Daugavpils' Russians stay in Latvia after failing language test

There are a number of Russian citizens living in Daugavpils who have not passed the Latvian language proficiency test and have not received a temporary residence permit, but they are not leaving for Russia either, Latvian Radio reported on January 16.

Permanent residency permits issued to Russian citizens expired in September 2023. To live in Latvia, they had to apply for the status of long-term resident of the European Union, but to receive it they had to obtain a certification regarding knowledge of the official language at level A2.

Natalja Kožanova (Harmony), chairwoman of the Social Affairs Committee of Daugavpils City Council, head of the unit “Russian Cultural Center” of the local government institution “Unity House”, each day encounters the Daugavpilians whose documents have lapsed in Latvia. These are residents who have been Latvian citizens or non-citizens before and at some point chose to become Russian citizens. Each of them has their own life story, which in most cases is not related to Russia, and each has their own solution upon receiving a message of expulsion from Latvia.

“You know, some don't want to do anything, they have depression; there are people who collected stuff, made a decision and left for somewhere. Not necessarily to Russia, because those Russian citizens who live here, are not related to Russia, they have no relatives there, there is nowhere to go. There are situations involving Belarus and there are people who are going there. There are those who drive to their children somewhere in Europe. There are very different situations. And unfortunately, there are situations where a lot of people died. Because the stress left its impact on the health condition and people couldn't stand it. Very many people died,” Kožanova claimed.

Russian citizen Rimma was among the Daugavpils who received a letter from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) regarding expulsion from Latvia because she had not passed the Latvian language proficiency test.

“I didn't know what to do, what to do when I got the message that I had to leave Latvia on December 1. I did not pass a language exam, I will soon be deported and I have no one in Russia. Will I have to go to the meadows of Pskov? I can't even express the emotions I went through then. But I decided to take Latvian courses, even though I had the second category of Latvian knowledge when I was working. Unfortunately, with the years, language has been forgotten, there was nobody to communicate with. And the second time I took the test, I didn't collect the points I needed. Now it's hard, Russia's pension is around 90 euros for me, very small, and it's impossible to pay for everything,“ Rimma said.

Now Rimma, who was born in Estonia, has obtained a permit which provides an opportunity to stay in Latvia for another two years to strengthen knowledge of the Latvian language.

Rimma is over 70 years old. By profession, she is an artist who got married in Latvia. Russian citizenship gave her the opportunity to travel without visas and take part in international exhibitions. Now, losing her source of livelihood, she finds herself under the umbrella of the Daugavpils Care Society "Rūpes" which distributes food and medicine to her every week.

“It's not the only thing we help with. There's firewood, pet food, and medication. We organize fundraising and provide help to people who got into difficulty and have no money at all. We decided we couldn't just leave them. So journalists came too to understand what was happening at all,“ the association noted.

Foreign journalists are frequent guests in Daugavpils on the issue of expelling Russian citizens. This time they are colleagues from the BBC interested in how those who have been left with no documents or livelihood survive.

Among them is 80-year-old Ludmila from Uzbekistan. Because of her age she didn't have to take the Latvian language test but she also didn't know she had to renew her residence permit in Latvia. This resulted in her pension loss, as a diabetic – also access to medicinal products for several months. Now the documents have been submitted and Ludmila hopes to stay in Latvia. Here she has children and no place else to go.

There are currently around 1,000 Russian citizens living in Latvia who, unlike these two Daugavpils women, have still not submitted documents for requesting a residence permit in Latvia. The process of expelling these Russian citizens will be very complicated and tough, as Maira Roze, head of the PMLP, stated in early December.

So far, no Russian citizens have been deported. But this month, the Constitutional Court began to view the case regarding the norm by which Russian citizens must certify knowledge of the Latvian language to obtain a new residence permit. A decision in the case will be handed down in February.

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