Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 5 February 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 slightly increased 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 staff member and the Chief of fund administration based in Vienna.

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 increased from 7,766 to 7,787 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 187 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 13 this week (compared to 24 last week); seven of them crossed into the Russian Federation, and six into Ukraine (85 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, six families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and four were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when four families were observed crossing into Russian Federation and three 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 slight increase in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (316 compared to 308 observed during the previous week). There were 167 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 149 bound for Ukraine.

Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following “irregular” route or destination was noted: Stakhanov- Kyiv; Alchevsk-Kyiv; and Kyiv.

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 735 to 762 (201 at the Gukovo BCP and 561 at the Donetsk BCP); 430 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 332 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 Belarus, the Russian Federation and some with “LPR” (sometimes “DPR”) plates.

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 slightly increased to 33 (compared to 32 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 162 to 189: of the total number of trucks scanned, 90 trucks (48 per cent) were bound for Ukraine; the remaining 99 trucks (52 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 107 to 160 vehicles; 83 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 77 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 seven occasions, compared to four last week; the OTs assessed that six trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and another one to Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine was regularly informed about the train 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.

On 3 February at Donetsk BCP, the OT observed two ambulances. The first ambulance (which bore Russian Federation licence plates) arrived at 06:15 and went behind the main building until it returned towards the Russian Federation at 08:32. One minute before it left, another ambulance (also with Russian Federation licence plates) arrived from the Russian Federation and parked in the same place.

At 08:50, the second ambulance also left towards the Russian Federation. From its position, the OT was not able to see whether the vehicles actually crossed the border to Ukraine, or whether they remained in the “blind spot” behind the main building of the BCP, where the OT does not have permission to move.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 1 January 2019 to 5 February 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).

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