Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 26 May 2020

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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 20 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.

Update on COVID-19 measures

Activities have been impacted by COVID-19 and measures undertaken by the OM to ensure the safety and duty of care of its Mission members and compliance with measures set by the host country authorities. The Mission is continuing to keep the situation under review, in close contact with the OSCE Secretariat and the Chairmanship. Following the host country recommendations, the observers are applying a self-isolation regime between the shifts at the border checkpoints and adherence to social distancing. Due to the preventive measures taken by the central and regional authorities, the OM is faced with certain difficulties, but is still able to continue to fulfill its mandate without any limitations in its observation and reporting activities.

OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS

Persons crossing the border

The profile of persons 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 persons and/or children) travelling on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage.

The average number of entries/exits slightly increased from 649 to 686 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 11 per day for both BCPs. The Donetsk BCP continued to experience much more traffic than the Gukovo BCP.

Responding to the COVID-19 situation, the host country has closed its borders for the majority of foreigners starting from 18 March. Among the exceptions of persons allowed to cross the border (which entered into force on 19 March), are Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons holding passports or identification documents proving permanent residence in certain areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. In addition, reportedly, due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19, starting from 10 April, the organized passenger transport commuting between the non-government-controlled areas of Luhansk region of Ukraine and the Russian Federation was suspended.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military-style outfits crossing the border was eight compared to one last week, five of them crossed into the Russian Federation and three into Ukraine at the Donetsk BCP. These individuals crossed the border on foot.

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, two families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and four families were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when one family was observed crossing to the Russian Federation while seven families crossed into Ukraine.

Bus connections

Regular local and long-distance bus connections between Ukraine (mostly from/to the Luhansk region) and the Russian Federation were stopped from 10 April. During the reporting period, no buses were observed at the two BCPs.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed an increase in the overall number of trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (1001 compared to 826 during the previous reporting week); 513 at the Gukovo BCP and 488 at the Donetsk BCP, 595 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 406 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, Belarus, Lithuania and trucks 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 decreased from 60 to 49. 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 the 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 increased from 98 to 162. Of the total number of trucks scanned, 128 trucks (79 per cent) were bound for Ukraine: the remaining 34 trucks (21 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 saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation. Compared to the previous week, the number of cargo minivans increased from 35 to 76 vehicles; 29 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 47 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 17 occasions; the OTs assessed that ten trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the remaining seven trains were travelling to Ukraine (more details are provided in the sections “trends and figures at a glance” below).

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 19 May at 19:44, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a minivan with “LPR” plates entering the BCP from the Russian Federation with the sign “LPR Post” (in Russian) on the side. After undergoing border control procedures, the vehicle crossed into Ukraine.

On 20 May at 15:03, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a white van with “LPR” plates arriving at the BCP from Ukraine. The vehicle had the inscription “Ritual cortege” (in Russian) on the side and in front. In addition to the driver, two passengers were also observed on board. After undergoing X-ray check and border control procedures, at 13:12 the vehicle crossed to the Russian Federation.

On 20 May at 17:48, a police minivan entered Donetsk BCP from the Russian Federation and parked behind the main building. At 18:22, the vehicle left the BCP to the Russian Federation. At 18:37, the same police minivan returned and parked behind the main building. At 19:50, the vehicle left the BCP towards the Russian Federation with flashing lights on.

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

  • On 22 May at 12:25, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a helicopter flying from the north which then turned in an easterly direction. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

  • The same day at 12:50, the OT at the Gukovo BCP observed a helicopter flying from the north in a north-easterly direction at approximately 150-200 metres distance from the BCP. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

On 26 May at 07:10, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed two white minivans with "LPR" plates arriving at Donetsk BCP from Ukraine. The minivans had the sign “LPR Post" on the side. After undergoing border control procedures, both vehicles left towards the Russian Federation at 07:33.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 21 April to 26 May 2020, 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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