Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, 20 August until 08:00, 27 August 2014
This update is for media and the general public.
KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russian Federation, 27 August 2014 - The Observer Mission (OM) has completed the replacement of its administrative staff members. Cross-border traffic flow increased at both Border Crossing Points with more people exiting from the Russian Federation into Ukraine in the past two days. The OM received reports from people fleeing the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The most prominent occurrence was the passage of 227 vehicles belonging to a Russian convoy to Ukraine and its return to the Russian Federation through Donetsk Border Crossing Point, which attracted considerable media attention.
OM’s arrival, establishment and observation work
All first responders have left the OM, as of 21 August, and have been replaced by permanent mission members with the notable exception of the Acting Chief Observer, who has yet to be replaced by a to-be-selected Chief Observer. As of 27 August the OM’s administrative personnel completed their first rotation; the OM currently has 19 staff. Beginning on 25 August, observation at the Border Crossing Points is conducted in twelve-hour shifts.
Cross-border movements common to both Border Crossing Points
The profile of the people crossing the border can be categorized as follows:
- Families on foot or by car with a lot of luggage;
In several instances the OM observed that parents returned to Ukraine leaving their children in the Russian Federation.
- Adults (usually of younger age) with no luggage or empty cars;
A significant number of people are just crossing for short periods during the day, returning in the evening. They commute across the border to extend their migration cards, to withdraw money or to buy medicine and other supplies in Russia, as, according to their assertion, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to do so in eastern Ukraine. Therefore the statistics do not accurately reflect the cross-border movement.
- Elderly people with few bags; they usually do not return from Russia to Ukraine.
- People wearing military-style clothes with or without backpacks.
The profile of the people crossing the border is similar in both directions. The majority of people crossed from Ukraine into the Russian Federation. However, for the first time since its arrival, the OM noted in the past two days more exits from the Russian Federation into Ukraine than entries into the Russian Federation. The change in trend was accompanied by a net increase in cross-border traffic at both Border Crossing Points.
The OM observed a general trend of very low cross-border traffic during the night hours. At around sunrise the number of travellers slowly increases until late morning. Attributed to the prevailing high temperatures (35 degrees Celsius and above) traffic flows decrease again but rise towards late afternoon and evening. The majority of the vehicles crossing the border have number plates issued in the Luhansk region.
Common observations at the Border Crossing Points
In general, the situation at both Border Crossing Points is calm and, compared to the previous reporting period, the number of people crossing the border has increased and exceeded 7,000 entries/exits per day in the past four days. Despite this increase in entries/exits, the net flow into the Russian Federation has consistently diminished from 337 on 20 August to minus 217 in the past two days. This means that in the past two days there have been more people going back to Ukraine. In comparison, the net flow of people crossing the border a month ago, when the OM started observing the Border Crossing Points, was at 4,000+ per day (into the Russian Federation).
People crossing the border talk to the Observer Teams (OTs) regularly, often describing the situation in the Luhansk region as dire. The OTs received numerous accounts of severe destruction caused by artillery fire which resulted in the interruption of water, food and electricity supplies, the latter apparently unavailable for more than four weeks.
Throughout the week, the OT's continued to observe multiple groups of generally young people (men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions. The OTs also observed several ambulance evacuations of wounded supporters of the self-proclaimed republics as well as civilians. The OTs did not observe any weapons among these groups.
The OTs observed several people wearing black t-shirts with the inscription “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”) and a corresponding flag. This flag was also observed on several civilian vehicles’ license plates glued on top of the Ukrainian flag.
There is a frequent misunderstanding about the role of the OM, which is often thought to be structurally part of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM). Many people crossing the border expressed their disappointment about the lack of a visible OSCE presence in the Luhansk region. Based on people’s perceptions, the OSCE is often expected to do more to end the fighting and to improve the humanitarian situation. Some interlocutors, however, voiced their appreciation about the presence of OSCE observers at the two Border Crossing Points in the Russian Federation, which according to them improves the perception of security.
On several occasions the OTs heard the sound of propeller aircrafts in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points during the night. For the first time, on 22 August, an OT saw a small grey aircraft during daylight hours, close to Donetsk Border Crossing Point, heading north-east, which was identified as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). On 26 August UAVs were observed flying very close to the Border Crossing Points. At Donetsk Border Crossing Point, on the same date, a UAV flew from 11:50 to 17:50 following a flight path assessed to be at the edge of the Ukrainian border.
Military helicopters were also observed at both Border Crossing Points flying at low altitude along the border.
Observation at the Gukovo Border Crossing Point
Traffic flows at Gukovo BCP have slightly increased. A daily average of 3,265 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 22 percent of all entries/exits into the Rostov region. The average number of people entering the Russian Federation has diminished consistently during the reporting period. The average net flow for the past week has been +54. On 25 and 26 August, the net flow has been minus 219 meaning that more people are entering Ukraine than the Russian Federation. This is the first time the OM observed such a tendency since the Mission started to observe the Border Crossing Point.
Throughout the week, the OTs continued to hear gunfire on the Ukrainian side very close to the Border Crossing Point. These incidents were assessed as not combat-related, reportedly originating from a nearby improvised ‘shooting range’ under the control of supporters of the self-proclaimed republics.
Observation at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point
During the reporting period, the activity at the Donetsk BCP has considerably increased but remains lower than the levels observed a month ago. On average, the total number of border crossings at Donetsk Border Crossing Point slightly exceeds those of Gukovo BCP. Compared to an average of 2,642 recorded entries/exits per day during the previous week, the number rose to 3,556 of which roughly 52 percent were crossings into the Russian Federation.
The net flow at Donetsk Border Crossing Point has considerably diminished in the past weeks. A month ago the average net flow was roughly +4,000; during the reporting period it was +119. On 26 August the net flow was only +2.
The increase in cross-border movement and the decrease in net flow are explained by the daily crossing of people from Ukraine to the Russian Federation for a few hours to obtain cash and to buy supplies. In addition, a lot of people are crossing the border to renew their migration cards which expire after a three-month period.
On 26 August, from 07:00 to 18:00, intense and regular artillery fire was heard by the OTs from the direction of Krasnodon and Sukhodolsk.
Crossing and return of the Russian convoy
In the afternoon and evening of 21 August the first group of vehicles belonging to a Russian convoy entered the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. On 22 August 227 vehicles (including support vehicles like fuel, maintenance, recovery trucks and ambulances) of the same convoy left for Ukraine through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. On 23 August all 227 vehicles had returned to the Russian Federation through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. For details about the crossing and return of the Russian convoy, please refer to the OM’s Spot Reports issued on 22 August (www.osce.org/om/122935) and 23 August (www.osce.org/om/122938).
The OM observed the Ukrainian officers who came to inspect the convoy still stationed next to the Border Crossing Point.