Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 21 July 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 18 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 shifts at the border checkpoints and are adhering 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 fulfil 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 increased from 8,055 to 8,853 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 582 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 temporarily suspended and restored from 25 June.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military style outfits crossing the border was 13, compared to eight last week. Nine crossed into the Russian Federation and four crossed into Ukraine. 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, six families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation while another six families were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when four families were observed crossing to the Russian Federation, while another eight families crossed 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. During the reporting period, the OTs observed a decrease in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (176 compared to 215 observed during the previous week). There were 87 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 89 bound for Ukraine.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed a decrease in the overall number of trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (896 compared to 996 during the previous reporting week); 468 at the Gukovo BCP and 428 at the Donetsk BCP, 496 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 400 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, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, 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 slightly decreased from 63 to 53. 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 significantly decreased from 156 to 25. All 25 scanned trucks (100 per cent) were bound for Ukraine.

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 159 to 187 vehicles; 84 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 103 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 22 occasions; the OTs assessed that nine trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the remaining 13 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. The OTs also observed cars with licence plates registered in Poland, Lithuania, and Georgia.

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

On 16 July at 13:35, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a green helicopter type Mi-8/Mi-17 with a red star on the side, flying from north to east, turning in a north-westerly direction at an altitude of about 150m. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

On the same day at 13:19, the OT at the Gukovo BCP observed a helicopter type Mi-8/Mi-17 flying from east to north-east, at an altitude of approximately 150-200m. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 16 June to 21 July 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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