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AP’s chilling exclusive of Russian ‘passportization’ inside occupied Ukrainian territories breaks just as Putin’s preordained election begins

An election commission official inspects the passport of a person who came to vote at a polling station, during a presidential election in Makiivka, Russian-controlled Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, March 15, 2024. People in Moscow-controlled Ukrainian regions are voting in Russia's presidential election, which is all but certain to extend President Vladimir Putin's rule after he clamped down on dissent. AP PHOTO

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The Kyiv team, in partnership with Lori Hinnant of global investigations, gained access to a largely unknowable world — clouded with hostile Russian propaganda in the occupied territories — to provide exclusive confirmation of increasing Russian pressure on Ukrainians to accept their passports beginning last fall.

With those affected reluctant to speak out because of the risk of reprisals, the team pooled their contacts to track down willing Ukrainians who had accepted the passports and managed to evacuate from occupied Berdyansk and Kherson.

A few brave Ukranians, fearing condemnation and assuming many would not understand the extraordinary pressures of living under occupation, overcame their fears after the team earned their trust through steadfast reporting over the past year.

Stepanenko and Arhinova found families who had resisted taking Russian citizenship, including one woman whose sons risked being drafted to fight against Ukrainian forces. Lawyers, experts and Ukrainian officials revealed previously unreported information on Russia’s “passportization” policy and that Russia was also forcing them to fight against their own people in the Russian army.

The story ran just as voting in the Russian election was getting underway, including in occupied territories of Ukraine, driving interest by major news outlets over the weekend.

For their commitment and resourcefulness against the odds, Hanna Arhirova, Susie Blann, Lori Hinnant, Samya Kullab, Evgeniy Maloletka, Illia Novikov and Vasilisa Stepanenko are Best of the Week — First Winner.

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