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Ukraine’s Rada passes bill on indigenous peoples, denies this status to Russians

The bill defines the legal status of the indigenous people and cements legal guarantees of possession of all human rights and basic freedoms, stipulated in the national and international law

KIEV, July 1. /TASS/. The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine passed the bill on indigenous peoples, which denies this status to Russians, with 325 votes on Thursday. Just minutes earlier, the bill was approved in the first reading with 331 votes.

"The bill provides a definition of the concept of an ‘indigenous people of Ukraine’ as an autochthonous ethnical entity, formed on Ukrainian territory, which carries an authentic language and culture, has traditional, social, cultural or representative structures, considers itself an indigenous people of Ukraine, comprises an ethnic minority in its population, and does not have its own state entity beyond Ukraine. According to this definition, the indigenous peoples of Ukraine are Crimean Tatars, Karaims and Krymchaks," the accompanying memo says.

This definition means that Russians cannot be considered an indigenous people of Ukraine.

The law was completely rejected by the Opposition Platform - For Life. The ruling Servant of the People party contributed 226 votes, while Pyotr Poroshenko’s European Solidarity gave 25 votes, and Yuliya Timoshenko’s Batkivschina added 19 votes.

The bill defines the legal status of the indigenous people and cements legal guarantees of possession of all human rights and basic freedoms, stipulated in the national and international law.

"The implementation of the bill would facilitate the protection of rights of the Indigenous people of Ukraine for self-determination, independent definition of its political status, free implementation of its economic, social and cultural development by means that do not contradict the Constitution and laws of Ukraine," the memo says.

Under the law, the indigenous peoples become protected against actions aimed at: the elimination of their ethnicity, destruction of cultural values, "deportation or forced displacement from the location of compact residence in any form," "forceful assimilation or forceful integration in any form," incitement of racial, ethnic or religious hate against them. They also have their cultural, educational, linguistic and informational rights guaranteed.

The emergence of this initiative is tied with Crimea’s accession to Russia, and the subsequent allegations of violations of rights of the indigenous peoples of the peninsula.

Criticism from Moscow

Zelensky’s initiative received harsh criticism in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised interview that the bill does not comply with the norms of international humanitarian law. The head of state noted that to call Russians a non-indigenous people "is not simply incorrect, but laughable and stupid," that such a position does not comply with history, and that Kiev’s idea to declare Russians non-indigenous would severely harm to the Russian people. According to Putin, the consequences of adopting this bill could be compared with a use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The Russian Orthodox Church also criticized the bill, noting that such a decision could undermine the stability and integrity of Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted that the problem of indigenous peoples of Ukraine is present at all international platforms and it is being discussed there in close contact with the leadership of various international structures. She underscored that Kiev’s initiative would discriminate against millions of Russians.

Kiev denies discrimination

Ukrainian authorities have rejected all accusations of discrimination of Russians through the bill. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Alexey Reznikov pointed out that the concept of "indigenous peoples" has been cemented in the 1996 Constitution of Ukraine. He underscored that the concepts of "indigenous peoples" and "national minorities" are not equal.

Later, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba claimed the rights of Russians as an ethnic minority "are protected by the Constitution on an equal basis with others," opining that Russians allegedly could not be considered an indigenous people "because they have their own state".