Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 10:00 (Moscow time), 19 May 2015
Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both BCPs. The overall cross-border traffic increased at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs).
OM’s staff composition
The OM is currently operating with 22 staff members, consisting of 20 permanent international observers (incl. the Chief Observer) and two first-responders one of which is performing the duties of an administrative assistant. Nine staff members are currently on leave.
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 travelling by car, with a lot of luggage, often accompanied by elderly people;
- Adults (usually of younger age) with no luggage or empty cars;
- People wearing military-style clothes with or without backpacks, crossing on foot or in vehicles.
As compared to last week, the average number of entries/exits increased overall from 7,126 to 8,348 per day for both BCPs; the average net flow went from plus 386 (i.e. more entries to the Russian Federation) to minus 104 (i.e. more exits from the Russian Federation). The Donetsk BCP continued to experience more traffic than the Gukovo BCP. The cross-border movements registered at both BCPs accounted for just over 33 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 an increasing number of articulated trucks and the long-distance coaches commuting between Luhansk and cities in the Russian Federation, predominantly in the Rostov region.
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. In addition to regular bus connections, the Observer Teams (OTs) also continued to observe bus connections on irregular routes. Often the buses do not state their route; instead they just have a sign in the window saying “Irregular”.
During the reporting period, the number of men and women in military-style dress crossing the border in both directions decreased from 381 to 355 at both BCPs. These people have been crossing individually or in groups and on foot or in vehicles. Approximately eighty five percent of border crossings occurred at the Donetsk BCP. The OTs have observed that recently persons in military-style dress have been travelling by bus across the border which makes it more difficult for the OTs to observe their movement across the border. The OTs also have observed an increasing number of physically fit young men in civilian clothing, who frequently travel in groups, with short haircuts who often have camouflage-colored bags.
Furthermore, the OTs continued to observe Ukrainian vehicles including articulated trucks with “DPR/LPR” stickers on their license plates replacing the Ukrainian flag.
During the reporting week the OM continued to observe an increased number of trucks crossing the border in both directions. The OTs continued to observe dumper trucks transporting coal from the Luhansk region to the Russian Federation through the BCP Gukovo. The OTs observed intense cargo truck traffic at BCP Donetsk crossing the border in both directions. While the majority of the trucks are registered in Luhansk oblast, during the reporting period the OTs have also observed trucks registered in Belarus crossing the border. The OTs have observed that the number of trucks registered in Belarus has increased compared to the previous reporting week; in total 26 of these trucks were observed crossing the border in both directions at the Donetsk BCP. Separately, the OTs also observed tanker trucks crossing the border both ways. These crossings occurred at both BCPs. These trucks for the most part had the word “Propane” and “Flammable” written across the tanks in Russian.
At the two BCPs the OM did not observe military movement, apart from the usual vehicles of the Russian Federation Border Guard Service.
Observation at the Gukovo BCP
The traffic flow at the Gukovo BCP increased compared to last week. A daily average of 2,415 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for just under ten per cent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. The net flow went from plus 162 to plus 86 (i.e. more entries to the Russian Federation) on average per day.
During the week, the OM observed a total of 52 persons in military-style clothing crossing the border at the Gukovo BCP, 26 of whom left for Ukraine while 26 entered the Russian Federation.
As in previous weeks, the OM observed dumper trucks transporting coal from the Luhansk region to the Russian Federation though the intensity of the transportation remains relatively low compared to past reporting periods. As reported previously, the observers saw Russian Federation customs officers verifying that the trucks were empty while leaving the Russian Federation.
In addition to the above-mentioned tanker trucks with the word “Propane” and “Flammable”, the OT observed a number of orange articulated fuel trucks crossing at the Gukovo BCP.
The OTs picked up on the sound of trains running down the train tracks located approximately 150 meters south west of the BCP on seventeen occasions during the reporting week; the OTs estimated that eight trains were going to Ukraine; nine were bound for the Russian Federation. Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees in between the train tracks and the BCP.
