Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 14 March 2017
This report is for the general public and the media.
Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs).
The OM is currently operating with 19 permanent international staff members, including the Chief Observer (CO). The Mission is supported administratively by a Vienna-based staff member.
OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS
Persons crossing the border
The profile of the people crossing the border can be categorized as follows:
Adults travelling on foot or by car with little or no luggage;
Persons in military-style outfits;
Families (often including elderly people and/or children) travelling on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage.
The average number of entries/exits increased from 10,604 to 10,970 per day for both BCPs compared to last week. The average net flow for both BCPs increased from minus 95 to plus 398 (i.e. more entries to the Russian Federation).
The Donetsk BCP continues to experience more traffic than the Gukovo BCP. The cross-border movements registered at both BCPs accounted for 41.4 per cent of all entries/exits in Rostov region.
Persons in military-style outfits
During the reporting period, the number of persons in military-style outfits crossing the border in both directions was 104 this week at both BCPs compared to 90 last week; 48 of them crossed into the Russian Federation, 56 into Ukraine. Approximately 78 per cent of this category’s crossings occurred at the Donetsk BCP. They continued to cross the border individually or in groups. Most individuals crossed by foot, however, some made use of private vehicles, buses or minivans, making it more difficult for the observer teams (OTs) to observe their movement across the border, especially since many of the private vehicles have tinted windows, and buses and minivans have drawn curtains.
Families with a significant amount of luggage
The OTs continue to report on families crossing the border, sometimes with elderly people and/or children, crossing at both BCPs with a significant amount of luggage, or travelling in heavily loaded cars. During this reporting period one family was observed crossing the border to the Russian Federation, while three families were observed crossing to Ukraine.
Regular local and long-distance bus connections continue to operate between Ukraine (mostly from/to the Luhansk region) and 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 have a sign on the windshield stating “Irregular”.
Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following “irregular” routes or destinations were noted: Rovenki-Kyiv; Alchevsk-Harkiv-Kiev; and Luhansk–Kyiv;
On some occasions, the OTs noticed the bus drivers removing the itinerary signs from the windshields of their buses, or some buses don’t display their route at all. The majority of long-distance coaches commuting between Luhansk region and cities in the Russian Federation have Ukrainian licence plates issued in Luhansk region.
The OM continued to observe trucks crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. Compared to the previous week, the total number of trucks remained almost the same (from 614 to 613: 146 in Gukovo BCP and 467 in Donetsk BCP); 340 of these trucks crossed to the Russian Federation and 273 crossed to Ukraine. Most of the trucks observed by the OTs have Ukrainian licence plates issued in Luhansk region.
Separately, the OTs also observed tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. The number of tanker trucks decreased from 51 to 26. These trucks were observed crossing the border at both BCPs. The trucks mainly had the words “Propane” and “Flammable” written across the tanks in either Russian or Ukrainian. The majority of tanker trucks have hazard signs, indicating that they are transporting propane or a mix of propane with butane.
All trucks undergo systematic inspection by Russian Federation officials, which may include an X-ray check. Due to the unfavourable position at the Gukovo BCP, the OTs continued to be unable to observe any X-ray checks. At the Donetsk BCP the OTs observed 173 X-ray checks. At the latter BCP, out of the total number of trucks scanned during the reporting period, 118 trucks (68 per cent) were bound for Ukraine; the remaining 55 trucks (32 per cent) crossed into the Russian Federation.
The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The OTs observed minivans predominantly with Ukrainian licence plates issued in Luhansk region; however, the OTs frequently saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation.
Compared to the previous week, the number of cargo minivans remained almost the same (from 196 to 197); 90 crossed to the Russian Federation and 107 to Ukraine.
The OTs continued to pick up the sound of trains running on the train tracks located approximately 150 metres south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on fifteen occasions; the OTs assessed that six trains were travelling to Ukraine and other nine were bound for the Russian Federation.
Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees located between the train tracks and the BCP, as well as due to unfavourable light conditions.
The majority of vehicles crossing the border have Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region or Russian Federation licence plates. The OTs continued to observe vehicles, cars and buses with “LPR” licence plates crossing the border in both directions. On some occasions the OTs observed vehicles with Lithuanian, Moldovan and Georgian licence plates. The OTs also continued to observe articulated trucks with “LPR” or “Novorossiya” stickers, or in rare cases “DPR” stickers on their licence plates masking the Ukrainian flag.
On 7 March at Gukovo BCP, two people crossing the border to the Russian Federation approached the OT; they showed the OT their newly-issued “LNR passports”, observing that after President Putin’s decree of 18 February, in Luhansk area, people have become more interested in obtaining these “LNR-issued passports”. They added that, after the abovementioned presidential decree, the new document allows them not only to cross the border to the Russian Federation, but also to work in Russia with the same conditions enjoyed by Russian citizens.
On the 12 March at 07:09 at the Gukovo crossing point, the OT observed a Gazel type van with Russian registration plates with the inscription “Ritual Service” on its sides (written in Russian). The van entered the BCP from the Russian Federation. While going through border formalities, the OT saw three men, four women and a child. In addition, the OT saw a red coffin in the rear compartment when the rear door was opened for the check. At 07:33 the van crossed the border to Ukraine.
On 12 March at 10:15, the same van entered the BCP from Ukraine and crossed the border to Russia. From its position, the OT was not able to see any coffin or passengers inside the vehicle.
On 12 March at 11.37 in Gukovo, an overloaded van entered the BCP from the Russian Federation. While undergoing border formalities and a thorough inspection, five men exited the van (one in camouflage style clothing, four in “Gorka style” military uniforms and one driver not in uniform). The whole content of the van was unloaded and checked by Border Guards and Custom Officers; the OT was able to identify among the goods: military boots and uniforms, bulletproof vests, military rucksacks, sleeping bags, food items and other luggage. The four passengers brought their personal belongings (military backpacks and bags) into the main building (likely for further inspection and X-ray scanning). By 12.12, the van had been reloaded and it crossed the border into Ukraine.
On 13 March in Donetsk BCP, from 13:00 to 13:31, the OT observed a van coming from Ukraine and bearing the inscription “Medical Taxi” on its side both in Latin and Russian letters (the vehicle had Russian registration plate). While undergoing border formalities, the OT saw a driver, two men and one woman dealing with documents in the presence of Russian officials.
For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 7 February 2017 to 14 March 2017 see the attachment here.
 Based on data received from Rostov region Border Guard Service
 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).