Latest from the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine – based on information provided up until 18 April 2014, 20:00 (Kyiv time)
This update is provided for the media and the public.
Teams of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) gauged reaction to the Geneva Statement of 17 April. The situation in Western and Central Ukraine remains calm. In Luhansk and Donetsk districts it is tense owing to the continued activity of armed opponents of the central government. In the southern part of the country and in other parts of Eastern Ukraine, the situation was assessed as stable and relatively calm.
In Luhansk, the state security service (SBU) building remains occupied, and there is an air of heightened tension as news of the 17 April Geneva agreement spreads. Monitors were informed that a school located nearby the SBU building has not yet been able to resume normal operation. No decision has been made on when it will re-open.
In Donetsk city, the team patrolled the occupied Donetsk Oblast administration building and found the situation unchanged. The team noticed around 30 people present. The structures of the outer and inner barricades also appeared unchanged.
In Kramatorsk (approximately 100 km north of Donetsk) at 11:30 the team was stopped at the checkpoint at the southern boundary of Druzhkivka (approximately 20 km south of Kramatorsk), but spoke with several individuals manning the roadblock and passed without difficulty. One man at the checkpoint told the team that he was aware of the Geneva statement, but unaware of the specifics. The team provided the man with a copy of the statement.
At 13:00 the team went to the military airport of Kramatorsk. The access road was blocked with barricades. Inside the airport a tank and soldiers could be seen. Others could be seen in observation posts observing the area in front of the gate with binoculars. The airport gate was closed. The team then visited the city hall in Kramatorsk, where barricades had been erected around the building’s entrance. The team spoke with protesters, who were all unarmed and unmasked. They said they did not feel bound by the Geneva statement, because none of the parties present in Geneva represented them. They said they planned to stay at the barricades until a referendum is held. They said that the people manning the barricades were all citizens of the town, that none of them was armed or was wearing masks, that the city hall was fully operational and that they have a good relationship with the local police.
A monitoring team visited Mariupol to assess any reaction or change following the announcement of the Geneva statement. The team met the Deputy Mayor. He informed the team that there had been periodic and co-operative communication between city officials and the groups occupying the city administration building prior to the violence of 16 April. This co-operation included an unpublished “gentlemen’s agreement” which allowed for a portion of the building to be used by city officials, allowing them to perform their daily duties without interference. Further, it had been agreed that there would be no violence and, upon the conclusion of the protest, the occupants would return the building in good shape, including all of the computers and electronic equipment. The team was advised that after the violent events of 16 April (which he described as a siege of the Ministry of Interior - Internal Forces building by a mob seeking weapons), city officials felt that the building occupiers had breached their agreement and the relationship had worsened.
The City Administration reacted to the Geneva statement by having a meeting of the City Council. The Mayor informed the Council of the outcome of the Geneva talks, resulting in the City Council agreeing to negotiate with the occupants of the city administration building. According to the Deputy Mayor, at the same time as the City Council meeting, the occupants of the city administration building were having their own discussions on the news from Geneva. The team was told that there were at least three separate groups occupying the building and that these could not agree on a future course of action. He said that two groups felt betrayed by the action taken in Geneva and had left the building during the night.
The group which remained inside the Mariupol City Administration building numbered at least 20 and was described as the most radical of the occupants. The Deputy Mayor has been tasked to continue throughout 18 April to engage in negotiations to seek a resolution. In the presence of the team, the Deputy Mayor phoned the leader of the group remaining in the City Administration building inquiring as to their intentions to vacate the building in light of the Geneva statement. He said the response - not directly heard by the team - referred to the need for the occupants to wait until they had received instructions from their leadership in “Donetsk and Kyiv”. The Deputy Mayor asked them to speed up their contacts with their superiors, because the Administration would like to have the building and its surroundings for a citizens’ event on Easter Sunday. The team asked if assistance from the OSCE team would be helpful. The Deputy Mayor considered this possibility and asked the team to wait and see how direct negotiations would develop.
