keep both their nationalities, but I thought it was a bad idea; I had two sons, and I knew exactly what my future former homeland was doing to my sons.

You'll say, "The gift of foresight!" I'll say, "When you've studied twentieth-century Russian history, and 'The Gulag Archipelago' is your board book, the future has no secrets from you."

It has recently become fashionable to publicly burn Russian passports and consider the renunciation of citizenship to have occurred naturally. Let me tell you a secret: citizenship does not burn in fire and does not sink in water. You were a RF citizen with a passport and now you are a RF citizen subject to a fine for not having an internal passport.

The procedure of renunciation of citizenship is long, boring and not at all public.

There are two main difficulties: obtaining an extract from the house book that you are not registered in Russia (abroad) and obtaining a certificate from the tax office that you have no debts to your homeland.
Friends or relatives can help you with your registration by giving you a power of attorney and forwarding the documents (this was a year ago, when the post office worked without any interruptions).

You can request a certificate from the tax office yourself, in writing, by sending a letter to the address given on the website. The tax office will send you the certificate to your country of residence for free. Or did, because this year things have changed drastically. By the way, you have to ask for the same certificates for children, because the procedure is the procedure, even if the person is not subject to taxation.

If you are taking your children with you, you will need their father's permission to relinquish Russian citizenship to minors. If there is such a possibility, it is better to take the father physically with you, then you will not need to certify the document.

Then begins the collection of small paperwork, which is listed on the website of any consulate of the Russian Federation. Certificates, photocopies, photos, translations, apostils - you are in for a journey into the wonderful world of Russian bureaucracy.

When you come to the consulate with a full package of documents, you are not expected to make fiery speeches or make excuses as to how you dared to abandon your old homeland-mother. No, you pay the prescribed fee to the cashier and peacefully leave Russian territory.

After a while you receive confirmation that your request has been accepted and is in progress. In half a year or so you receive a plain certificate that you have been released in peace into a new life.

When I received such a certificate (yes, that's what it's called "certificate of termination of citizenship") a year ago, I felt practically nothing. By that time I had already lived in the Netherlands for 6 years, and my Russian citizenship did not interfere with me anywhere. Yes, it is cool to have a new passport now. Yes, it is great that I do not have to go to the Russian embassy for every piece of paper. But on the whole, it was only about amenities.

Did I think that it would end with widespread schizophrenia and nuclear threats? Did I realise what an unassuming little man with glassy eyes could do? The answer is a line from a song: "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't know it would be so soon.    

The realization of what a huge and timely step I had taken came much later - after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was like the feeling of those who were about to enter one of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, but decided to stop for a couple of donuts in the exact opposite direction.   

The renunciation of citizenship, however, still leaves you with a burning sense of shame about everything that's happened.

By Irina Iakovleva

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors

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