Ukraine

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 23 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. A forty-eighth Russian Convoy crossed at the Donetsk BCP.

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 can be categorized as follows:

  1. Adults travelling on foot or by car with no or little luggage;
  2. Families (often including elderly people and/or children) on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage;
  3. Persons in military-style outfits.

The average number of entries/exits increased overall from 9,434 to 9953[1] per day for both BCPs compared to last week; the average net flow for both BCPs went from minus 45 to minus 231 (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 almost 38% of all entries/exits in Rostov region.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of men and women in military-style outfits that the Observer Teams (OTs) observed crossing the border in both directions remained stable (162 last week, 161 this week at both BCPs); 93 of them crossed to the Russian Federation while 68 of them crossed to Ukraine. Approximately 81% 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 buses or in minivans, making it more difficult for the OTs to observe their movement across the border.

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 irregular routes: often the buses do not state their route; instead they just have a sign on the windshield saying “Irregular”. The OTs also observed two buses with sign “children” transporting children aged around 10 years and some adults.

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

On some occasions, the OTs noticed the bus drivers removing the itinerary signs from the windshields of their buses.

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 decreased from 572 to 463; 229 of these trucks crossed to the Russian Federation and 234 crossed to Ukraine.

Most of the trucks observed by the OTs were registered in Luhansk region; however, on occasion the OTs also saw trucks registered in other regions of Ukraine. In addition, the OTs at the Donetsk BCP also observed trucks registered in the Russian Federation and Republic of Belarus that crossed the border in both directions. During the reporting period, the number of trucks registered in the Republic of Belarus decreased from 29 to 24.

Separately, the OTs also observed tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The number of tanker trucks decreased from 64 last week to 29 this week. Twenty-seven of these trucks crossed at the Donetsk BCP and two 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

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 decreased from 404 to 365; 165 crossed to the Russian Federation and 200 to Ukraine. Also, the number of passenger minivans decreased from 381 to 267; 133 crossed to the Russian Federation and 134 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 six occasions; the OTs estimated that three trains were going to the Russian Federation and three trains were bound for Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine was informed of these train crossings. Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees in between the train tracks and the BCP and unfavourable light conditions.

Convoy

18 February 2016 at 07:00hrs (Moscow time), a Russian convoy arrived at the Donetsk BCP (see the OM Spot Report of 18 February). A total of 39 vehicles – 29 cargo trucks and 10 support vehicles - were visually checked by the Russian border guard and customs services; one service dog was present on site during the convoy crossing. Ukrainian representatives were present on site and performed visual check of the trucks as the convoy crossed into Ukraine and when it returned to the Russian Federation. All of 39 vehicles had crossed back into the Russian Federation by 13:50hrs on 18 February.

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, or in rare cases “DPR” (“Donetsk People’s Republic”) stickers on their license plates masking the Ukrainian flag.

During the reporting week, the OTs at the Donetsk BCP observed one car with Georgian, six with Lithuanian and one with Polish registration plates crossing the border.

At 19:42hrs on 22 February the OT observed a bus with black license plates of to the Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) and bearing the inscription “Emergency Rescue Service” in Russian, arriving to the BCP from the direction of Ukraine. The OT observed two males sitting in the bus, wearing dark uniforms with MES signs and combat boots, and a female wearing civilian clothing. It looked like the vehicle and personnel passed through normal border checks. On 23 February at 06:25hrs, the MES bus returned and crossed to Ukraine, again with two males and one female.

On 22 February a van registered in Ukraine arriving at the BCP from the direction of the Russian Federation bore an inscription “funeral transport” written in Russian on its side and a sign reading “CARGO 200” in Russian on the windshield. The OT could not ascertain whether it was carrying a coffin. This van was observed entering the Russian Federation earlier on 21 February, at 05:50 in the morning.

[1] Data received from Rostov region Border Guard Service

[2] 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).

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