UKRAINE LEGAL UPDATE
14 October 2022
The Supreme Court declares that by acquiring foreign nationality one voluntarily forgoes Ukrainian citizenship. Therefore, no constitutional prohibition against depriving a person of Ukrainian citizenship is at issue when the authorities act to formally terminate it.
In this case a man had his Ukrainian citizenship terminated by a presidential decree. In doing so the President followed a procedure set out in the special citizenship law. Presented with a list of persons posing potential threat to Ukraine’s national security, he terminated the citizenship of the man, who was on the list, on the basis that he had previously obtained Israeli citizenship.
The man sued the President at the Supreme Court (a court of first instance in such matters), asking it to cancel the decree and reinstate his Ukrainian citizenship. The petition was denied. The claimant appealed at the Great Chamber of the Supreme Court, which confirmed the previous decision.
In deciding the appeal, the Great Chamber first disposed of the claimant’s more technical arguments, such as whether the citizenship termination procedure was properly followed.
Then it addressed what seems to be the core issue, which is whether citizenship termination by the executive is constitutional in the first place. The Court said it is, noting that citizenship termination under the citizenship law is not the same as citizenship deprivation under the Constitution.
The Constitution of Ukraine (article 25) says that “A citizen of Ukraine may not be deprived of citizenship and of a right to change citizenship”. This broad constitutional rule contains no exceptions. One can imagine it was originally inserted in the Constitution, passed soon after Ukraine’s independence, to guard, in particular, against the kinds of authoritarian overreach common in the country’s past when authorities could strip people of citizenship status for political reasons.
The citizenship law, however, seems to limit deprivation of citizenship to situations where taking it away would make a person stateless. Then again, it expressly permits what it calls citizenship termination for those who have obtained foreign nationality. The power to do so is vested in the President, acting on advice of the various lower authorities.
It is peculiar that the Supreme Court came to the decision without pausing to consider whether the law on citizenship termination is consistent with the Constitution’s prohibition against citizenship deprivation. Had the Court done so, it might have had to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, which would have to decide on the law’s constitutionality. If that court found the law’s respective provisions contrary to the Constitution, it could have invalidated them.
In any event, things being what they are, the decision stands as a reminder that, under the law’s current interpretation, it is illegal for Ukrainian citizens to be nationals of foreign countries. Those who are have as good as lost their Ukrainian citizenship.