At 12:35 the team met with the Deputy Prosecutor of Mariupol to inquire about the reported 63 people detained after the 16 April violence. He said all case information has been passed to the Donetsk Oblast Prosecutor, and confirmed the number of detainees without confirming if any had been released. He was not comfortable providing further information as the investigation was ongoing, but did say that all of the detainees were still physically in Mariupol. The team asked if it would be possible to visit them, and he said OSCE should return 19 April. At 16:30, the monitoring team leader met with the Donetsk Oblast Prosecutor to discuss the Mariupol detainees and the possibility of the team visit. The prosecutor agreed in principle, and asked for a written request, which the team provided.
The team spoke by phone with a Border Guards official based in Novoazovsk at 13:00. He stated that while the situation had calmed down since the team had visited on 16 April and the community was aware of the Geneva statement, unresolved issues remained. He advised the team that unlike on 16 April, there is now a flag of Ukraine flying above the flag of the “Donetsk Republic” on the same roof-top flag pole on the city administration building.
At 17:30 a team of six monitors entered Sloviansk and went to the city council building in the city centre. Shortly after 18:00 a rally began in front of the city administration building. Several hundred people of varying ages, together with children, attended, and media presence was significant. Speeches focused on economic problems, assertions that the protesters in attendance are not terrorists as portrayed in the media, and repeated calls for a referendum. Speakers stated that the central government in Kyiv does not respect their basic human rights, including that of speaking in their native Russian language. One of the speakers used anti-Semitic and anti-western rhetoric. On the whole, the rally was orderly and there were no clashes or scuffles. The audience was animated at times and there was applause and critical shouts in response to speeches. Masked armed men with automatic weapons were present throughout, guarding the recently proclaimed mayor and the front entrance of the city council building behind barricades constructed of sand bags, and walking around the area. Among local figures speaking at the rally were the new mayor and the head of the Sloviansk Communist Party branch.
The speakers made clear their intention to continue their occupation of the city council building until their demands were met. They stated their desire for a referendum to be held in Ukraine or at least in the Donetsk Region, on the status of the Russian language and the enlargement of the sphere of competence of the local authorities, including fiscal decentralization. The local Communist Party chief said constitutional reform could potentially satisfy them, depending on the content, in lieu of a referendum. The speakers emphasized the need for an amnesty law to protect them from criminal prosecution.
The OSCE SMM was specifically mentioned by the Communist Party chief. He announced to the crowd in a positive way that the Organization's representatives were present in the city and were monitoring the situation. He expressed a lack of confidence in the implementation of the 17 April Geneva statement, and gave the negative example of the failed agreement signed on 21 Feb 2014 by Yanukovich, leaders of the opposition, and three foreign ministers. He also said that in a recent poll, 96 per cent of the citizens of Sloviansk were in favour of Eurasian integration. Speakers complained that no one in the central government had tried to establish contact with them.
The situation in Kharkiv is relatively calm. A major demonstration of anti-Maidan groups has been announced for Sunday, 20 April at 12:00. Universities in Kharkiv announced they are planning a mass event in support of Ukrainian unity, the date of which has yet to be set. In a session of the Kharkiv City Appeals Court on 17 April, it was ruled that 43 of the 65 protesters arrested by authorities following the takeover of the oblast administration building on April 8 and 9 would remain in custody. Sentences for another 16 were changed to house arrest. Three detainees were released on bail, whereas the three remaining had been earlier sentenced to house arrest.
The general situation in Dnepropetrovsk remains relatively calm. The team was visited on 18 April by a group of around 20 citizens, accompanied by a Party of Regions city councilor, who claimed to be victims of politically motivated violence. Some of these individuals directly accused Praviy Sektor of being behind the attacks. The team visited a checkpoint northeast of the centre of the city. It was manned by six National Defence personnel, one of them armed with a double-barrelled shotgun.
A team visiting the town of Novomoskovsk, 30 km north of Dnepropetrovsk, noted four checkpoints in the town, two of which are operational and two under construction. The two operational check points are manned by police and volunteers from the National Defence. A local official, when asked whether the checkpoints would be removed following the agreement in Geneva, explained that instructions for that could only come from Kyiv, but that he believed that until the tension in the East declines the check points would remain.
