Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 27 April 2021

Format
News and Press Release
Source
Posted
Originally published
Origin
View original

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 decreased at both BCPs compared to the previous week.

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 22 permanent international Mission members, including the Chief Observer (CO) and a First Responder.[^^1]^^ 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 Chairpersonship. Following the host country's recommendations, the observers are adhering to 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. During this reporting period, the vaccination process provided by the host country medical system continues on a voluntary basis. By now, 73 per cent of OM staff have received the first jab of the vaccine, and 59 per cent have received both.

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 decreased from 8,378 to 8,256 per day at both BCPs compared to last week. During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to Ukraine, with an average net flow of 20 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 closed its borders for the majority of foreigners starting from 18 March 2020. 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 2020, 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 seven last week; six persons crossed into the Russian Federation while seven persons 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, seven families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation while five families were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when three families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and no families were observed crossing 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 an increase in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (355 compared to 326 observed during the previous week). There were 180 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 175 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.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed just a slight decrease in the overall number of trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (728 compared to 735 during the previous reporting week); 365 at the Gukovo BCP and 363 at the Donetsk BCP, 355 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation, and 373 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, Lithuania, the Russian Federation, and trucks with "LPR" plates.

The OTs also continued to observe tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. During the reporting period, the OTs observed just a slight increase in the overall number of tanker trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (42 compared to 40 during the previous reporting week). 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 unfavorable 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 136 to 97. Of the total number of trucks scanned, 95 trucks (98 per cent) were bound for Ukraine, and the remaining two (two 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. During the reporting period, the OTs observed an increase in the overall number of minivans crossing the border at both BCPs (176 compared to 140 observed during the previous week); 82 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 94 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 30 occasions; the OTs assessed that 16 trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the remaining 14 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 vehicles with Georgian and Lithuanian licence plates.

On 23 April at 14:40, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a group of nine brand-new ambulances type "GAZelle Next" with no licence plates entering the BCP from the Russian Federation and parking at the customs control area. All vehicles had the inscription "Urgent Medical Help" written in Russian on the side. The group was accompanied by an ambulance type "GAZelle Next" with "LPR" plates and the inscription "Ambulance" on the side. After undergoing border and customs control procedures, including an X-ray check, the ambulances left the BCP for Ukraine at 17:12.

On 24 April at 15:35, the OT at Donetsk BCP observed a group of seven long buses, coloured white with a green strip on the side, and Russian Federation transit licence plates entering the BCP from the Russian Federation and parking at the customs control area. The group was accompanied by a black SUV with "LPR" plates. The driver and one person were observed inside each vehicle. After undergoing border and customs control procedures, including an X-ray check, the vehicles left the BCP for Ukraine at 19:44.

On 25 April at 08.30, the OT at the Gukovo BCP, observed a truck with "LPR" plates waiting for customs control procedures in the hangar building, next to the Observer Mission's Office at the BCP. From its position, the OT could not assess from which direction the truck had arrived. The truck driver opened the tarpaulins of the truck and was waiting for a checking procedure. From its authorized position, the OT (among them the Chief Observer) had the opportunity for a visual observation from the outside. In the cargo area of the truck, the OT observed two jet engines (the main part of the engine), similar to the KLIMOV VK-1 (used in the MIG-15 Soviet-era jet) and the Rolls-Royce Nene first generation centrifugal jet engines. On the same day at 20:19, the truck left the hangar and parked at the customs control area. At the time of submitting the Weekly Update, the truck was still parked at the BCP area.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 23 March 2021 to 27 April 2021, please see the attachment here.

[1] First responders are OSCE staff or Mission members deployed for a short period of time.

[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 that correspond to driving licence C1).