One year ago, on March 16, Russia orchestrated an illegal referendum in Crimea that violated the Ukrainian constitution and was condemned by the international community. This is the fourth of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea. The first sums up the situation one year after Russia’s occupation. The second focuses on forced disappearances. The third, on economic hardship, is titled “Tourism falls, inflation rises”.

After orchestrating the referendum in Crimea, the Kremlin enacted a law that gave residents of Crimea only one month to declare that they wanted to retain their Ukrainian citizenship before being automatically declared Russian citizens, regardless of their individual preferences.

Crimeans who did not want to become Russian citizens faced multiple obstacles. There were only four offices in Crimea to register the desire to retain Ukrainian citizenship, compared to 160 where one could apply for Russian citizenship.

If a Crimean did make it to one of the four offices, long lines usually meant people were turned away, making it difficult to submit requests before the one-month deadline. Those who were able to refuse Russian citizenship despite these obstacles were required to prove they had lived in Crimea before March 2014. If they could not, they faced expulsion.

According to Human Rights Watch, this law in effect discriminated against Crimeans who chose to retain their Ukrainian citizenship, categorizing them as “foreign migrants” with no guaranteed right to stay in Crimea. Those who refused to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship became ineligible for Russian social benefits, including state-subsidized health care, pensions and salaries.

Russian citizenship became necessary to retain state jobs, such as those in teaching and health care, as well as to renew or obtain essential documentation such as passports, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. Non-Russian citizens must now obtain entry and exit visas for Crimea and can spend no more than 90 days at a time on the peninsula, with no guarantee they will be allowed to return.

Those who obtained Russian citizenship became subject to Russia’s military service requirements.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine.