Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 7 March 2017

London. March 8, 2017. (mediap). Weekly Update from the OSCE Observer Mission at Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk based on information as of 7 March 2017

This report is for the general public and the media.

SUMMARY

Kamensk-Shakhtinskiy, Russian Federation. The Observer Mission (OM) continues to operate 24/7 at both Border Crossing Points (BCPs).

OPERATIONAL REMARKS

The OM is currently operating with 19 permanent international staff members, including the Chief Observer (CO). The Mission is supported administratively by a Vienna-based staff member.

OBSERVATIONS AT THE BORDER CROSSING POINTS

Persons crossing the border

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

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

Persons in military-style outfits

During the reporting period, the number of persons in military-style outfits crossing the border in both directions was 90 this week at both BCPs compared to 79 last week; 39 of them crossed into the Russian Federation, 51 into Ukraine. Approximately 75 per cent of this category’s crossings occurred at the Donetsk BCP. They continued to cross the border individually or in groups. Most individuals crossed by foot, however, some made use of private vehicles, buses or minivans, making it more difficult for the observer teams (OTs) to observe their movement across the border, especially since many of the private vehicles have tinted windows, and buses and minivans have drawn curtains.

Families with a significant amount of luggage

The OTs continue to report on families crossing the border, sometimes with elderly people and/or children, crossing at both BCPs with a significant amount of luggage, or traveling in heavily loaded cars. During this reporting period, one family was observed crossing the border into the Russian Federation, while three families were observed crossing into Ukraine.

Bus connections

Regular local and long-distance bus connections continue to operate between Ukraine (mostly from/to the Luhansk region) and the Russian Federation. In addition to regular bus connections, the OTs continued to observe bus connections on irregular routes. Often the buses do not state their route; instead they have a sign on the windshield stating “Irregular”.

Among the bus connections observed by the OTs, the following “irregular” routes or destinations were noted: Rovenki-Kyiv and Stakhanov–Luhansk–Kyiv.

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

Trucks

The OM continued to observe trucks cross the border in both directions at both BCPs. Compared to the previous week, the total number of trucks significantly increased from 456 to 614 (161 in Gukovo BCP and 453 in Donetsk BCP); 349 of these trucks crossed to the Russian Federation and 265 crossed to Ukraine. Most of the trucks observed by the OTs have Ukrainian licence plates issued in Luhansk region.

Separately, the OTs also observed tanker trucks crossing the border in both directions. The number of tanker trucks increased from 34 to 51. These trucks were observed crossing the border at both BCPs. The trucks mainly had the words “Propane” and “Flammable” written across the tanks in either Russian or Ukrainian. The majority of tanker trucks have hazard signs, indicating that they are transporting propane or a mix of propane with butane.

All trucks undergo systematic inspection by Russian Federation officials, which may include an X-ray check. Due to the unfavourable position at the Gukovo BCP, the OTs continued to be unable to observe any X-ray checks. At the Donetsk BCP the OTs observed 173 X-ray checks. At the latter BCP, out of the total number of trucks scanned during the reporting period, 118 trucks (68 per cent) were bound for Ukraine; the remaining 55 trucks (32 per cent) crossed into the Russian Federation.

Minivans

The OM continued to observe passenger and cargo minivans[1] crossing the border in both directions at both BCPs. The OTs observed minivans predominantly with Ukrainian licence plates issued in Luhansk region; however, the OTs frequently saw minivans registered in the Russian Federation.

Compared to the previous week, the number of cargo minivans decreased from 257 to 196; 90 crossed to the Russian Federation and 106 to Ukraine.

Trains

The OTs continued to pick up the sound of trains running on the train tracks located approximately 150 metres south-west of the Gukovo BCP. During the reporting week, the OTs heard trains on seven occasions; the OTs assessed that ten trains were travelling to Ukraine and other six were bound for the Russian Federation.

Visual observation was not possible because of the line of trees located between the train tracks and the BCP, as well as due to unfavourable light conditions.

Other observations

The majority of vehicles crossing the border have Ukrainian licence plates issued in the Luhansk region or Russian Federation licence plates. The OTs continued to observe vehicles, cars and buses with “LPR” licence plates crossing the border in both directions. On some occasions the OTs observed vehicles with Lithuanian and Georgian licence plates. The OTs also continued to observe articulated trucks with “LPR” or “Novorossiya” stickers, or in rare cases “DPR” stickers on their licence plates masking the Ukrainian flag.

On 3 March at 9:55hrs, the OT noted two ambulances crossing jointly into the Russian Federation at the Donetsk BCP.  Inside one ambulance, besides paramedic staff, the OT observed a lady carrying a young baby.

The ambulances had “LPR licence plates” and the inscription “103 Urgent Medical Help”.
Both vehicles returned to Ukraine on the same day at 19:10hrs with paramedic staff inside (no patient was observed inside the ambulances on the way back).

On 5 March from 10:15hrs to 11:25hrs, then on 6 March between 10:00 and 12:00hrs, and, at a later time the same day, between 16:00 and 18:00hrs, the OTs registered a constant helicopter presence in the airspace near the Gukovo BCP. Due to the immediate vicinity of the dense forests, the OTs could not visually observe the helicopter. However, according to the sound, which alternated in equal intervals pulling away and approaching the BCP, the OTs assessed that the helicopter flew at a low altitude in a north-south direction along the borderline and approximately 3-5 km inside the territory of the Russian Federation.

For trends and figures at a glance covering the period from 28 February 2017 to 7 March 2017 see the attachment here.

[1] 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).
For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: http://www.osce.org/om/303596

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