Demand surges in Russia for counterfeit Ukrainian passports amid refugee status perks in the west

In a bizarre twist, Russians are showing an increasing desire to obtain Ukrainian passports as merchants of forged documents claim these can facilitate relocation to Europe and access the benefits accorded to Ukrainian refugees.

The Russian news outlet Fontanka reports that there is a spike in demand for counterfeit Ukrainian passports among Russians. According to the newspaper, while most offerings online are legitimate services provided by lawyers to help Ukrainian refugees who have misplaced passports or marriage certificates and cannot return home to retrieve them, Russian citizens are now getting in on the act. They join closed groups on Telegram or Facebook to access these "services."

"Your passport (whether domestic or international) is produced using genuine blanks. Data is added to the state register through our connections. You'll receive an Individual Tax Number and a birth certificate, both registered with the civil records office. The perforation printer marks the passport series and number. All necessary stamps are affixed to the pages. Ultimately, you get a real document you can use with confidence," one advertisement says.

Other vendors offer to arrange a birth certificate, promising that alongside this, you can secure a biometric passport and travel freely. They also sell blank Ukrainian internal passports with "original watermarks."

The cost for a blank passport starts at $2,500, with prices ranging between $3,000 and $9,000 for completed documents, the publication added.

However, during their investigation, journalists encountered a relatively honest seller who admitted that no one could counterfeit a biometric Ukrainian passport, but they could guarantee a counterfeit birth certificate or international travel passport for a modest sum by market standards—350 and 2000 euros, respectively.

Neither sellers nor buyers are particularly forthcoming with success stories about crossing borders or obtaining residency using these fake documents. But the reporters found "Ksenia, a happy owner of a forged Ukrainian passport now a citizen of Latvia," in one expatriate chat group.

Hoping to relocate to the Baltics where she had friends, spoke the language, and anticipated finding work easily, Ksenia deemed her prospects in countries like Georgia or Kazakhstan less certain. But entry for a Russian citizen like herself was barred.

Ksenia found a counterfeit document vendor through acquaintances. Without much faith about a biometric passport acquisition, she smartly opted to buy a international travel passport and a birth certificate. The "documents" arrived by mail within two weeks, costing her in total—including postage—$2,500.

"I crossed with the flow of Ukrainian refugees, claiming I lost my biometric passport en route. The talk with border guards was a sheer nightmare. But they checked and let me pass," she explained.

Ksenia refused to divulge to journalists how she managed to establish herself and gain residency in Latvia with forged papers and subsequently deleted her messages citing safety concerns.

According to Russian migration lawyer Anna Adaeyska, border crossing via such means is indeed possible. "I have come across such cases in my practice. There are intermediaries working both sides, people cross the border, pay and disappear into the new territory," she revealed, adding that the issuance process for the most counterfeit passports only exposes errors during operation.

However, Adaeyska points out that tampering with biometric Ukrainian passports is impractical—Russians have learned to insert and laminate photos, imprint the needed stamps, but can't handle the biometric data. Yet, amidst a stream of refugees, crossing borders without documents, it can be quite feasible, especially with something to show in place of an ID card.

Exploiting this, Russians have successfully crossed into EU countries, claiming a lost passport but presenting a birth certificate and international Ukrainian passport, which are significantly easier to fake.

Fontanka confirms the that such fake passport business is real. For instance, in January, the State Security Service of Azerbaijan uncovered a group involved in counterfeiting Ukrainian documents.

Over the course of a year, the criminals produced Ukrainian international passports and driver's licenses, demanding up to $30,000 for their "services."

"The organized group… illicitly granted Azerbaijani citizens and citizens of other countries (notably Russia) official Ukrainian documents, enabling them to reside in various states, seek asylum, and move freely without visas, portraying themselves as Ukrainian nationals," the State Security Service of Azerbaijan stated.

  Ukraine, Russia