Latest from the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based on information received as of 18:00hrs (Kyiv time), 9 March 2015
Please note that this report is provided for the public and the media
The SMM monitored the implementation of the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements”. The SMM, based on its monitoring – which was restricted by third parties and by security considerations* – assessed the situation to be calm in the Luhansk region, while fighting in and around the Donetsk airport and east of Mariupol had continued.
(* Please see section on Restrictions on SMM access and freedom of movement below)
At a location 750m south of the Donetsk airport’s destroyed new terminal building, the SMM heard several bursts of small arms and heavy machinegun fire as well as 32 explosions consistent with incoming and outgoing mortar or artillery rounds. Incoming explosions (29) were heard in north-north-westerly and westerly directions at an approximate distance of 2.5km. The SMM observed three outgoing explosions – the first of which some 1.5km to the north, and the second and third explosions were heard from the east-south-east and approximately 400m from the SMM’s position.
Earlier, while driving north towards the airport, the SMM had been approached by approximately 30 people, mainly middle-aged men, on foot and in vehicles, heading in the same direction. They told the SMM that they were hoping to access their private property, including garages, in the vicinity of the airport. Many of the men said they were there for the first time since last summer and that they were shocked to see the destruction to the neighbourhoods around the airport. But they said they believed the situation was calmer now and that it was safer to return. The SMM met with some of the same men later, who said their garages had been destroyed and could not even be found. Some said they had been denied access by “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) members.
In “DPR”-controlled Donetsk city centre the SMM observed two unmarked tanks heading north.
The SMM visited the headquarters of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) in government-controlled Soledar. The Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) Major-General, Head of the Ukrainian side to the JCCC, and the Russian Colonel-General, Representative of the Russian Federation Armed Forces to the JCCC expressed concern that 13 complaints in the previous 24 hours - six by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and seven by the “DPR” - had involved tubed artillery. The Ukrainian Major-General said that this should have been, and had been reported as, withdrawn.
In government-controlled Maiorsk (41km north of Donetsk) the SMM heard exchange of fire close to a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint located 500m from its position. The SMM withdrew to a position 1.5km away and observed that, over the following 45 minutes, the same checkpoint and two other nearby Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoints were all engaged in an exchange of fire with “DPR”-controlled positions involving small arms fire, heavy machine gun and tank rounds.
While stationary at a location at a hilltop on the eastern outskirts of government-controlled Berdianske (98km south of Donetsk) the SMM observed multiple outgoing small arms fire from government-controlled side and at least eight rounds of outgoing tank fire 300 metres east of the SMM’s position. The SMM then heard more than 150 outgoing and incoming mortar rounds, and 23mm anti-aircraft guns used in direct-fire mode, light machine gun and small arms fire from government-controlled area to an easterly direction. The SMM observed two Ukrainian Armed Forces tanks one kilometre north of its positions, firing approximately ten rounds to an easterly direction. One of the tanks was hit by an anti-tank missile that came from an eastern direction and the SMM observed two wounded Ukrainian soldiers climbing out of the damaged tank.
The SMM visited two Ukrainian Armed Forces weapons storage sites compliant with Measure 2 of the Minsk package, where it observed two 120mm mortars and 22 152mm howitzers.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) conducted two operational flights on both sides of the “contact line” focusing on the areas in the vicinity of Donetsk. The observations included, among others, a concentration of 21 battle tanks 14 km from the “line”. In the area of Donetsk airport the SMM observed one battle tank present at the site. Further observations included armoured personnel carriers (APC), defensive positions and support vehicles (supply trucks and ammunition carriers).
On 9 March the SMM observed in government-controlled Hirske (62km north-west of Luhansk) one MT-12 towed 100mm anti-tank gun moving east through the village.
While in government-controlled Novotoshkivske, the SMM observed significant damage to houses and civilian infrastructure, including the local school which appeared to have been completely destroyed by shelling. The SMM spoke to a group of local residents – six women aged between 40 and 70, and two men aged between 50 and 60. They expressed concern about the lack of construction materials needed to repair the damaged infrastructure.
On 8 March the SMM visited an area close to “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”)-controlled Chervonyi Zhovten village (95km south of Luhansk), at the state border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. On the road from Dyakovo to Chervoniy Zhovten (11km distance) there were numerous and clearly visible traces of tracked vehicles. The same traces were visible as fresh at the entrance of Chervoniy Zhovten village. In the middle of the village the traces turned back to the main road. The SMM approached the border and observed that there were no “LPR” “border guards” present and that a barrier on the Ukrainian side was open. The SMM observed a wire fence along the entire length of the border. From its position exactly at the border line, just in front of the open barrier, the SMM observed traces of tracked vehicles on the road across the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The SMM moved to a checkpoint near Zhovten about five kilometres north of the border with the Russian Federation where “LPR” “border guards” said that the SMM is not permitted in the “border zone” without special permission and that the SMM should liaise with the “border guard chief of staff” in Luhansk city.*
On 9 March the SMM visited for the second consecutive day a location in the Zaporizhzhia region, south of Dnepropetrovsk, where Ukrainian Armed Forces have withdrawn and stored their heavy weapons. The SMM went to the location and saw again parked on the side of the road six APCs towing six howitzers, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel had brought out of the collection point storage site for the SMM to see. The officer in charge informed the SMM that they had brought the weapons from the Donetsk region. He told the SMM that he could not escort the SMM to the exact storage site.*
In Kharkiv, Odessa, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, and Kyiv, the SMM observed events commemorating the 201st anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. All events monitored by the SMM were peaceful, with a significant police presence observed particularly in Kharkiv. There, the SMM observed that around 100 police officers had encircled the Shevchenko monument, and were checking bags of those entering the square. In Kyiv the event in Shevchenko park, which gathered approximately 400 people, mainly middle aged men and women, was attended by the Ukrainian President.
The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Kherson and Lviv.
* Restrictions on SMM access and freedom of movement:
The SMM is restrained in fulfilling its monitoring functions by restrictions imposed by third parties and security considerations, including the lack of information on whereabouts of landmines.
The security situation in Donbas is fluid and unpredictable and the cease-fire does not hold everywhere. For this reason, the SMM requires security guarantees from “DPR” and “LPR” which are not always provided. Where such guarantees are limited to escorted movements, and escorts are not provided for all planned patrols or are delayed, this also represents a restriction of SMM freedom of movement.
In particular during the reporting period:
-The SMM was stopped at a “DPR” checkpoint located 1.2km north of the village of Komsomolske. The “DPR” personnel informed the SMM that the SMM was not allowed to visit the area and that access to the village was denied. The SMM asked further about its freedom of movement to monitor “DPR”-controlled areas of the Donetsk region, but “DPR” personnel informed that authorization from the “DPR” “MoD” was needed to allow the patrol to proceed. The “DPR” member said because of the presence of “DPR” military, access to the area was restricted.
- En route to government-controlled Volnovakha (47km south-west of Donetsk) the SMM was stopped at the Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint in the eastern outskirts of Volnovakha. The soldiers requested to know the nationalities of the SMM patrol denying its passage. The SMM contacted the JCCC in Volnovakha, which sent a Ukrainian Armed Forces colonel to the checkpoint to assist the SMM. After 55 minutes, the SMM was able to cross the checkpoint.
-At a checkpoint near Zhovten about 5km north of the border with the Russian Federation, “LPR” “border guards” said that the SMM is not permitted in the “border zone” without special permission.
-In the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel did not allow the SMM to visit a weapons storage site.