Protection of the rights
and freedoms of Ukrainians
Andrii Bogdanovych about Control Points at Donbass
Chairman of the NGO "Foundation.101" Andrii Bogdanovych told about the control points in the Donetsk region in the air of "Hromadske Radio" as part of the monitoring project "Frontline Inspection".
Our guest today is the head of the NGO "Foundation.101" Andrii Bogdanovych. We will continue the topic that we have raised during the first half an hour. This is the problem on the contact line. We will look at it from the other side, from the standpoint of the public. As far as I know, you have a Frontline Inspection initiative where your representatives monitor situation at the entry-exit control points, violations of the security forces, as well as violations of people who cross the contact line. What is the situation? And where the last monitoring was held?
Good afternoon. Yes, our organization "Foundation.101" monitors control points on the contact line in Donetsk region. Not all of them, just "Zaytseve" and "Novotroyitske". "Zaytseve" is near Artemivsk, "Novotroyitske" is near Volnovakha. Our monitors are full-time at control points — from morning to evening. Now from 7 am to 5 pm because of the wintertime. They worked longer during summer and autumn. That is just as much as control point operates. They are watching how border guards and representatives of the Fiscal Service who check the citizens when they cross control points communicate and behave. In general, this is the situation: the lines are very long, so monitors communicate with people, they can write a complaint about the problems they face at the control points, or any suggestions on how to improve access control. Afterwards, all the gathered information including our suggestions and recommendations is sent to the Border Guard and to all authorities that are related to the process of checking citizens at control points on the contact line.
Are there a lot of complaints? And what are the complaints about?
Most complaints are about long queues. And this situation does not really change. Our project lasts about two months. We started monitoring back in September. Then we had a short break and recently we have resumed our monitoring of control points. Unfortunately, the problem of long lines is not yet solved by the authorities, because this year out of six control points that were foreseen in the Donetsk and Lugansk region, only two have worked — "Novotroyitske" and "Zaytseve". Other control points were either under fire or closed for other reasons, so they weren't available. Accordingly, all people and traffic is going through these two control points mentioned above. The additional checkpoints are to be opened in Stanytsia Luganska, Kurakhove, Mariyinka. But still the greatest load is on the two control points. And, in fact, the problem should have been partially solved by logistic centers which were built in so-called "gray" zone.
"Gray" zone — is located between the zero checkpoint, where the uncontrolled area begins and the control point, where the territory is fully controlled by Ukraine. And on this segment — "gray" zone can vary from 2.3 km to 30 km at different control points — logistics centers were built, since the main flow of people comes from the uncontrolled territory to get food and withdraw pension paid by Ukraine. Accordingly, in the morning they go to the controlled area, buy products, get their pension, and in the afternoon return back to the uncontrolled area.
This problem should have been solved with logistics centers that were built in the "gray" zone. In fact, these are the markets where the food was sold and the ATMs were installed from which people could withdraw money from the credit cards. Unfortunately, nowadays there is a problem that there are very few entrepreneurs who would sell their products there. The biggest number we recorded was 10, although usually there are 3 to 5 entrepreneurs. Because of the small range of food, people do not actively use these logistics centers and still go to the controlled territory. Moreover, people who are coming from the uncontrolled territory should have access to the logistics centers out of turn or in separate queue. So they shouldn't be in one line with people crossing the checkpoints to go to the controlled territory. They should skip the queue to go to the logistics centers, where they can buy products and go back. This would decrease the load on the control point and make the queues shorter, too. However, most citizens are complaining that they are put in a common line, and they have to stand there for 3-5 hours. Sometimes, if there are a lot of people they have to stay overnight in the "gray" zone because the control point is open until 5 pm. Anyone who did not manage to cross the checkpoint until this hour stays in the "gray" zone, so they can not cross the control point or zero checkpoint. They remain in limbo for the night because there is nowhere to go. After person has stood in line for 3-5 hours, he can either get to the logistics center or visit the controlled area and buy everything he needs and more. Therefore, logically it is better to pass the control point.
That's why logistics centers do not solve the problem of the load on the control points. Moreover, some people do not even know about the logistics centers. Speaking of control point "Novotroyitske", the logistics center is right there at the control point, so it's easy to see. But the logistics center near "Zaytseve" is in the "gray" zone 3 km away. So you have to go off road and drive another 3 km to get there. It is not surprising that people do not know that there are logistics centers. Even journalists who were going there to make reportage about this logistics center complained to us. They barely found it, and only because they aimed to get there. And people who are just passing by may not know about it.
Why can't it be moved? Or why the pointers can't be put?
Well, the problem is still there. We addressed to the Border Guard and the Donetsk Regional Military-Civilian Administration about this issue and that logistics centers do not solve it. But, unfortunately, the problem remains.
Andrii, in the first half of the program Oleg Slobodian was here (Assistant Head of State Border service, spokesman of SBS), who said that not the State Border service decides whether to open control points of entry and exit or not, it can only make suggestions. Does your NGO have the right to make suggestions on control points' organization?
The work of the control points is regulated by the Antiterrorist Operation Center. It includes the representatives of the Border Guard, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, National Guard, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Fiscal service. These authorities form so-called coordination group, which carries the control and issuance of permits for crossing the contact line, because now you must have a permit to pass the checkpoint. All the control is on the coordination group. In fact, the Center of Antiterrorist Operation decides where to open the control point. Of course, all the authorities that are relevant to the work of this group may submit suggestions and participate in the discussion of these issues. Our organization can also send its suggestions and recommendations according to the law. And we periodically do. We try to solve the problems we face by sending our suggestions and recommendations to those authorities which can solve an issue.
Tell me please, does smuggling take place? Is it strong and open? How big the trafficking is?
