Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 22 January 2019

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 was 8,227 at both BCPs. The overall number of border crossings by persons 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). 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:

  1. Adults travelling on foot or by car with little or no luggage;
  2. Persons in military-style outfits;
  3. 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 decreased from 9,000 to 8,277 per day at both BCPs compared to last week[1].

During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to the Russian Federation, with an average net flow of plus 514 per day 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 noted crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs was 12 this week (compared to 16 last week); eight of them crossed into the Russian Federation, and four into Ukraine (92 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, three families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and three were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when six families were observed crossing into Russian Federation and eight 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 (327 compared to 412 observed during the previous week). There were 180 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 147 bound for Ukraine.

Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following “irregular” route or destination was noted: Luhansk-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 441 to 725 (209 at the Gukovo BCP and 516 at the Donetsk BCP); 377 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 348 crossed into Ukraine. Most of the trucks observed by the OTs had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region; however, on a daily basis, the OTs also noted trucks registered in the Russian Federation, Armenia, Georgia and in Belarus.

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 increased to 59 (compared to 44 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 47 to 214: of the total number of trucks scanned, 125 trucks (58 per cent) were bound for Ukraine; the remaining 89 trucks (42 per cent) crossed into the Russian Federation.

Minivans

The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans[2] 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 increased from 91 to 123 vehicles; 64 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 59 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 four occasions, compared to six last week; the OTs assessed that one train was travelling to the Russian Federation and the other three 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

On 19 January at 17:17 at Donetsk BCP, a police minivan entered the BCP from the Russian Federation and parked behind the main building. At 17:39, the same minivan returned in the direction of the Russian Federation.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 15 January to 22 January 2019, please see the attachment here****.

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

[2] 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).