Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 23 October 2018

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This report is for the media and the general public.

SUMMARY

Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs). The overall number of border crossings by persons slightly decreased at both BCPs compared to the previous week.

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 21 permanent international staff members, including the Chief Observer (CO) and one first-responder[1]. The Mission is supported administratively by a Vienna-based staff member.

OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS

Persons crossing the border

The profile of the people crossing the border can be categorized as follows:

Adults travelling on foot or by car with little or no luggage; Persons in military-style outfits; Families (often including elderly people and/or children) travelling on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage. The average number of entries/exits slightly decreased from 10,689 to 10,312 per day at both BCPs compared to last week[2].

During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to the Russian Federation, with an average net flow of plus 46 for both BCPs.

The Donetsk BCP continued to experience more traffic than the Gukovo BCP.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military-style outfits crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs increased to 36 (compared to 31 last week); 20 of them crossed into the Russian Federation, and 16 into Ukraine (72 per cent of this category’s crossings occurred at the Donetsk BCP). They continued to cross the border individually or in groups. Most individuals crossed on foot, however, some made use of private vehicles, buses or minivans, making it more difficult for the observer teams (OTs) to observe their movement across the border, especially since some of the private vehicles have tinted windows, and buses and minivans have drawn curtains.

Families with a significant amount of luggage

The OTs continued to report on families crossing the border, sometimes with elderly people and/or children, at both BCPs with a significant amount of luggage, or travelling in heavily loaded cars. During this reporting week, nine families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and eight were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when eight families were observed crossing the border into the Russian Federation and five into Ukraine.

Bus connections

Regular local and long-distance bus connections continued to operate between Ukraine (mostly from/to the Luhansk region) and the Russian Federation. In addition to regular bus connections, the OTs continued to observe bus connections on irregular routes. Often the buses do not state their route; instead they have a sign on the windshield stating “irregular”.

During the reporting period, the OTs observed a decrease in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (387 compared to 426 observed during the previous week). There were 202 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 185 bound for Ukraine.

Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following “irregular” routes or destinations were noted: Kyiv; Luhansk-Kharkiv; Luhansk-Simferopol; and Stakhanov- Kharkiv.

On some occasions, the OTs noticed the bus drivers removing the itinerary signs from the windshields of their buses, while some buses do not display their route at all. The majority of long-distance buses commuting between the Luhansk region and cities in the Russian Federation have Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OM observed an increase in the overall number of trucks crossing the border in both directions and at both BCPs. Compared to the previous week, the total number of trucks went from 806 to 853 (278 at the Gukovo BCP and 575 at the Donetsk BCP); 445 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 408 crossed into Ukraine. Most of the trucks observed by the OTs had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region.

Among them, the OTs also continued to observe tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. During the reporting week, the number of tanker trucks decreased to 66 (compared to 72 during the previous reporting period). These trucks were observed crossing the border at both BCPs. The trucks had the words “Propane” and “Flammable” written across the tanks in either Russian or Ukrainian. The majority of tanker trucks had hazard signs, indicating that they were transporting propane or a mix of propane and butane.

All trucks undergo systematic inspection by Russian Federation officials, which may include an X-ray check. Due to the unfavourable observation position at the Gukovo BCP, the OTs continued to be unable to observe any X-ray checks.

Compared to the previous week, the total number of X-ray checks at the Donetsk BCP increased from 63 to 88: of the total number of trucks scanned, 63 trucks (73 per cent) were bound for Ukraine; the remaining 25 trucks (28 per cent) crossed into the Russian Federation.

Minivans

The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans[3] crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The OTs observed minivans predominantly with Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region; however, the OTs also frequently saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation. Compared to the previous week, the number of cargo minivans decreased from 163 to 148 vehicles; 76 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 72 into Ukraine.

Trains

The OTs continued to pick up the sound of trains running on the railway tracks located approximately 150 metres south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on 22 occasions, compared to 13 last week; the OTs assessed that 13 trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the rest to Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine was regularly informed about the trains bound for Ukraine.

Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees located between the train tracks and the BCP.

Other observations

The majority of vehicles crossing the border had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region, or Russian Federation licence plates. A significant number of vehicles with “LPR” plates were also observed crossing the border in both directions on a daily basis, as were vehicles with Georgian, German and Polish licence plates and with “DPR” plates.

On 17 October at 14:27, the OT observed an ambulance entering the Gukovo BCP from the Russian Federation. The vehicle parked behind the main building and drove back in the same direction at 14:44. Due to its unfavourable position, the OT could not observe if any assistance was provided during its stay inside the BCP area.

On 17 October at 14:55, the OT observed a green MI-8 type helicopter which flew over the Donetsk BCP. The aircraft came from the north and continued flying in a south-easterly direction.

In addition, on 18 October, two different helicopters were observed flying over the Gukovo BCP coming from the north-east before heading away in a southerly direction. The first white and green helicopter was recorded at 12:17. A second military helicopter was observed at 14:03 . All these mentioned helicopters remained inside Russian Federation airspace during the whole time they were visible by the OTs.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 18 September to 16 October 2018, please see the attachment here.

[1] First responders are OSCE staff or mission members deployed to another mission for a short period of time.

[2] Based on data received from the Regional Representation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

[3] Cargo minivans: light commercial vehicles with a maximum authorized mass of more than 3.5 t and not more than 7.5 t; with or without a trailer with a maximum mass of less than 750 kg (small cargo vehicles which correspond to driving licence C1).

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