Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 29 October 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 increased at both BCPs compared to the previous week.

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 22 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 persons 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 persons and/or children) travelling on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage. The average number of entries/exits increased from 11,290 to 11,562 per day at both BCPs compared to last week[1].

During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to Russia, with an average net flow of 23 per day for both BCPs.

The Donetsk BCP continued to experience much 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 was 13 this week compared to 17 last week: six of them crossed into the Russian Federation, and seven 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 had tinted windows, and buses and minivans had drawn curtains.

Families with a significant amount of luggage

The OTs continued to report on families, sometimes with elderly persons and/or children, crossing the border 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 seven were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when 11 families were observed crossing to the Russian Federation and 12 to 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 did not state their route; instead they had a sign on the windshield stating “irregular”.

During the reporting period, the OTs observed an increase in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (508 compared to 505 observed during the previous week). There were 271 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 237 bound for Ukraine.

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

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed 784 trucks (compared to 878 during the previous reporting week) crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs (317 at the Gukovo BCP and 467 at the Donetsk BCP); 408 of these trucks crossed to the Russian Federation and 376 crossed to 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 and the Russian Federation and also with “LPR” plates.

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 from 56 to 72. 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 underwent systematic inspection by Russian Federation officials, which could 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 decreased from 151 to 110; 79 trucks (72 per cent) were bound for Ukraine, the remaining 31 trucks (28 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 slightly decreased from 128 to 126 vehicles; 56 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 70 into Ukraine.

Trains

The OTs continued to pick up the sound of trains on the railway tracks located approximately 150m south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on 19 occasions; the OTs assessed that ten trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and nine to Ukraine (more details are provided in the sections “trends and figures at a glance” below).

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. The OTs also observed cars with licence plates from Georgia and Lithuania.

During the reporting week, the OTs at both BCPs noticed helicopters flying along the border within the Russian Federation airspace on two separate occasions:

On 22 October at 10:42, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a helicopter type Mi-17/Mi-8 painted white with a blue stripe, flying from the east at a distance of approximately 2-3 km of the BCP before it turned in a northerly direction. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

On 24 October at 10:40, the OT at the Gukovo BCP observed a helicopter type Mi-17/Mi-8 painted white with a blue stripe, to the north of the BCP flying in a north-easterly direction. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

During the reporting week, the OTs at both BCPs observed ambulances on three separate occasions:

On 23 October at 05:07, the OT at Donetsk BCP observed an ambulance crossing the border from Ukraine into the Russian Federation. The ambulance bore "LPR" plates and the inscription "Children intensive care" - in Russian.

On the same day at 12:47, the OT at Donetsk BCP observed an ambulance with “LPR” plates and the inscription "Children intensive care" - in Russian - entering the BCP from the Russian Federation. Three persons (1 male driver and 2 female paramedics) were observed inside. The ambulance underwent border control procedures and left towards Ukraine.

On 26 October at 17:37, two ambulances arrived at the Gukovo BCP from the Russian Federation side and parked behind the main building. At 18:02, both ambulances drove back into the Russian Federation. The OT was unable to observe any other details from its position.

During the reporting week, the OTs at Donetsk BCP observed funeral vehicles on two separate occasions:

On 25 October at 11:28, the OT observed a Volkswagen minivan with Ukrainian licence plates and the inscription "Funeral Services" (in Russian) on the side, crossing the border from the Russian Federation into Ukraine. Two persons were observed inside the minivan. The OT could not observe if there was a coffin inside or not.

At 14:12 on the same day, the OT observed a Mercedes Sprinter minivan with Russian Federation licence plates and the inscription "Funeral Services" (in Russian) on the side crossing the border from Russian Federation into Ukraine. Two persons were observed inside the minivan. The OT could not observe if there was a coffin inside or not.

Among other observations, on 28 October at 13:23, the OT at Donetsk BCP noticed a police minivan with Russian Federation licence plates with two policemen inside entering the Donetsk BCP from the Russian Federation side. The minivan drove behind the main building. At 13:32, the minivan returned to the Russian Federation with an additional person on board.

Convoy

On 24 October at 06:47 (Moscow time), the eighty-sixth[3] Russian convoy arrived at the Donetsk BCP. A total of 16 vehicles were checked by Russian Federation border guards and customs officers prior to their crossing into Ukraine. All 16 vehicles had crossed back into the Russian Federation by 14:00 on 24 October. Ukrainian border guards and custom officers were present during the checking processes.

On 25 October at 10:45 (Moscow time), a convoy of 27 vehicles arrived at the Donetsk BCP. All 27 vehicles were checked by Russian Federation border guards and customs officers prior to their crossing into Ukraine. All vehicles, except for the escort minibus, were new, and without licence plates. By 12:12, all vehicles had left the BCP towards Ukraine.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 24 September to 29 October 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).

[3]Based on the Observer Mission’s counting, this convoy is considered the eighty-sixth convoy that has crossed into Ukraine through the “Donetsk” or “Gukovo” BCPs. However, so far all these convoys crossed through the “Donetsk” BCP.

Contacts

Communication and Media Relations Section OSCE Secretariat Phone: + 43 676 71 74 592 press@osce.org