Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based on information received as of 19:30 (Kyiv time), 17 April 2015
This report is for the media and 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 (cf. below) – observed on-going fighting in and around Donetsk airport, albeit at a lower intensity compared to previous days. The situation, however, remained relatively calm in the Luhansk region and in the rest of the Donetsk region, notably around Shyrokyne, where for the first time the SMM maintained an overnight static presence.
Fighting continued in and around Donetsk airport, and around neighbouring villages, namely government-controlled Pisky and Opytne, and “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Spartak (all 15-20km north-west of Donetsk city-centre), with 269 SMM recorded instances of the use of heavy weapons, including heavy mortars, heavy artillery and tanks. This, however, represents a reduced intensity in comparison to previous days. In one particularly intense period – between 14:00 and 18:00hrs – the SMM, positioned at the “DPR”-controlled Donetsk railway station (8km north-west of Donetsk city-centre), heard the sounds of 202 explosions, and anti-aircraft machine gun, heavy-machinegun and small-arms fire from the west, south, south-west, south-east, north and north-east of its position, at a distance of three to 15 kilometres (cf. annex).
The contested village of Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) and surrounding areas remained relatively calm, except for some small-arms fire heard by the SMM inside the village and on its outskirts. The SMM Deputy Chief Monitor continued advocating with the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) to advance the drafting and consequent implementation of the SMM proposal for a de-militarised zone in Shyrokyne (see SMM Spot Report: SMM spearheads efforts for the cessation of hostilities in Shyrokyne, 17 April, http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/151571). The SMM monitored the ceasefire in Shyrokyne throughout the day, and by the end of the reporting period prepared to continue monitoring with an overnight static observation mission. A patrol led by the Deputy Chief Monitor arrived at 18:30hrs (see SMM Spot Report, SMM Overnight Observation in Shyrokyne, 18 April, http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/151796).
The SMM spoke to the director of the Coal Donetsk Corporation in Donetsk city, who said that three of the corporation’s six coal mines in “DPR”-controlled territory had been shut down since the start of the conflict because of shelling, resulting in 7,000 lay-offs. The majority of those made redundant, he said had emigrated to the Russian Federation while approximately a third had joined the “DPR” armed groups.
The SMM noted no ceasefire violations in the Luhansk region but it did hear outgoing shelling and the sound of explosions on the western outskirts of “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”)-controlled Luhansk city, subsequently described by the JCCC as live-fire tank exercises.
While being “escorted”* by an armed “LPR”-affiliated Cossack group, the SMM met an “LPR” “border guard” “commander” in “LPR”-controlled Dovzhanske (84km south-east of Luhansk), who explained that the international border crossing point was now under “LPR” control, having been transferred from Cossack control on 14 April. He added that the “LPR” was in the process of taking control of all other border crossing points not controlled by the government in the Luhansk region, and of the border zone, an area extending 15 kilometres from the border into “LPR”-controlled territory.
On the government-controlled side of Stanytsia Luhanska bridge (16km north-east of Luhansk), a Ukrainian Armed Forces soldier told the SMM that people wishing to cross the bridge into or out of “LPR”-controlled territory currently only required an identification card. Previously a crossing permit had been required. He said, however, that a crossing permit would be required again, as of 19 April. Within a time period of 15 minutes, the SMM observed at least 100 people, most of them carrying goods or groceries, crossing into “LPR”-controlled territory, having to produce only their identification card at the Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint. Fifty people crossed in the opposite direction. Later, on the “LPR” side of the bridge, people crossing explained to the SMM that they cross to buy food, which they said was in short supply in “LPR”-controlled territory and extremely expensive. They said people would die if they were unable to cross into government-controlled territory to buy food.
The SMM re-visited two “DPR” and two Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas, observing that the majority of weapons previously recorded were in situ, and that their locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines. At one of the Ukrainian Armed Forces areas, however, the SMM noted that three 120mm howitzers – that had been present at previous visits (see Daily Report, 9 March, http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/144336) were on this occasion absent.
Despite claims that the withdrawal of heavy weapons was completed, the SMM observed the following weapons being moved or present in areas that were non-compliant with the withdrawal lines: (i) on “DPR”-controlled territory, one T-72 tank; and, (ii) on government-controlled territory, six T-64 tanks.
On 15 April, the SMM met with the mayor of Huliaipole (126km south-east of Dnepropetrovsk) in the Zaporizhzhia region, who said that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) arriving in the town had drastically declined, with only one or two arriving daily, compared to 30 to 40 two months ago. The head of the Social Protection Department in Kuibysheve (171km south-east of Dnepropetrovsk) in the Zaporizhzhia region similarly told the SMM that the flow of IDPs was down, citing the example of Kuibysheve, which, he said had in November and December received an average of 100 IDPs a day but only between two and five at present.
The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Kharkiv, Odessa, Kherson, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, 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 the “DPR” and “LPR” which are not always provided.
On 16 April, Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel on the outskirts of government-controlled Krymske (43km north-west of Luhansk) prevented the SMM from entering the town, saying prior notification was required.