Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, 28 August until 08:00, 3 September 2014
This update is for media and the general public.
KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russian Federation, 3 September 2014 - The Observer Mission (OM) is operating at full capacity. Cross-border traffic flow remained steady at both Border Crossing Points. However, the OM observed a clear reversal in the flow of people crossing the border (more people exiting the Russian Federation into Ukraine). The OM observed an increased military activity principally of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points. The OM heard considerable artillery detonations from the Donetsk Border Crossing Point.
OM’s arrival, establishment and observation work
As of 3 September the OM is operating at full capacity with 19 staff members (including three administrative assistants). Sixteen international observers provide a permanent presence at the two Border Crossing Points of Donetsk and Gukovo. With the exception of the Acting Chief Observer, who has yet to be replaced by a to-be-selected Chief Observer, all the observers are scheduled to perform their defined duties until the end of the Observer Mission’s mandate on 23 October 2014.
Cross-border movements common to both Border Crossing Points
The profile of the people crossing the border remains unchanged and can be categorized as follows:
- Families on foot or by car with a lot of luggage;
- Elderly people with few bags;
- Adults (usually of younger age) with no luggage or empty cars;
- People wearing military-style clothes with or without backpacks.
While the number of entries/exits has remained stable at an average of 6,523 per day for both Border Crossing Points, the OM has observed a clear reversal in the flow of people crossing the border. Since August 26, the majority of border crossers have been going back into Ukraine with an average net flow of minus 429 per day for both Border Crossing Points in the last week and since that day 3,857 people have returned to Ukraine through both Border Crossing Points. The statistics also show that the Donetsk Border Crossing Point consistently experiences more traffic than the Gukovo Border Crossing Point. The cross-border movements registered at both Border Crossing Points account for 43 percent of all the Rostov Region’s entries/exits.
The OM continued to observe a general trend of very low cross-border traffic during the night hours. At sunrise the number of travellers slowly increases until late morning. Then, the traffic flow decreases but rises towards the 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. People crossing the border talk to the Observer Teams (OTs) regularly and continue to describe the situation in the Luhansk region as dire. The OTs continued to receive numerous accounts of severe destruction caused by artillery fire which resulted in the interruption of water, gas and electricity supplies, the latter apparently unavailable for more than five weeks in some areas including Luhansk city itself.
Throughout the week, the OTs noticed a net increase of young people (both men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions but did not observe any weapons among these groups. OTs had regular interactions with supporters of the self-proclaimed republics. Some discussed openly with the OSCE while others expressed their total mistrust toward the OSCE. At both Border Crossing Points, some supporters of the self-proclaimed republics explained that they are not allowed to cross the border with weapons. However, on the other side, there are organized places where they receive weapons, ammunition and equipment and are dispatched to their assigned areas on the Ukrainian side. Upon return, they hand over weapons, ammunition and other military equipment and cross back into the Russian Federation. In the case of Gukovo, there is even a firing range to calibre the newly-received weapons before continuing to the frontlines. As described in previous reports, on a daily basis OTs hear such range-like shootings on Ukrainian territory at a short distance from the Gukovo Border Crossing Point.
The OTs observed more people wearing black t-shirts with the inscription “Novorossiya” (“new Russia”) or “Luhansk People’s Republic” with corresponding flags. In some instances, this flag was also observed on several civilian vehicles’ windshields and license plates.
Civilian people stopping to discuss with OTs often ask the OSCE to stop the conflict and to record and report their testimonies so that everybody can be aware of the situation.
Throughout the week, day and night, the OTs heard the sound of propeller aircrafts in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points. During daylight and when the weather conditions were favourable, the OTs observed the same small grey aircrafts identified as UAVs. The same flight patterns were observed at both Border Crossing Points. The UAVs were following a flight path assessed to be at the edge of the Ukrainian border on very regular schedules with intervals varying from 18 to 25 minutes. In several instances, up to two UAVs were observed in the same area at the same time.
There was a decrease in helicopter sightings compared to last week but they were still observed at both Border Crossing Points flying at low altitude along the border.
In either case, in as far as could be seen, the aircrafts did not violate the Ukrainian airspace in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points.
Observation at the Gukovo Border Crossing Point
The traffic flow at Gukovo BCP has remained steady compared to last week, with a slight decrease in the past two days. A daily average of 2,940 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 19 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 and the net flow has been negative since 26 August with a daily average of minus 262. This statistic clearly reflects a return movement into Ukraine. In the past week, close to 2,000 people have returned to Ukraine through the Gukovo Border Crossing Point each day.
Throughout the week, the OTs continued to hear gunfire on the Ukrainian side very close to the Border Crossing Point. As described earlier, these fire 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.
Reports of people at the Gukovo Border Crossing Point
OTs received reports from people of Sverdlovsk (17 km west of Gukovo Border Crossing Point) about the town’s situation. They reported that the town had not experienced direct fights but five houses were destroyed. Although public transport and the only hospital were functioning, for the past two-and-a-half months, there was no water. According to them, pensions and social benefits were not paid and people could not access money. Prices for common goods had increased considerably and therefore people were going to the Russian Federation every three to four days to buy first necessity products and to obtain cash at ATMs or banks. People reported that the school year was planned to start on 1 September but they did not want their children to follow Ukrainian curricula.
Observation at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point
During the reporting period, the activity at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point has slightly increased compared to last week. The total number of border crossings at Donetsk Border Crossing Point consistently exceeds those of Gukovo Border Crossing Point. A daily average of 3,627 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 24 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 and the net flow has been negative since 29 August with a daily average of minus 410. As for the Gukovo Border Crossing Point, this statistic clearly reflects a return movement into Ukraine. In the past week close to 1,900 people have returned to Ukraine through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point each day.
Throughout the week, shootings, blasts and artillery detonations were heard at various times of the day and night, and from different distances and directions around the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. Artillery detonations were especially intense during the weekend in the direction north of Krasnodon. Throughout the night of 30 to 31 August, dozens of very loud artillery detonations were heard and felt by an OT. The detonations were close by in a westerly/ north-westerly direction.
In the past weeks, artillery detonations and shootings had been heard only from western and northern directions; but throughout the week for the first time OTs reported light and heavy calibre shootings from the east and south-east areas which are also bordering Ukraine.
Throughout the week, OTs observed a net increase in activity of young people dressed in military style crossing back and forth at the Border Crossing Point. OTs also observed some of these people visibly wounded crossing back into the Russian Federation with white bandages and/or crutches. OTs also observed transfers of more seriously-wounded persons by ambulances. Some people dressed in military style were accompanying the wounded and were particularly well-equipped including holsters but without weapons.
In one instance, an OT observed eight young men dressed in military style carrying two heavy stretchers loaded with boxes. The stretchers were visibly heavy (more than a hundred kilograms) because the groups were stopping every 30 to 50 metres to recover. The OT observed Border Crossing Point officials checking the boxes with metal detectors. The OT asked Border Crossing Point officials about the content of the boxes and was told that it was food products.
Reports of people at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point
OTs received reports from people of Molodohvardeysk, Novosvetlovska (15 km south-east of Luhansk) and other places around Luhansk city. They all indicated heavy fighting and considerable damage to infrastructure and asked the OSCE to stop the fighting.
Russian humanitarian convoy
The OM does not have any confirmation that a second humanitarian convoy will go through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. During the past week, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the Donetsk Border Crossing Point and met with Russian and Ukrainian border guards and customs officers. To this day, Ukrainian border guards and customs officers are still staying next to the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. In addition, personnel of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry came to the Border Crossing Point to consult with the Russian Border Crossing Point authorities.