Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on information received as of 18:00 (Kyiv time), 17 March 2015
This report is for media and the general public.
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* – observed that fighting continued in areas around the Donetsk airport and Shyrokyne, east of Mariupol.
In Donetsk, the SMM monitored* a visit of representatives of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) to the remains of the Donetsk airport (10km north-west of Donetsk), where it observed the “emergency services” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and 20 captives, whom the “DPR” referred to as Ukrainian soldiers, searching for deceased Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers in the area where the new terminal used to be. The SMM saw the recovery of one body, which was taken by the International Committee of the Red Cross for transportation to the morgue in Donetsk city. A member of the “DPR” said that this brought the number of bodies of Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers in the morgue to 22.
While at the airport, between 12:30 and 15:00hrs, the SMM repeatedly heard single shots (over 50 rounds) from large-calibre sniper rifles, outgoing from 400m north of its location. The SMM could not ascertain the direction of the fire.
While at the railway station* (three kilometres north-west of Donetsk), between 10:00 and 10:20hrs, the SMM heard sporadic bursts of heavy-machine-gun fire, about 4km north of its location. The SMM could not ascertain direction or precise distance.
In “DPR”-controlled Horlivka* (45km north-east of Donetsk) the SMM met a person who identified himself as working for the “city administration”, who said that only half of the pre-conflict population of 300,000 was now living in the city. He said the area had not been shelled since 15 February. A priest and six residents of Horlivka, four elderly women and two middle-aged men, whom the SMM met, confirmed this. However, according to them, there were unexploded ordnances (UXO) in yards, cemetery, and at a bus stop.
Whilst in Pisky (government-controlled, 11km north-west of Donetsk) for about 20 minutes, the SMM heard around 20 incoming rounds, from an undetermined direction, consisting of 120mm mortar and 122mm tubed artillery.
In Luhanske (government-controlled, 55km north-east of Donetsk), a Ukrainian officer described the general situation as calm. However, according to him, attacks by small arms and light weapons (SALW) occurred on a daily basis, especially after dark.
Near Shyrokyne (“DPR”-controlled, 102km south of Donetsk, 20km east of Mariupol), the SMM noted that there was no longer a “DPR” checkpoint on the M14 road north of the village, but the road was blocked by a number of felled trees.* While in the area, the SMM met a “DPR” “commander”, who stated that between 20:30 and 22:30hrs on 16 March the area had been shelled with 82mm mortars. The SMM could see evidence of recent shelling and damage to three houses. There was UXO visible on the side of the road. According to the commander, after the shelling, an armed “DPR” member had been killed by sniper fire from a distance of 500m.
The SMM continued to observe the situation around Shyrokyne from a location between Sopyne and Lebedynske (both government-controlled, 99 and 83km south of Donetsk, respectively). On 16 March, between 12:45 and 17:30hrs, the SMM heard small-arms fire and mortar rounds of unknown calibre originating from south-east of its position. The SMM could not ascertain distances and direction of the fire due to strong wind. Starting from 17:05hrs the SMM heard 29 consecutive mortar rounds (82mm) originating from government-controlled territory, approximately 600m southeast of the SMM’s position. These were followed by sounds consistent with mortar impacts hitting the northern outskirts of Shyrokyne at an estimated distance of 4km from the SMM’s position. As the SMM left at 17:30hrs, shelling continued. At the same place on 17 March, between 7:52 and 12:29hrs, the SMM heard sounds consistent with 14 mortars (82mm and 120mm). The SMM could not ascertain distances and directions of the fire. The SMM observed one tank (T-64) stationary, south-east of its position. Between 13:45 and 15:00hrs, the SMM heard at least 17 mortar rounds (82mm and 120mm) assessed as originating from government-controlled territory, 600m south-east of SMM’s position. At 16:15hrs, the SMM heard two outgoing mortar rounds (82mm). At 16:30hrs, the SMM heard around ten rounds of grenade launcher originating from the south-east, but could not ascertain distance and direction.
The SMM visited a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint in Volnovakha (government-controlled, 47km south-west of Donetsk), which for some time was responsible for issuing permits for civilians to cross. The SMM had observed and the checkpoint commander confirmed that this process had stopped about one month ago. He said a new online system for issuing permits is being put in place. He said persons not carrying a permit are not allowed to cross the checkpoint.
