Some Russians have reportedly embarked on a new desperate gambit to flee the country: buying “Ukrainian citizenship” online.
The scheme, reported by the independent outlets Mozhem Obyasnit and Polygon Media on Wednesday, has apparently been unfolding in brazen fashion on the website Avito.ru, a marketplace similar to Ebay. One listing for “Ukrainian citizenship” promised that the passport would allow buyers to more easily cross European borders, Mozhem Obyasnit reports.
The asking price was set at 80,000 rubles, or about $1,250. As of Wednesday morning, the listing spotted by the two news outlets had apparently been deleted, though fresh postings had gone up for “Argentinian citizenship.”
“The demand is not big, but it’s there,” the anonymous seller of Ukrainian passports was quoted telling Mozhem Obyasnit.
The serial numbers on the passports reportedly traced back to Ukraine’s Luhansk region. An unnamed Ukrainian official said that’s probably because equipment used for making the passports was stolen.
“Forms and equipment for issuing biometric passports were most likely stolen from the Kherson region. But the Ukrainian government recorded the numbers of the lost passport forms and provided them to European governments, so these passports will not work,” the source, who works in the Kherson administration, was quoted saying.
Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan offered a similar explanation: “They [pro-Russian collaborators] stole a lot of documents.”
It was not clear how many such “passports” were sold, or if any customers have managed to use them to travel to other countries. Ukrainians have been allowed visa-free travel within the European Union’s Schengen Area since 2017, and some operators began offering free travel by train, bus, and plane after Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Many Russians, meanwhile, have finally found themselves feeling the effects of Putin’s war after he announced a military call-up in September. With more than 300,000 called up, many draftees have spoken out publicly to complain of shoddy military equipment, dysfunctional command, and a general lack of provisions.
Several Russian troops from the Murmansk region released a video appeal to the governor this week complaining that they’re forced to live outdoors during their “military training.”
“This is how we’re living, in fucking dugouts. The fucking army, dammit,” one man said of the accommodations—tents set up outdoors.
Putin, meanwhile, has signaled he intends to hide out from growing backlash over the war. Russia’s TASS news agency cited a source in parliament Wednesday saying Putin’s traditional speech to the upper house of parliament will likely be pushed back to next year, a move the Kremlin also conceded was “definitely possible.”
For the first time in 10 years, Putin—who is said to already have an evacuation plan in place for when his own citizens turn on him over fallout from the war—will also not be holding his annual press conference. Nor will he be taking part in his traditional New Year’s hockey match on Moscow’s Red Square, TASS reported.