The general situation remained largely unchanged in Kherson, Mykolaiv and surrounding areas. On 17 April, the Monitoring Team visited Mykolaiv (approximately 70 km northwest of Kherson) and observed a protest opposed to the central government that has been occurring daily in the main square of the city. Fewer people – less than 70 – were observed than on previous visits. The protest began at 18:20 and was over just after 19:00. Protesters waved no flags this time. The police had less equipment than on past days, with only a couple of police officers wearing flak jackets. One speaker related in her own words some points made by Russian President Putin on television, particularly the call for constitutional reform and federalization, and the Russian language issue. She said that another one of the usual speakers was not there that day because he had gone to meet other political leaders in Eastern Ukraine to co-ordinate activities. Overall, the protest was calm. Flyers printed out on white A4 sheets were handed out to the crowd. The flyers contained hate speech, such as: “convince me, united-Ukrainian, or you will have to kill me.”
The team observed that a new checkpoint had been set up along the main road between Mykolaiv and Kherson, with white sand bags, manned by two policemen and 15 “self-defence” civilians. The atmosphere seemed relaxed.
The team visited the Kherson branch of the Local Self-Defence group. The regional administration had given them office space inside their premises. They are registered as a branch of a nationwide NGO. The team was shown a low-tech analytical office, which monitors social media and gathers information. The team was told that Local Self-Defence had some 32,000 supporters on call. They showed the team a hunting shotgun, which could be used with rubber bullets as well as standard shotgun cartridges. They explained that their members needed to go through proper licensing procedures to safely be able to use these hunting weapons. They said that they were considering which political party to support. They stated to the team that they had refused to be regularized into the internal affairs forces, as foreseen by new regulations from Kyiv. On 18 April, the team observed a small political rally by self-defence and other independent pro-Maidan groups outside the regional administration in the main square of the city of Kherson.
In Odessa, the general situation is calm. Yesterday, several demonstrations were held, none of which was significant in size. A team traveled to Tatarbunary, 155 km southwest of Odessa. A checkpoint outside town was manned by eight self-defence people who said that the checkpoint had been set up four days ago to try and ensure no provocateurs get into town. They said that they cooperate with the traffic police post further down the road but the traffic police later denied this. On the way back to Odessa, the team saw a checkpoint with sandbags at Ovidiopol, 39 km southwest of Odessa and two self-defence people.
The situation continues to be calm in Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv. Teams in Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi met local NGOs involved in assisting internally displaced persons who have resettled in Western Ukraine from Crimea.
The centre of Kyiv was generally calm, and regular police presence was observed throughout the day in the city centre. The team met Maidan representatives to discuss the Geneva statement. They said the Maidan needs to maintain pressure on politicians in order to reform a corrupt system of government, and that attempts to remove barricades and remove tents could be a way for the government to silence voices critical of the current political system. Many interlocutors on the Maidan stated that a physical presence in the city centre should remain until the presidential elections. Nevertheless, some progress is already being made in freeing buildings and removing barricades: over the past week the team has witnessed a partial removal of barricades on European Square, and the removal of some tents on Kreshchatyk. In addition, interlocutors claimed that activists had already left some Government buildings over the past month, and that preparations are underway to remodel and hand over the city administration building to city authorities by 20 May. The idea of a full removal of activists from the Maidan before the presidential elections was met with strong resistance by many of the team’s interlocutors on 18 April.
In light of the Geneva statement, the team began checking what buildings on and around the Maidan are being used by self-defence forces and other Maidan activists. A number of locations were identified, but the team was informed that agreements have been made between the Maidan Co-ordination Council and the owners to allow the use of all or parts of the buildings concerned.
At 11:30 the team saw about 200 people, many of them elderly or middle-aged, and about half of them women, demonstrating outside the National Bank of Ukraine about the dollar-hryvna exchange rate and calling for action against currency speculators. One placard demanded the resignation of the Head of the National Bank. Three members of Praviy Sektor were standing at the entrance to the bank and three policemen and two bank guards were nearby. The team attempted to speak to some of the demonstrators, but was rebuffed. The demonstration was still going on when the team left the area at 12:45.