Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 08:00 (Moscow time), on 24 September 2014
This report is for media and the general public.
KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) is operating at full capacity. Cross-border traffic flows remained steady at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs) although the total number of border-crossings has slightly decreased. Similar to the previous week, more people left the Russian Federation (RF) for Ukraine at the two observed BCPs. Regular local and long-distance bus connections are now operating between cities in the RF and the Luhansk region. The OM observed a significant increase in minivan traffic at both BCPs and again considerable numbers of persons in camouflage clothing crossing the border. Supporters of the so-called ‘Novorossiya’ advised OSCE observers to return to their home countries.
OM’s arrival, establishment and observation work
Sixteen international observers continued to provide a permanent presence at the two BCPs of Donetsk and Gukovo. The OM is now operating with 18 staff members (including two administrative assistants).
Cross-border movements common to both BCPs
The profile of the people crossing the border remains unchanged and can be categorised 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.
The average number of entries/exits has decreased from 9,420 to 7,801 per day for both BCPs during this reporting period. The OM has observed that the majority of people continued to cross the border from the Russian Federation (RF) to Ukraine, with an average net flow of minus 996 per day for both BCPs. In the last week 6,973 persons have returned to Ukraine through both BCPs. The OM observed a notable temporary increase in exits to Ukraine during the three days following the agreement on ceasefire implementation measures of 19 September. Again Donetsk BCP consistently experienced more traffic than Gukovo BCP. The cross-border movements registered at both BCPs account for 42 percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov Oblast. The majority of the vehicles crossing the border have number plates issued in the Luhansk region, including the long-distance coaches commuting between Luhansk and Moscow.
Common observations at the BCPs
The situation at both BCPs remained calm. People who cross the border regularly talk to the Observer Teams (OTs). All interlocutors stated that the intensity of fighting and shelling has further declined during the reporting period. Those who crossed the border from Ukraine reported that water and electricity supplies have resumed in several parts of the Luhansk region. Most daily-needed items are available, however, many complain about the high prices for food and firewood. Many coalmines are still working and the extracted coal is stored in pithead stocks. Miners continue to receive their salaries but they can withdraw cash only in banks in the RF. Not having received pensions for more than three months, pensioners face increasing difficulties and often depend on the support of their relatives or neighbours.
The increased number of local and long-distance bus connections between the Luhansk region and RF cities also indicate a normalising of the situation.
The OTs have observed a new tendency in cross border movement. In addition to the increased number of bus connections, there has been a significant increase in the movement of utility minivans through both BCPs. Many of these minivans, licensed in Ukraine, look brand new. The OTs noted in particular a number of new Renault Traffic of various colours. These minivans are seen day and night crossing the BCPs back and forth. A number of these minivans are driven by men and women dressed in camouflage.
Throughout the week, the OTs continued to observe a steady flow of men and women in military-style dress, who crossed the border equally in both directions but overwhelmingly at Donetsk BCP. The observers counted a total number of 312 persons and did not see any of them carrying weapons.
The OTs had several interactions with supporters of the self-proclaimed republics. In one instance, two men in camouflage clothing with ‘Novorossiya’ badges on their sleeves approached an OT. They introduced themselves as committed fighters of the so-called ‘Novorossiya’ and shared their deep mistrust of all OSCE observers advising all of them to go back to their home countries. When explained that the OSCE Observer Mission was deployed upon the invitation of the RF government, they replied that the so-called Novorossiya representatives did not recognise any other authority than their own including the RF. They also warned that the war in east Ukraine was not over yet and would extend to other areas as well.
The number of aircraft observations has significantly decreased. During the previous week, the OM recorded 60 observations compared to 12 this week. At both BCPs smaller aircraft, which the OTs were unable to identify positively, were following the same flight patterns in very regular schedules with intervals varying from 18 to 25 minutes. On 18 September the OTs observed a Russian navy helicopter Kamov Ka-27 flying over both BCPs. On 18 and 19 September the OTs observed Russian helicopters Mi-24 and Mi-8, both in pairs and single, passing the BCPs. Within the limitations of observing aircraft without technical means, the OTs assessed that the aircraft did not violate Ukrainian airspace in the vicinity of the BCPs.
Observation at the Gukovo BCP
The traffic flows at Gukovo BCP remained at the same levels as last week. A daily average of 2,376 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 13 percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. However, the net flow, i.e. the balance of entries and exits, continued to be negative for the third week in a row, with a daily average of 239 persons leaving the RF. This statistic clearly indicates a return movement into Ukraine.
During the week, the OM observed a total of 28 persons in military-style clothing crossing the border at Gukovo BCP, 14 each in both directions.
The OTs heard two instances of artillery detonations on 17 September. On 22 September the OT again heard small arms fire from the direction of the firing range near Gukovo BCP. During the previous week, its usage had apparently ceased.
Throughout the week, in the vicinity of the BCP, there were several mine clearance activities which required the BCP to be closed down. Several Unexploded Ordinances (UXOs) were blown up close to the BCP territory.
In the morning of 22 September, Gukovo BCP was temporarily evacuated and shortly after the OT observed a handcuffed man in camouflage clothing led off by RF border guard officers. According to a RF border guard officer, the man had a number of hand grenades in his luggage. A demining team participated in the intervention.
Observation at the Donetsk BCP
During the reporting period, the activity at the Donetsk BCP had started to show a decline. However, following the 19 September implementation agreement, movement activities increased again. A daily average of 5,424 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 29 percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. The net flow remained negative with 757 exits to Ukraine on average per day. The total number of border-crossings at Donetsk BCP was more than double that of Gukovo BCP. Similar to the Gukovo BCP, these figures reflect a return movement into Ukraine.
The number of persons in military clothing who crossed the border has decreased. The OTs observed a total of 284 persons in military clothing compared to 422 during the previous week. They crossed the border individually or in groups, however, in the past week in equal numbers from Ukraine to the RF and vice versa. The OTs also observed some of these people, visibly wounded, crossing in either direction. On 17 September the OT observed the transfer of a coffin from Ukraine to the RF. The six men in camouflage clothing who accompanied the coffin stated to the OT that the deceased was a volunteer fighter.
The OTs heard one instance of artillery detonations on 19 September.