Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Friday that Kyiv intends to introduce visas for Russians from July 1, four months into Moscow’s invasion of his country.
“Ukraine is introducing a visa regime for citizens of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said on his Telegram account. He said the requirement would take effect on “July 1, 2022”, according to a government decision that he expected “today.”
The move will end visa-free travel for Russians that began when Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said the move was being taken because of Russia’s invasion that began on February 24 and to bolster his country’s defensive efforts.
“Due to the full-scale war launched by the Russian Federation, we need to strengthen the control over the entry of Russian nationals into our territory. Security is a priority.”
The two neighbours share a border stretching almost 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) and share extensive family links.
But the number of Russians travelling to Ukraine fell sharply after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which unleashed a war with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine that was backed by the Kremlin.
In 2013, 10.8 million Russians visited Ukraine but a year later, that figure plummeted to 2.5 million. And between 2015 and 2019, it further dropped to some 1.5 million a year, Andrey Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border guards, told AFP.
In 2020 and 2021 as the Covid pandemic took hold, the number of Russian travellers did not exceed 500,000 a year, he said.
Ukraine, where Russian is widely spoken and which has lived through two pro-democracy revolutions since 2004, has also become a popular destination in recent years for liberal Russians fleeing the authoritarian regime of President Vladimir Putin.
By the end of January, nearly 175,000 Russians had residence permits in Ukraine, migration officials told AFP.
But that number is likely far higher as, until now, Ukraine has never had a visa regime with Russia.