Russia occupied my settlement. How to continue living normally? Will I be seen as a collaborator? Together with Vostok SOS human rights organization we answer questions on life under the occupation

Yuliana Skibitska
Yevhen Spirin

Kateryna Bandus / «Бабель»

Since February 24, Russia has occupied about 20% of Ukraineʼs territory. The figure is constantly changing during the active phase of hostilities, but people in some regions, such as Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, and Luhansk Oblasts, have been living in the occupation for more than three months. Itʼs impossible to tell for sure how many of its residents managed to leave, but those who remain there face a difficult choice every day. How to save your life? Is it possible to go to work? What to do if you are forced to buy a Russian SIM card and use the occupantʼs currency? Since 2014, the Vostok SOS Charitable Foundation has been helping IDPs and those who remained in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. We asked the coordinator of its legal service Daniil Popkov to answer the main questions about how to live under the occupation.

Should I try to leave the occupied territories? What is the best way to do it?

It is definitely worth leaving if you do not want to stay in the occupation and put up with it. Especially if you are a person with an active political or civic position or if you have previously participated in the military operation in Donbas or belonged to any political party other than pro-Russian.

If you are a relatively "pure person" for the occupiers — that is, you donʼt have the above-mentioned background, then it is better to go through the humanitarian corridor. They are organized by the Ministry of Reintegration, and there are already many examples of these corridors working. It is better not to leave on your own — otherwise, you can run into even greater danger.

If you are a pro-Ukrainian activist, itʼs more difficult. You should look for all the mentions of yourself on the Internet and try to clean up all such information as thoroughly as possible. It is also better to leave the occupied territories not from the city where you live. Because if you leave from your native city, there is a danger of meeting collaborators who will tell the Russians everything about you.

If you are asked about the reasons for leaving — call some humanitarian ones. For example, if you are told, “Why are you going? Donʼt you like Russia?”, you can answer that you go to relatives or due to some health issues.

I canʼt leave. How can I communicate with the occupiers, so as not to lose dignity, but also not to run into trouble?

Try to maintain neutrality. Donʼt discuss political or historical topics, do not provoke anyone. Try to communicate with the occupiers as little as possible.

The occupiers distribute humanitarian aid. If I take it, is it collaborationism?

No. In general, the concept of collaborationism is defined by Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. It says that this should be a conscious action to the detriment of Ukraine, voluntary cooperation with the enemy. That is, a person must have intent. If a person does not have access to food and medicine, then taking a humanist is a forced action and cannot be considered a collaboration.

There is no Ukrainian mobile connection here so I have to buy a Russian SIM card. Is this a crime? Will the occupiers be able to follow me in messengers?

No, this is not a crime. Whether the occupiers will be able to monitor what you write in the messengers is a matter of security. The mobile operator itself only provides communication services.

How to protect my phone if the occupiers are constantly checking it?

Most likely, thereʼs no way to do this. Eventually, you will still have to unlock your phone or enter passwords in messengers, if you use any. Therefore, it is better not to store anything that may look suspicious. Delete correspondence immediately, log out of your accounts. You should also clear your browserʼs cache and search history. In general, in such a situation [when the occupier demands a phone] it is better to reset to factory settings, if possible. You also need to clean the contact book and leave a minimum of phone numbers there. That is, the less information, the better.

The occupiers are forcing me to use the ruble. What should I do?

If this is coercion and there is no possibility to receive services for not rubles — then use them. This is also not collaborationism, just a condition for survival.

I have my own business. Can I continue it?

It is difficult to say about business, because in the Criminal Code this issue is formulated very generally. There may be different situations. For example, you are engaged in agriculture and sell your products to the city "government" or Russia, receive money, pay taxes on it, register in accordance with Russian law — this is pure collaborationism. But there may be other situations — for example, a person sells clothes or vegetables in the market. If he or she does not pay taxes to the budget of "LPR" or "DPR" — then it will not be considered collaborationism. The main thing is that there is no voluntary connection with the occupying "authorities".

I am a teacher, a doctor, a firefighter, a social worker. If I continue to work, am I a collaborator?

Deputy Minister of Justice Valeria Kolomiets has already spoken about this — she said that it is important that these professions are not aimed at establishing or facilitating the power of the occupiers. That is, if people perform their functions as before, and do not help to make life easier for the occupiers in this area, do not conduct propaganda work for the occupiers — then this is not a collaboration.

It is more difficult with teachers. Article 111 has a separate paragraph on the actions of citizens who implement educational programs of the aggressor state in educational institutions. The occupiers immediately change the programs in the schools to their own, so it is impossible for teachers to continue their work.

And if the salary is paid in rubles?

If a person cannot leave for the territory controlled by Ukraine, he or she continues to work and receives a salary in rubles, because there is no other option and itʼs not a voluntary choice. But, of course, each case must be considered separately. And if there is a suspicion of collaboration, one has to prove that the person acted under coercion.

The police in my village sided with the occupiers. Now it is impossible to report a crime and to call policemen?

It all depends on the situation. If, for example, your car was stolen and you go to complain about it to the local "DPR police", then this is one situation. But if you go and report that your neighbor is helping the Ukrainian army, that is another thing. In household matters, you can turn to the police, this is not a crime or collaboration.

I want to inform the state about collaborators in my city. How to do it?

There are many opportunities — via Diia app, e-mail, Telegram. The main thing is that nothing of this you leave in your smartphone. Therefore, it is very important to adhere to information security, so that no traces are left — delete your chats, log out of accounts. It makes sense to write a message from another email or account, or not under your real name — so that itʼs impossible to identify who sent such a message.

I am afraid that I may be mobilized into the army of the occupiers. How to protect myself?

The only way to escape mobilization is to try to leave the occupied territory. If it doesnʼt work out and the person is mobilized, then he or she should try to surrender to the Armed Forces of Ukraine as soon as possible. Surrender, of course, must be correct — without weapons, with arms raised, announcing in advance the desire to surrender. When in battle, do not shoot at point-blank range, but somewhere in the air, so as not to injure the Ukrainian military.

I had to get a death or birth certificate. What to do with it?

If you receive such a document, it is better to have another confirmation — for example, records in medical cards. Using these confirmations in the Ukraine-controlled territory, you can go to court and get state-standard documents.

I am still afraid that I will be called a collaborator in the controlled territory.

In order to protect yourself from such situations, you should gather evidence of your innocence while you live in the occupied territories. Of course, we have a presumption of innocence, so any collaboration must be proven. But it is still better to have evidence that the occupation administration once put pressure on you or your loved ones. You can take photos of some documents and upload them to the cloud storage or record phone conversations.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces are doing everything to liberate the occupied territories, and Babel is helping to survive this difficult period. You can also help us: 🔸 donate in hryvnia 🔸 in cryptocurrency 🔸 PayPal: [email protected].