Czech expats in Ukraine want to repatriate to old country

Photo: CTK

Some 40 families of Czech expatriots from western Ukraine have asked the Czech government to help them repatriate to the old country, citing concerns about the future of Ukraine. The Czech government said it was looking at the petition while the Foreign Ministry says fast-track residency permits are available to expats from around the globe.

Photo: CTK
As tensions grow in Ukraine, several dozen Czech expatriots have asked the Czech authorities to help them move back to their old country.

In a letter to the Czech president and prime minister, some 40 families with Czech roots living in the Zhytomyr area in western Ukraine say they would like to relocate due to concerns about an armed conflict with Russia as well as the deteriorating security situation. Karel Kühnl is the Czech Foreign Ministry’s special commissioner for Czechs living abroad.

“We have received a letter signed by the chairwomen of two Czech expat associations in the area of Zhytomyr. Their appeal is motivated by their concerns over future developments in Ukraine.”

There are around 10,000 people in Ukraine with Czech roots. Their ancestors mostly arrived in the then Russian Empire in the 1860s and 70s, and settled mainly in the western Volhynia region. There are also several expats communities in Crimea, and other parts of the country.

Karel Kühnl,  photo: Marián Vojtek
Czech officials say the letter from the Zhytomyr region was the only such appeal to have arrived since the start of the Ukrainian crisis. Czech authorities also report no increase in the number of asylum seekers from Ukraine, or the number of illegal immigrants from that country.

The Czech Interior Ministry is dealing with the request, a ministry spokesman said. For his part, Commissioner Künhl says the government might help – but also suggests expats use procedures available to them.

“That’s a political issue. My job is to help expats who want to move to the Czech Republic through standard procedures which are available to them and which can quickly lead to results.”

Under Czech law, expats can apply for certification of their Czech ancestry at the Foreign Ministry. With this document in hand, they can request permanent residency permits from the government, an option open only to those registered as Czech expatriots, according to Commissioner Kühnl.

Pro-Russian people celebrate after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in Simferopol,  Ukraine,  March 16,  2014,  photo: CTK
However, the expats in Ukraine say residency permits are not enough. Emilia Snydevič, the head of one of the associations that approached the Czech government, told the news website that many Czech expats in the area already had permits but what they needed was financial help to relocate and start a new life in the Czech Republic.

That’s something the Czech government provided to Ukrainian expats who moved here in the 1990s. But government officials would not say whether similar assistance would be made available to expats from Ukraine this time as well.