Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 10:00 (Moscow time), 24 Dec. 2014
This report is for the media and general public
Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs). Overall cross-border traffic flows increased at both BCPs. The OM continued to observe a significant number of persons in military-style clothing crossing the border in both directions. Train movements at the Gukovo BCP have increased in frequency and became a daily occurrence.
OM’s arrival, establishment and observation work
The OM is currently operating with 16 staff members, consisting of 12 permanent international observers (including the Chief Observer), three temporary international observers and one administrative assistant. Seven international observers are currently on leave.
Cross-border movements common to both BCPs
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, some with backpacks.
The average number of entries/exits increased from 6,663 to 7,112 per day for both BCPs during the reporting period. More people entered Ukraine than the Russian Federation. The average net flow (i.e. the balance of entries and exits) was minus 268 (i.e. exits from the Russian Federation) per day for both BCPs. The Donetsk BCP continued to experience more traffic than the Gukovo BCP. The cross-border movements registered at both BCPs accounted for 35 percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. 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 cities in the Russian Federation.
Common observations at the BCPs
The situation at both BCPs remained calm. The OM continued to observe that the Russian Federation border guard and customs service conducted checks and controls.
Regular local and long-distance bus connections continued to operate between the Luhansk region and cities in the Russian Federation.
During the reporting period, the OTs observed 739 men and women in military-style dress crossing the border in both directions, predominantly into the Russian Federation. These people have been crossing individually or in groups. These border crossings occurred predominantly at the Donetsk BCP in both directions. The OTs continued to observe several Cossacks, who were identified by their traditional fur hats, as well as by Cossack insignias. OTs also observed a number of ambulances crossing the border in both directions at the Donetsk BCP.
The OTs continued to observe an increased number of cars with “DPR/LPR” stickers on their licence plates replacing the Ukrainian flag. In addition, the OTs observed “DPR/LPR” flags displayed on car dashboards.
Two Russian convoys
On 19 and 21 December 2014 two Russian convoys crossed into Ukraine through the Donetsk BCP.
On 19 December at 22:10 a convoy consisting of six trucks arrived at the gate of the Donetsk BCP. The livery of the trucks included popular motifs associated with celebration of New Year, and taglines such as “From Russia with love” or “New Year of Donbass children”. The vehicles stopped at the customs control area and the trucks were opened and inspected by the Russian Federation border guards and customs officers. According to Russian officials at the BCP, the trucks were carrying gifts, toys, chocolates, cakes and candies. The OM did not see any Ukrainian officers present during the inspection. By 22:25 the convoy had left the BCP towards Ukraine. This convoy was not observed crossing back into the Russian Federation by the time of drafting of this report.
On 21 December at 07:45 the OM observed the arrival of another Russian convoy at the gate of the Donetsk BCP. This convoy consisted of 92 vehicles. All but one cargo truck bore the inscription “Humanitarian help from the Russian Federation”, the other “Gifts for the children of Donbass”. The vehicles stopped at the customs-control area and the cargo trucks were opened and inspected by Russian Federation border guards and customs officers. The OM saw that Ukrainian officers were present during the inspection process. By 09:41 the convoy had left the BCP towards Ukraine. At 20:55 the convoy returned, lined up at the customs area and was inspected by Russian Federation officers. The OM saw Ukrainian officers on site as well. By 21:42 all 92 vehicles had returned and crossed back into the Russian Federation.
These were the 10th and 11th Russian convoys crossing through the Donetsk BCP since the arrival of the Observer Mission (OM) at the Russian BCPs.
At the two BCPs the OM did not observe much military movement, apart from vehicles of the Russian Federation border guard service.
Observation at the Gukovo BCP
The traffic flows at the Gukovo BCP increased compared to last week. A daily average of 2, 469 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for approximately twelve percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. Compared to last week more people exited the Russian Federation than entered. The net flow went from plus 9 (i.e. entries to the Russian Federation) to minus 38 (i.e. exits from the Russian Federation) on average per day.
During the week, the OM observed a total of 33 persons in military-style clothing crossing the border at the Gukovo BCP, 15 of them left for Ukraine while 18 entered the Russian Federation.
The OM continued to observe high numbers of dumper trucks transporting coal from the Luhansk region to the Russian Federation. As reported previously, the observers saw Russian Federation customs officers verifying that the trucks were empty while leaving the Russian Federation.
On two occasions the OTs heard a number of assault rifle shots fired from a nearby shooting range, which is located on the Ukrainian side of the border as described in OM’s previous reports.
The OT observed an armoured personnel carrier (APC), identified as BTR-90, being installed at the BCP. BCP officials explained that this was a routine BCP reinforcement in anticipation of the holiday season.
The OTs picked up a sound of a train passing by the BCP on twelve occasions during the reporting week; the OTs were able to visually observe the trains on three different occasions. Observation on other occasions was impaired by the trees that are between the BCP and the train tracks. In all twelve cases, the OTs were able to estimate the direction of the trains: six went in the direction of Ukraine and six went towards the Russian Federation. On four occasions the OTs were able to recognize the noise of cargo wagons.
On 22 December, the OT observed on two occasions a helicopter flying above the BCP and twice the OT observed lights of a helicopter. The helicopter made a few rounds and disappeared towards the east.
Observation at the Donetsk BCP
During the reporting period, the activity at the Donetsk BCP increased. The daily average of 4,643 entries and exits accounted for approximately twenty three percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. The net flow changed from minus 118 (i.e. exits from the Russian Federation) to minus 230 (i.e. exits from the Russian Federation) on average per day.
The OT observed 706 persons in military-style clothing crossing the border at the Donetsk BCP individually and in groups, 369 persons entered the Russian Federation while 337 left for Ukraine.