Spot report by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), 15 September 2014: Monitoring to the east of Donetsk, SMM patrol vehicles hit by fire
On 14 September the SMM monitored the situation and adherence to Minsk Protocol provisions in the areas east of Donetsk city. These areas have not been regularly patrolled by the SMM since the signing of the Protocol; breaches of the Protocol in these areas have been reported to the SMM. The SMM covered the areas of the H21 road after Shakhtarsk (60 km to the east of Donetsk), Torez (69 km east of Donetsk) and the route northwards towards Debaltseve (70 km north-east of Donetsk), a strategic area which had been subject to intense fighting prior to the signing of the Protocol. The SMM also carried out an on-site assessment in the area of the MH17 crash site, upon request of the Dutch, Australian and Malaysian authorities. The patrol vehicles were damaged by artillery or mortar fire at 18:37. The team left the area in the remaining useable vehicle and returned to Donetsk city at 00:32 hrs today.
Prior to the departure of the patrol, the route and way-points were agreed upon in person and by phone with both parties, i.e. through the “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” (“DPR”) commander with the so-called deputy minister of interior and with the Ukrainian Anti-Terrorist Operation Headquarters, as well as with local, sector and brigade commanders. The SMM kept both parties and the SMM Head Office abreast of its progress during the patrol.
Following the on-site assessment at the MH17 crash site in the area east of Donetsk city, the SMM (six monitors travelling in two armoured vehicles), whilst en route from Debaltseve (70 km northeast of Donetsk) towards Yenakiyeve (50 km northeast of Donetsk), was stopped at the Ukrainian Army checkpoint located halfway along the route, at the exit of Vuhlehirsk (60 km north-east of Donetsk).
After clarifications, the SMM passed through the checkpoint and continued its planned route towards Yenakiyeve. However, at the entrance to Yenakiyeve, the SMM noted that the bridge towards the city was destroyed and therefore impassable.
At 17:07hrs the SMM was advised by both parties to change its route, due to heavy fighting taking place in Yasynuvata (20 km north-east of Donetsk), and proceed south, i.e. towards Shakhtarsk (60 km east of Donetsk), passing through Maloorlivka and Kirovske.
At 17:48hrs the SMM arrived in Maloorlivka and, whilst moving through the last Ukrainian Army checkpoint, the SMM heard and visually observed a series of 22 loud explosions consistent with mortar impacts. These were about 50 to 80 metres away from the SMM vehicles that had been parked near a farm building, as advised by the Ukrainian Army.
Due to the proximity of the checkpoint and incoming fire, the SMM moved away on the road towards Maloorlivka in order to reach Kirovske, to the south, where the SMM was told it would be escorted by “DPR” representatives to Donetsk through Shakhtarsk. While en route to the “DPR” checkpoint, the SMM observed impacts close to the SMM vehicles, incoming from the north, and aimed at “DPR” positions. The SMM decided to pass through the first “DPR” checkpoint located at the entrance of Kirovske. The SMM could not use the parallel road as the SMM observed that this path was mined.
The armed men at the “DPR” checkpoint, ordered the SMM to immediately return to Maloorlivka. The SMM protested that this entailed a high risk for the security of the two SMM teams. “DPR” representatives nonetheless refused to allow the SMM through the checkpoint. The SMM therefore decided to try again to pass through Maloorlivka and reach Debaltseve.
The SMM was in constant communication with both parties during the course of events, the SMM Head Office and the OSCE Swiss Chairmanship, but despite multiple phone calls to top management of both parties, the exchange of fire did not stop and the impact of mortars continued to occur.
At 18:11hrs, after the SMM was forced by “DPR” representatives to return towards Maloorlivka, the SMM observed heavy shelling consistent with mortar use.
At around 18:37hrs both SMM vehicles were hit by artillery fragments in the northern outskirts of Kirovske. The SMM retreated to a safer place and waited for guidance from both parties. As a result of shrapnel damage, one SMM vehicle was no longer operational and was left at the spot. The six SMM staff were gathered unharmed in the remaining armoured vehicle.
After phone consultations, the SMM decided to pass though the “DPR” checkpoint, escorted by the so-called “BERKUT” security forces of the “DPR” sent from Donetsk for the purpose. Whilst moving though the checkpoint the SMM vehicle was shelled from the north. The SMM reached its final destination, Donetsk city at 00:32hrs together with the “DPR” escort.
Comment: There are now several spots of confrontations within the Donetsk region including the airport area, Makiyivka, Telmanove, Debaltseve, Petrovske, north-east of Mariupol and Yasynuvata. These confrontations have intensified over the past three days. The SMM observed movement of troops and hardware on both sides; there appear to be command and control issues on both sides.