Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 16 February 2016

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SUMMARY

Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCP). The overall cross-border traffic increased at both BCPs.

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 21 permanent international staff members (incl. the Chief Observer).

The mission is fulfilling its mandate without major difficulties.

OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS

Persons crossing the border

The profile of the people crossing the border has not significantly changed and can be categorized as follows:

  1. Adults with no luggage or empty cars
  2. Families (including elderly people and children) or groups on foot or by car with a lot of luggage;
  3. People wearing military-style clothing or footwear, with or without backpacks.

The average number of entries/exits increased overall from 9,029 to 9,434 per day for both BCPs compared to last week; the average net flow for both BCPs went from plus 48 (i.e. more entries to the Russian Federation to minus 45 (i.e. more exits from  the Russian Federation). The Donetsk BCP continued to experience more traffic than the Gukovo BCP. The cross-border movements registered at both BCPs accounted for over 38% of all entries/exits in Rostov region.

People in military-style clothing

During the reporting period, the number of men and women in military-style clothing that the OTs observed crossing the border in both directions increased from 133 last week to 162 this week at both BCPs; 82 of them crossed to the Russian Federation while 80 of them crossed to Ukraine. Approximately 87% of this category’s crossings occurred at the Donetsk BCP. These people continued crossing the border individually or in groups and by foot or, in addition to private vehicles, from time to time travelling on busses or in minivans, making it more difficult for the Observer Teams (OTs) to observe their movement across the border.

Furthermore, the OTs continued to observe physically fit young and middle-aged men in civilian clothing, with short haircuts, many of whom carried camouflage-coloured backpacks.

Bus connections

Regular local and long-distance bus connections continued to operate between Ukraine (Luhansk region) and cities in the Russian Federation. In addition to regular bus connections, the OTs continued to observe bus connections on non-regular routes: often the buses do not state their route; instead they just have a sign on the windshield saying “Irregular”.

Among these bus connections observed by the OTs, the following irregular routes were noted: Luhansk-Kharkiv, Alchevsk-Kharkiv, Rovenki-Kyiv, Alchevsk-Kharkiv-Kyiv and Luhansk-St. Petersburg.

On some occasions, the OTs noticed the bus drivers removing the itinerary signs from the windshields of their buses once they entered the BCP to cross into Ukraine or left the BCP into the Russian Federation.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OM continued to observe trucks, crossing the border in both directions and at both BCPs. Compared to the previous week, the number of trucks increased from 544 to 572; 286 of these trucks crossed to the Russian Federation and 286 crossed to Ukraine. The OTs observed trucks predominantly registered in Luhansk region; however, on occasion the OTs also saw trucks registered in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Volyn regions.

In addition, the OTs also frequently observed trucks registered in the Russian Federation and Republic of Belarus that crossed the border in both directions and only at the Donetsk BCP. During the reporting period, the number of trucks registered in the Republic of Belarus decreased from 37 to 29; these trucks were observed crossing the border only at the Donetsk BCP.

Separately, the OTs also observed tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The number of tanker trucks increased from 20 last week to 64 this week. Fifty-eight of these trucks crossed at the Donetsk BCP and six of these trucks crossed at the Gukovo BCP. These trucks, for the most part, had the words “Propane” and “Flammable” written across the tanks in Russian or Ukrainian. The majority of tanker trucks have hazard signs, indicating that they are transporting propane or a mix of propane with butane.

Minivans[1]

During the reporting period, the OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans, crossing the border in both directions and at both BCPs. The OTs observed minivans predominantly registered in Luhansk region; however, the OTs frequently saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation.

Compared to the previous week, the number of cargo minivans increased from 347 to 404; 190 crossed to the Russian Federation and 214 to Ukraine. Also, the number of passenger minivans increased from 264 to 381; 199 crossed to the Russian Federation and 182 crossed to Ukraine.

Trains

The OTs continued to pick up on the sound of trains running on the train tracks located approximately 150 meters south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on three occasions; the OTs estimated that one train was going to the Russian Federation and two trains were bound for Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine was informed of these train crossings. In most cases, visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees in between the train tracks and the BCP and unfavourable light conditions.

Other observations

The majority of vehicles crossing the border have number plates issued in Luhansk region or in the Russian Federation. The majority of long-distance coaches commuting between Luhansk region and cities in the Russian Federation have number plates issued in Luhansk region.

The OTs continued to observe vehicles with Ukrainian license plates, including articulated trucks with “LPR” (“Luhansk People’s Republic”) or “Novorossiya” stickers, in rare cases “DPR” (“Donetsk People’s Republic”) stickers on their license plates masking the Ukrainian flag.

During the reporting week, OTs at the Donetsk BCP observed one car with Georgian, one with Lithuanian and one with Polish registration plates crossing the border from Ukraine to the Russian Federation, as well as one car with Lithuanian registration plates crossing the border to Ukraine.

On 9 February at 11:35hrs the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a minibus arriving at the BCP from Ukraine and parking in the customs control zone. On its sides it bore the inscription “Operational Rescue Service[2]” in Russian. Approximately 12 young men dressed in dark blue uniforms got out of the bus and entered the main BCP building. There were also two men and two women in civilian clothing and driver dressed in a uniform with Ministry of Emergency Situations emblems. At 11:55hrs the minibus left the BCP to the Russian Federation and returned back to Ukraine later at 20:08hrs.

On 10 February 2016 at 17:25hrs the OT observed one ambulance with Ukrainian registration plates crossing the border from Ukraine to the Russian Federation at the Donetsk BCP. Except for the driver and medical personnel the OT did not observe any persons on board of the ambulance. Later, at 20:25hrs the OT observed the same ambulance crossing the border back to Ukraine. Again the OT was not able to ascertain whether there were other persons on board or not.

The OTs continued to observe some very detailed checks of vehicles crossing into the Russian Federation by border guard and customs services.

[1] Passenger minivans: vehicles with more than 8 + 1 seats and a maximum of 16 + 1 seats (light busses which correspond to driving license D1). 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 license C1).

[2] Оперативно-Спасательная Служба

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