Vilnius Airport greets its first visa-free Ukrainian visitors. Photo: social media
Ukrainians have waited so very long for this day. While many were skeptical of it ever happening, the first day has finally arrived. For many, traveling is still too expensive, but the introduction of visa-free travel to the EU means that Ukrainians have received one more important liberty – that of freedom of movement.
11 June 2017 is the date that marks the start of Ukrainians traveling to the rest of the EU without the need to obtain visas.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular department, as of 23:00 on the first day of visa-free travel, 59,627 Ukrainian citizens had entered the EU. 11,237 used biometric passports [the old type of international passports may still be used, although the holder still requires a visa]. Of those using biometric passports, only 1,682 were actually traveling without a visa.
According to Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian foreign minister, during the first day of visa-free travel, 5 people were denied entry into the EU. These had either exceeded the period of stay in the EU; others lacked necessary documents. Evropeiska Pravda also wrote about a man who had been prevented from crossing the border due to involvement in cigarette smuggling.
According to border control bodies, the majority of Ukrainians used road border crossing points, with the largest share crossing into Poland.
Despite the increasing hype generated by Ukrainian officials as the big visa-free day approached, the number of Ukrainians crossing the border on the first day was not out of the ordinary: 60,000 Ukrainians traveling to the EU is in line with the number crossing on a typical summer weekend.
However, the event has received a lot of attention. Some media teams went on trips to Europe to experience visa-free travel for themselves, while ordinary Ukrainians were sharing their experiences in social media forums.
Russia goes, Soviet traditions stay
One day before visa liberalization came into force, a concert dedicated to the event was held in Kyiv. A speech by the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, was also planned for the event.
According to Ukrainska Pravda, educational institutions in Kyiv’s Pechersk district were asked to provide people to attend the concert. Local schools received a fax signed by the head of the Pechersk district department at the Ministry of Education.
In a comment to journalists, Olena Fidanyan, director of Education, Youth and Sport at Kyiv’s city state administration, said that there were no orders for district administration bodies to provide people for the concert to be attended by Poroshenko.
Later, the Pechersk district administration denied information about the fax.
However, before the concert journalists noticed about 20 people from educational institutions who were registering to prove their attendance. They confirmed that they had come to the visa-free travel concert. However, answering the journalist’s questions on their thoughts about the visa free regime, they said it would be better if they “refrain from commenting.”
Later, a cadet from the military institute at Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko University said to the media that they were also forced to attend the event.
Using state employees to provide crowds for different kinds of events is a habit which Ukraine has inherited from the Soviet Union. During the era of the pro-Moscow former president, Viktor Yanukovych, such a method to create the illusion of mass attendance at events was quite common. Perhaps the saddest example of this Soviet habit saw public sector workers being forced to take part in the so-called “anti-Maidan” protests staged to counter Euromaidan activists. On that occasion, state workers were intimidated into participating: those that refused to attend the artificial protests were threatened with dismissal.
Introducing visa-free travel, president Poroshenko said goodbye to Russia, adding that at last Ukraine was “politically, economically and spiritually free of Russia’s embrace”. He reminded people of the price the country is paying for its liberty, nd went on to quote lines from the famous Russian poet, Mikhail Lermontov:
“Farewell, farewell, unwashed Russia,
The land of slaves, the land of lords,
And you, blue uniforms of gendarmes,
And you, obedient to them folks.”
Poroshenko also emphasized that there will be enough biometric passports for all citizens.
And citizens in the occupied territories?
A few days before the visa-free agreement with the EU came into force, Petro Poroshenko stated that the question of issuing international passports for those who live in the territory of the so-called “LNR” and “DNR” should also be resolved:
“If objectively there are problems with the issuing of passports to those who are in the occupied territory or in Crimea, we should review our normative base and not leave them without passports. If we have no reason to issue biometric passports to them, we should urgently submit to the Cabinet of Ministers in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and SBU a proposal so that we can issue old passports to these citizens.”
However, according to a statement from Hugues Mingarelli, the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, the EU considers Poroshenko’s idea as being counterproductive.
“I’ve noted that we are talking about all Ukrainians, as there were suggestions from individual Ukrainian officials that the residents of Crimea and occupied regions would not receive passports required for visa-free travel. This contradicts the EU’s approach. I want to emphasize that all citizens of Ukraine should receive the right to travel visa-free to the EU, no matter where they live,” said the Ambassador.
What Ukraine did to get visa-free travel
A dialogue between Ukraine and the EU on visa liberalization was opened in 2008, with an action plan announced in 2010. The plan had 4 parts. In an article, the Ukraine World Group prepared a list of requirements which Ukraine had to fulfill for the plan to be implemented.
Document security. Ukraine introduced biometric requirements for its passports, including mandatory use of fingerprints. These requirements correspond to those of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). A second line of control at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport has been constructed for checks on Ukrainian citizens leaving the country.
Migration and border management. Ukraine’s state border guard service has been modernized in line with EU standards and practices. Ukrainian authorities have ensured access to Interpol databases at border crossing points and cooperation on border control and border surveillance with neighboring countries. The capacity of Ukraine’s state migration service has been increased
Public order and security. A fight against corruption has been launched. Three anti-corruption institutions, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecution (SAP), were formed. Ukrainian authorities have also strengthened measures to prevent and combat organized crime.
External relations and human rights. Ukraine adopted the national human rights strategy, which includes sections on anti-discrimination. The Ukrainian government and parliament also adopted amendments to the Labour Code which explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. An inclusive approach towards Ukrainian citizens living in non-government controlled territories (i.e. occupied by Russian and pro-Russian separatist forces) in Donbas and Crimea was taken into consideration by Ukraine’s government.