On May 13 at 02:00hrs the OT heard several shots fired in short bursts. These shots were immediately followed by a series of 7-10 single round shots; the sounds came from the west. At 02:05hrs an additional series of three short bursts were heard from the same direction and at 02:08hrs another series was heard. It sounded like more than one weapon was being fired. On May 16 at 22:02hrs one single shot was heard from the direction north-west.
On May 14 at 09:04hrs the OT observed a military helicopter fly from the south east to the north-west; as far as the OT could see the helicopter did not violate the Ukrainian airspace. The helicopter was combat ready with anti-tank rockets and flew at an altitude of approximately 400 meters.
One ambulance was observed at the BCP Gukovo during the reporting period. No injured or wounded persons were observed in this ambulance.
Observation at the Donetsk BCP
During the reporting period the activity at the Donetsk BCP significantly increased compared to last week. The daily average of 5,933 entries and exits accounted for over twenty three percent of all entries/exits in the Rostov region. The net flow changed from plus 224 (i.e. more entries to the Russian Federation) to minus 190 (i.e. more exiting from Russian Federation) on average per day. The OT observed 303 persons in military-style clothing crossing the border at the Donetsk BCP individually and in groups; 169 persons entered the Russian Federation while 134 left for Ukraine.
Three ambulances were observed at the BCP Donetsk during the reporting period. On one occasion an ambulance crossed the border from Ukraine to the Russian Federation; the OT observed one person with crutches inside this ambulance. No injured or wounded persons were observed in any of the other two ambulances.
On May 12 at 22:27hrs and 22:29hrs two signal lights were observed in the south-west of the BCP at an estimated distance of 1 kilometer. The first light was white; the second one was red.
On May 12 at 13:15hrs the OT observed two minivans, one had arrived from Ukraine and the other from the Russian Federation, park close to each other in the central part of the BCP. There were two males in camouflage clothing and one civilian driver in the minivan that had arrived from the Russian Federation. They transferred a red coffin from the Ukrainian minivan to the Russian minivan. After the transfer the two minivans returned to where they had come from. On a different occasion during the reporting week, the OT observed two vans with a sign “Funeral Service” in Russian. There were two males in camouflage clothing in one of these vans.
On May 14 at 09:30hrs the OT observed a military helicopter fly from the south east to the north-west. The helicopter was combat ready with anti-tank rockets and flew following the borderline; as far as the OT could see the helicopter did not violate the Ukrainian airspace. It was the same helicopter that was observed a little bit earlier the same day at the Gukovo BCP flying north.
On May 17 at 21:29hrs the OT heard 10 single gun shots from direction north-north-west.
On May 15 at 15:15hrs the OT observed a group of vehicles belonging to the Russian motorcyclist club “Night Wolves” cross the border from the Russian Federation to Ukraine. The group consisted of two all road vehicles with six passengers in dark clothing, two escort vehicles that had banners with the inscription “Russian Bikers to Donbass” in Russian and 23 motorcyclists. By 16:15hrs all vehicles had crossed the border into the Russian Federation. At 20:56hrs another group of 12 motorcyclists on 8 motorcycles crossed into Ukraine from the Russian Federation. On May 17 at 10:30hrs the OT observed approximately 40 motorcyclists cross the border from Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
On May 18 at 15:00hrs the OT observed a large black unusually shaped truck-like vehicle cross the border from Ukraine into the Russian Federation. On its side it had an inscription “Mad Max” in English.
On 14 May 2015 at 06:52hrs (Moscow time), a Russian convoy arrived at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point (BCP). A total of 50 vehicles - 44 cargo trucks and 6 support vehicles - were checked by the Russian border guard and customs services; one Russian service dog was used to check some of the cargo trucks. Ukrainian officers were present on site during the check of both the outgoing and the returning convoy. All the vehicles had crossed back into the Russian Federation by 14:45hrs on 14 May.