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OSCE - Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

09/14/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/14/2021 05:27

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 14 September 2021

SUMMARY

Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs). The overall number of border crossings by persons decreased at both BCPs compared to the previous week.

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 22 permanent international Mission members, including the Chief Observer (CO) and a First Responder.[1] The Mission is supported administratively by a staff member and the Chief of Fund Administration based in Vienna.

Update on COVID-19 measures

Activities have been impacted by COVID-19 and measures undertaken by the OM to ensure the safety and duty of care of its Mission members and compliance with measures set by the host country authorities. The Mission is continuing to keep the situation under review, in close contact with the OSCE Secretariat and the Chairpersonship. Following the host country's recommendations, the observers are adhering to social distancing. Due to the preventive measures taken by the central and regional authorities, the OM is faced with certain difficulties, but is still able to continue to fulfil its mandate without any limitations in its observation and reporting activities. The vaccination process provided by the host country medical system continues on a voluntary basis. To date, 80 per cent of OM staff have now been vaccinated. The OM is fully staffed and operational.

OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS

Persons crossing the border

The profile of persons crossing the border can be categorized as follows:

  1. Adults travelling on foot or by car with little or no luggage.
  2. Persons in military-style outfits.
  3. Families (often including elderly persons and/or children) travelling on foot or by car with a significant amount of luggage.

The average number of entries/exits decreased from 9,340 to 9,082 per day at both BCPs compared to last week. During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to Ukraine, with an average net flow of 160 per day for both BCPs. The Donetsk BCP continued to experience much more traffic than the Gukovo BCP.

Responding to the COVID-19 situation, the host country closed its borders for the majority of foreigners starting from 18 March 2020. Among the exceptions of persons allowed to cross the border (which entered into force on 19 March) are Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons holding passports or identification documents proving permanent residence in certain areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. In addition, reportedly, due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19, starting from 10 April 2020, the organized passenger transport commuting between the non-government-controlled areas of Luhansk region of Ukraine and the Russian Federation was temporarily suspended and restored from 25 June 2020. Currently, the crossing of people is going on at a quasi-normal level.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military-style outfits crossing the border was three, compared to two last week; two persons crossed into the Russian Federation while one person crossed into Ukraine. These individuals crossed the border on foot.

Families with a significant amount of luggage

The OTs continued to report on families, sometimes with elderly persons and/or children, crossing the border at both BCPs with a significant amount of luggage, or travelling in heavily loaded cars. During this reporting week, no families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation while four families were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when two families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation and another two into Ukraine.

Bus connections

Regular local and long-distance bus connections continued to operate between Ukraine (mostly from/to the Luhansk region) and the Russian Federation. During the reporting period, the OTs observed a slight decrease in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (369 compared to 386 observed during the previous week). There were 191 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 178 bound for Ukraine.

On some occasions, the OTs noticed the bus drivers removing the itinerary signs from the windshields of their buses, while some buses did not display their route at all. The majority of long-distance buses commuting between the Luhansk region and cities in the Russian Federation had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed a significant increase in the overall number of trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (781 compared to 636 during the previous reporting week); 447 at the Gukovo BCP and 334 at the Donetsk BCP, 424 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation, and 357 crossed into Ukraine. Most of the trucks observed by the OTs had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region; however, on a daily basis, the OTs also noted trucks registered in Belarus, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and trucks with 'LPR' and 'DPR' plates.

The OTs also continued to observe tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. During the reporting period, the overall number of tanker trucks crossing the border at both BCPs significantly increased (34 compared to 19 during the previous week). These trucks were observed crossing the border at both BCPs. The trucks had the words 'Propane' and 'Flammable' written across the tanks in either Russian or Ukrainian. The majority of tanker trucks had hazard signs, indicating that they were transporting propane or a mix of propane and butane. All trucks underwent systematic inspection by Russian Federation officials, which could include an X-ray check. Due to the unfavorable observation position at the Gukovo BCP, the OTs continued to be unable to observe any X-ray checks.

Compared to the previous week, the total number of X-ray checks at the Donetsk BCP increased from 143 to 168. Of the total number of all trucks scanned 168 trucks (100 per cent) were bound for Ukraine.

Minivans

The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans[2] crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The OTs observed minivans predominantly with Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region; however, the OTs also saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation. During the reporting period, the OTs observed a decrease in the overall number of minivans crossing the border at both BCPs (125 compared to 144 observed during the previous week); 68 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 57 into Ukraine.

Trains

The OTs continued to pick up the sound of trains on the railway tracks located approximately 150m south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on 35 occasions; the OTs assessed that 19 trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the remaining 16 trains were travelling to Ukraine (more details are provided in the sections 'trends and figures at a glance' below).

Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees located between the train tracks and the BCP.

Other observations

The majority of vehicles crossing the border had Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region or Russian Federation licence plates. A significant number of vehicles with 'LPR' plates were also observed crossing the border in both directions on a daily basis. The OTs also observed vehicles with Georgian, Lithuanian and Czech Republic licence plates, in addition to 'DPR' plates.

On 9 September at 11:05, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a helicopter type Mi8/Mi17 flying from the east in a north-easterly direction. The helicopter remained inside Russian Federation airspace the entire time it was visible to the OT.

The same day at 10:45, the OT at the Gukovo BCP observed a helicopter type Mi8/Mi17 flying from the south-east in a north-easterly direction at an altitude of approximately 300m. The helicopter remained inside the airspace of the Russian Federation the entire time it was visible to the OT.

On 10 September at 14:00, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed four brand-new ambulances with no licence plates and inscription 'Urgent Medical Help' (in Russian), entering the BCP from the Russian Federation and parking at the customs control area. After undergoing customs and border control procedures including the X-ray checks, the vehicles left the BCP for Ukraine at 16:45.

On 13 September at 11:00, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed an ambulance with 'LPR' plates and inscription 'Urgent Medical Help' (in Russian), entering the BCP from Ukraine and parking at the customs control area. After undergoing customs and border control procedures, the vehicle left the BCP to the Russian Federation at 11:15. At 16:01, the OT observed the same ambulance entering the BCP from the Russian Federation and queuing at the customs control area. After undergoing customs and border control procedures, the vehicle left the BCP for Ukraine at 16:15.

On 13 September at 19:27, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed two ambulances with Russian Federation licence plates and inscription 'Urgent Medical Help' (in Russian), and with the logo 'Help from the United Russian Party' (in Russian) entering the BCP from Ukraine and parking at the customs control area. After undergoing customs and border control procedures, the vehicles left the BCP to the Russian Federation at 19:47. The OT was unable to notice any other details from its position.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 10 August 2021 to 14 September 2021, please see the attachment here.

[1] First responders are OSCE staff or Mission members deployed for a short period of time.

[2]Cargo minivans: light commercial vehicles with a maximum authorized mass of more than 3.5 t and not more than 7.5 t; with or without a trailer with a maximum mass of less than 750 kg (small cargo vehicles that correspond to driving licence C1).