Russia has issued the first Russian passports to residents of the occupied Ukrainian city of Cherson. 23 residents of the city in southern Ukraine received their identity papers during a ceremony on Saturday, the official Russian news agency Tass reported. At the end of May, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that allows passports to be issued using the “simplified procedure”.

This also applies to the Zaporizhia region, which is also partially controlled by Russia.

“All of our residents in Kherson want to get a passport and (Russian) citizenship as soon as possible,” pro-Russian regional chief Vladimir Saldo said, according to TASS. “This is the beginning of a new era for us,” he was quoted as saying by the Ria Nowosti news agency. The Kherson region had been almost completely captured by the Russian army at the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

According to the authorities in Kherson, the start of passport issuance was chosen with a view to Russia Day on Sunday. The national holiday is celebrated annually on June 12 and commemorates Russia’s independence from the Soviet Union.