Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 18:00 (Kyiv time), 1 September 2014
This report is for media and the general public.
Intensity of shelling appeared to decrease in Donetsk city, whilst mortar fire was observed coming from within the airport area. The SMM was informed by Ukrainian officials that the airport in Luhansk was no longer under control of the Ukrainian forces.
In Kharkiv city centre the SMM monitored on 31 August a rally which gathered some 50 people, mainly elderly, supporting the federalization of Ukraine. The participants were carrying flags with communist symbols. The SMM observed two TV journalists being physically threatened by some of the rally’s participants. The police intervened and the journalists were safely escorted from the crowd. Once the rally was over, on the same square, the SMM observed around 250 pro-unity activists, men and women, mainly young, gathering in a Euro-Maidan rally and holding Ukrainian and NATO flags, as well as flags of the “Aidar” and “Azov” volunteer battalions. The organizers informed the SMM that they were raising funds for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and soldiers serving in the “Aidar” and “Azov” battalions as well as in the 92nd Mechanized Brigade, in charge of protecting the Kharkiv region. One of the Euro-Maidan activists called on the participants to dig trenches to protect Kharkiv city. The police were visible but kept a low profile.
The SMM on 1 September visited Luhansk in order to monitor the overall situation in the city. The SMM observed that the city was without water and electricity supplies and that only one hospital appeared to be operational. Drinking water was distributed in cisterns. The SMM did not observe any military hardware in the city centre. Although supermarkets and shops appeared to be closed, the SMM saw that some shop employees were selling limited food supplies at extremely high prices.
The SMM met with representatives of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk city, who stated that about 250,000 people remained in the city (number of inhabitants before the conflict: approximately 420,000). The interlocutors expressed concern that Luhansk could face a potential humanitarian catastrophe because shelling had damaged the city’s water supply system. If the problem would not be addressed within a couple of weeks, he said, the water reservoir could be contaminated. The SMM spoke to representatives of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) who downplayed the gravity of the damage and stated that the problem could be solved.
The SMM attended the opening of a school in Luhansk, at which the self-declared “LPR president”, Igor Plotnitsky, held a speech. Plotnitsky said that the new curriculum would be based on the educational curriculum of the Russian Federation. Furthermore, he said that there were plans to replace the Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH) currency with the Russian Rouble. According to the self-declared “LPR president”, civil servants had not been paid, but there were plans to resume the payment of their salaries as of 1 October, possibly from Russian sources.
Different interlocutors, including local inhabitants and the regional co-ordinator of Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO)”, told the SMM on 1 September that Luhansk airport was no longer under control of the Ukrainian forces.
During the dark hours on 31 August and on 1 September throughout the day, the SMM heard little shelling in Donetsk, suggesting a possible decreased intensity of the fighting in and around the city. On 1 September the SMM monitored the situation around Donetsk airport, from a distance of around one kilometre. The SMM heard three to four mortar shells, repeated every five to ten minutes, outgoing from within the airport area.
Local inhabitants told the SMM that at around 14:30hrs they observed several tanks and armoured infantry vehicles of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” entering Donetsk city from the west and the south. The SMM heard the sound of heavy armoured military vehicles driving in the street near the SMM Office in Donetsk and moving in a southerly direction.
The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Mariupol (113 km south of Donetsk). At a checkpoint to the direction of Vinogradne (to the east of Mariupol), the SMM was told by a Ukrainian officer that Bezimenne town (33 km east of Mariupol), was currently under the control of irregular armed groups. The SMM visited a bus station in Mariupol city centre and observed a queue of some 150 people, mainly women and children, waiting to board buses leaving for Donetsk city. The SMM was told by several people waiting in line that the price for one ticket to Donetsk was three times more expensive than normal. Some people claimed to be returning to Donetsk either because of business matters or to see their relatives and their homes. Several passengers said they would return to Mariupol after collecting items from Donetsk which they would need for their stay during winter. The Donetsk region deputy commander of the Ukrainian border guards confirmed to the SMM that on 31 August two Ukrainian coastal border guard boats were attacked in the Sea of Azov from the area of Bezimenne village. According to the interlocutor two Ukrainian soldiers were missing and nine soldiers had been taken to Mariupol hospital.
In Dnipropetrovsk the SMM attended a press conference held by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov. The Prime Minister highlighted the need for the Ukrainian people to show unity and confidence in the victory. The Interior Minister stated that volunteer battalions would be provided with all the necessary weaponry and equipment. The ministers visited wounded soldiers in one of the city’s hospital.
In Kherson, Odessa and Chernivtsi the situation remained calm.
In Ivano-Frankivsk the SMM met with representatives of a local NGO which is working to support individual soldiers from the Ivano-Frankivsk region who are fighting in the east. The interlocutors stated that one of the needs identified was individual first aid kits and the NGO intended to supply each individual soldier with one kit. The other items distributed by the NGO are helmets and flak jackets. The NGO representatives stated that a significant amount of the supplies are provided by the Ukrainian diaspora in the US.
The SMM attended a meeting between the mayor of Lviv and 20 parents of soldiers, mainly serving at Luhansk Airport as well as representatives of the army and the local Military Commissariat. The relatives asked for the immediate rotation of soldiers who have been serving there since 8 March. The mayor pledged to discuss the matter of rotation with the government representatives.
In Kyiv the SMM observed a number of protests throughout the city. Some 30 activists, many of them members of the volunteer “Mirotvorets” battalion under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, were demonstrating in front of the Shevchenko District Police Department. The demonstrators included soldiers who recently escaped from an encirclement of irregular armed groups around the town of Ilovaisk in the Donetsk region. The protesters were complaining about the conduct of the ATO in the east. In front of the parliament building, the SMM observed a gathering of around 20 people, organized by the political party “Volya”. Demonstrators held party flags and signs calling for lustration of Parliament. Finally the SMM monitored a gathering of about 50 people, mostly women, relatives of ATO soldiers, held in front of the Presidential Administration building. Their demands included the rotation of personnel and proper equipment. Approximately 15 law enforcement officers from the police and National Guard were present at the location.