On 16 March, at a “DPR” checkpoint in Zaichenko (“DPR”-controlled, 88km south of Donetsk), the “commander” told the SMM that a “military” truck transporting timber had been hit by an antitank wire-guided missile on 15 March, killing two and injuring one “DPR” armed member aboard. Escorted by the “commander”, the SMM reached the site of the alleged incident, 500m east of the checkpoint. The SMM saw 15 armed “DPR” members and five journalists from Russian Federation television channels. Inside the cabin of a military-type truck facing west were two severely burnt bodies. “DPR” members removed the bodies and covered them, as journalists filmed. The “commander” expressed particular frustration about the attack following the dialogue facilitated by the SMM for the demining of nearby Kominternove. (See Spot Report 9 March 2015.) He demanded that SMM members hand over mobile phones and vehicle keys to the SMM patrol leader and not move, adding that his personnel would shoot anyone who did not comply. The patrol leader was then forced to go with the commander to a nearby house. There, the patrol leader was shown the remnants of the missile that allegedly hit the truck.* The SMM was allowed to proceed after one hour.
The SMM revisited three Ukrainian Armed Forces storage sites for heavy weapons and found that all the weapons previously recorded remained in situ. Their locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines.
In Stanytsia Luhanska (government-controlled, 16km north-east of Luhansk), the SMM observed the planned transfer of 63 vulnerable people, such as persons with disabilities, elderly, orphans and women and children, over the bridge from Luhansk city into government-controlled territory. The process was organized by a Kharkiv-based non-governmental organization. Only eight elderly people were allowed to cross in private cars; later one mini bus with children was denied passage by the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) at the checkpoint without explanation.
The SMM was denied access to a possible “LPR” “military” compound by an “LPR” member, who introduced himself as the commander of that compound. According to him, SMM must get an approval from both “LPR” “ministry of interior” and a “military commander” to access the facility.
The SMM visited the Ukraine-Russian Federation border crossing in Tymofiivka (62km north-west of Kharkiv). There, a deputy commander of the border guards told the SMM that, based on an order issued on 13 March, Russian citizens were not allowed to use Ivashky, Guriiv Kozachok and Oleksandrivka border crossings as of 16 March. He said Goptivka is the closest border crossing in the Kharkiv region where citizens of the Russian Federation can cross the border.
The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Dnepropetrovsk, Kherson, Odessa, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Kyiv.
* 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 ceasefire 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:
- Near a “DPR” checkpoint in Zaichenko (“DPR”-controlled, 88km south of Donetsk), the SMM was forced by the checkpoint “commander” to hand their mobile phones and vehicle keys to the SMM patrol leader and to not move, being threatened that they would be shot if they did not comply.
- At a government checkpoint in Hranitne (government-controlled, 57km south of Donetsk), on two occasions the SMM was refused passage, citing security concerns, although the SMM suggested the possibility to proceed with an escort.
- At a checkpoint in government-controlled Volnovakha (47km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM was asked about the nationalities of its members, but eventually did not disclose them.
- At a checkpoint in Pervomaiske (government-controlled, 85km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM was initially denied passage on the grounds that the checkpoint personnel did not have orders to allow the SMM to proceed. After 20 minutes the SMM was let through, but only escorted by Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel to a weapons storage site
- A former “DPR” checkpoint near Shyrokyne (102km south of Donetsk, 20km east of Mariupol) was replaced by felled trees blocking the road.
- Near the border crossing point in Izvaryne (“LPR”-controlled, 53km south-east of Luhansk), the SMM met an “LPR” patrol, which signalled the SMM to stop. An “LPR” “border guard” stated that the SMM must get authorization from the “ministry of state security” to be in the border area.
- At two checkpoints, in Novoaidar (40km north of Luhansk) and Shchastia (20km north of Luhansk), both government-controlled, the SMM was asked to disclose the nationalities of patrol members in order to be let through.
- The SMM was denied access to a possible “LPR” “military” compound by an “LPR” member, who introduced himself as the commander of that compound. According to him, SMM must get an approval from both “LPR” “ministry of interior” and a “military commander” to access the facility.