OSCE - Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

09/09/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/09/2020 02:57

Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 8 September 2020

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 one first responder[1]. The newly selected border observers have finally arrived to the Mission between 28 August and 3 September, in line with the host country's approval. 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 Chairmanship. Following the host country recommendations, the observers are applying a self-isolation regime between shifts at the border checkpoints and 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.

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 11,216 to 9,544 per day at both BCPs compared to last week[2].

During the reporting period, the majority of border crossings were to the Russian Federation, with an average net flow of 478 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 has closed its borders for the majority of foreigners starting from 18 March. 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, 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.

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military style outfits crossing the border was ten, compared to four last week. Eight persons crossed into the Russian Federation while two 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, six families were observed crossing into the Russian Federation while another two families were observed crossing into Ukraine, compared to the previous reporting period when 11 families were observed crossing to the Russian Federation, while another four families crossed 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 an increase in the overall number of buses crossing the border at both BCPs (353 compared to 316 observed during the previous week). There were 177 buses bound for the Russian Federation and 176 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. Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following 'irregular' routes or destinations were noted: Luhansk-Kyiv-Moscow, Luhansk-Sevastopol and Luhansk-Yalta.

Trucks

During the reporting period, the OTs observed a slight decrease in the overall number of trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (842 compared to 884 during the previous reporting week); 439 at the Gukovo BCP and 403 at the Donetsk BCP, 469 of these trucks crossed into the Russian Federation and 373 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 the Russian Federation, Belarus, Lithuania, Armenia Ukraine, and trucks with 'LPR' plates.

The OTs also continued to observe tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. During the reporting period, the OTs observed a slight decrease in the overall number of tanker trucks crossing the border at both BCPs (54 compared to 60 during the previous reporting 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 the Russian Federation officials, which could include an X-ray check. Due to the unfavourable observation position at the Gukovo BCP, the OTs continued to be unable to observe any X-ray checks.

During the reporting period, the X-ray vehicle at the Donetsk BCP was not operating due to the ongoing ground construction activities and no X-ray checks were observed.

Minivans

The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans[3] 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 slight decrease in the overall number of minivans crossing the border at both BCPs (128 compared to 137 observed during the previous week); 73 crossed into the Russian Federation and another 55 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 14 trains were travelling to the Russian Federation and the remaining 21 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 cars with licence plates registered in Belarus, Georgia, and Lithuania

On 6 September at 13:40, the OT at the Donetsk BCP observed a police van with Russian Federation licence plates entering the BCP area from the Russian Federation. The vehicle drove behind the main building without stopping. At 13:45, the same van left the BCP to the Russian Federation with only the driver on board.

On 7 September at 09:06, the OT at Donetsk BCP observed a green helicopter type Mi-17 flying from the north-east in a north-westerly direction. The helicopter remained inside the Russian Federation airspace during the entire time it was visible to the OT.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 4 August to 8 September 2020, please see the attachment here

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

[2] Based on data received from the Regional Representation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

[3] 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 which correspond to driving licence C1).