Look, our monitors are at the control points during the day, during its working hours. Ordinary people pass these points with carry-on that has certain limitations — no more than 50 kg of products that they can hold.
Smuggling probably exists, since everyone is talking about it. However, we haven't recorded any facts of it at these control points. If it really takes place then it happens on other ways, as people complain to us. These two control points are not the only way where the vehicle can go through. There are other control points through which loads, humanitarian aid and other vehicles travel. Also smuggling can happen at night but we are not there after the working hours. But, of course, we can't deny that smuggling exists, because people are talking about it a lot.
So you do not monitor this issue, right?
We monitor the control points to ensure that human rights are not violated there, that the military engaged in checking citizens acts appropriately. If they behave inappropriately, we record it and send the complaints.
Andrii, recently Alexander Hug (Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission) was in our studio. He told us about the conclusions that he had made while being in Eastern Ukraine: the shelling in Donetsk region continues, particularly in the area of the airport, but the number of attacks in the Lugansk region has, in fact, decreased since September. However, there is an uncompleted control point in Lugansk region. It's a crosswalk in Stanytsia Luganska, people can't drive there by car. So following in the Donetsk region, where the situation is more complicated, at the several entry-exit control points in the Lugansk region, according to Hug, it is calmer, but there is only one crosswalk. It turns out that in Donetsk region where the situation is more complicated there are several control points, and in Lugansk region, according to Hug, the situation is safer, but there is only one crosswalk.
Moreover, this crosswalk in Lugansk was opened recently. It hasn't worked for a year. Two control points that were provided in Lugansk region haven't worked most of the time during the year. Personally to me, it's hard to say what the reasons are.
After the first month of our monitoring, we saw how big the load is at the control points (only two of all actually work), we have sent an appeal to the Lugansk regional military-civilian administration asking them to make efforts to open the checkpoints, because people should have the opportunity to move through the contact line in Lugansk region. However, they responded that the Antiterrorist Operation Center deals with these issues. After this, our correspondence with Lugansk regional military-civilian organization was over.
Also, we have appealed to the Security Service about the issue of opening more control points, but the situation remains the same. Of course, we do not exclude the fact that there are certain reasons for which the control points are closed. Perhaps, there is the information that the increased threat to citizens exists there. But so far we can't claim anything, because we don't possess all the information from the Antiterrorist Operation Center.
What are your further steps? What are you going to do next? What is the nearest perspective of Foundation.101?
We will continue monitoring checkpoints. Lately we have noticed another problem: there are buses that transport people from Artemivsk to zero checkpoint through "Zaytseve". The problem is that when the buses which come to the control point let people out to pass it on foot. Meanwhile, their belongings and passports are checked and the bus is waiting this whole time, and when people are finally dismissed, they return to their seats in the bus and go on. Similar situation appears in both directions. That's how the buses' route organized. And if there are a lot of people going during the day, two or three buses accumulate. It takes longer for people to pass the control point, so these two or three buses can just stand and wait until all people finish. And, for example, at the same time there are people at the "zero" checkpoint which is unsuitable for waiting, because it's simply road. Everything is under the increased risk, because it is on the contact line, and people can't get to the control point which is 30 km away.
We contacted the Donetsk Regional Military-Civilian Administration and they have a suggestion to make two routes instead of one. The first one would go from zero checkpoint to the control point, without passing it, but only dropping people out there, and then go back again to "zero" checkpoint. The other one would drive from the control point to Artemivsk, also without passing the control point. These would be two different routes. They wouldn't have to stand and wait while citizens go through the check. People would come out of one bus, pass the control point on feet, and then go on a second bus. This way we can avoid the congestion on the "zero" checkpoint. As far as we know, that's how Donetsk Regional Military-Civilian Administration wants to resolve the issue. However, there is the resistance from the Border Guard, since they regulate the movement of the buses and can hold them at some point of their route. They explain that this resistance is related to the fact that it's dangerous for citizens to accumulate near the control point. However, there is even greater danger on the "zero" checkpoint. We've just sent a proposal to the Border Service, saying that we believe this routing is correct. Now we are waiting for the response.
Do you work at all control points?
We work only on the two main ones — "Zaytseve" and "Novotroyitske".
Do the same authorities control these control points?
Border guards carry out passport control and regulate all passenger traffic on these control points. In fact, ensuring the safety of citizens is their responsibility. Also, the Fiscal Service works there, they check the luggage, so it doesn't have any forbidden items or exceed allowed weight (maximum 50 kg per person).
We get a lot of complaints that in some places it's difficult to work with the police, in other ones — with the National Guard. Tell me please, with which structure the problems are faced more often?
In fact, everything depends not on the type of authorities there, but on those people who work there. As I mentioned before, we had a break. First we monitored "Zaytseve" in September, then there was a break, and then we started to monitor both "Zaytseve" and "Novotroyitske". So, for example, if we look at a group of guards who worked at the control point "Zaytseve" in September, they worked almost perfectly: the check of citizens and their luggage was really quick, they were polite, sometimes they even helped to move luggage if it was an elderly person with a big piece of luggage. But the group that works at "Zaytseve" now is less organized while checking citizens and their luggage and sometimes rudely communicates with people. Everything, in fact, depends on the workers. We can't say that everything depends on the type of authorities performing the task.
Andrii, as far as I know, there was a conflict at "Zaytseve" not so long ago. The tent of "Frontline Inspection" was cut with a knife by the unknown person. It is suspected that it was a military man, but without a badge. Are there any results on the investigation? I know that you appealed to the Defense Ministry and Border Guard.
Right. One day our monitors came to their workplace in the morning and saw that the tent which they work in was cut with a knife. We have not seen neither who did it nor when. Most likely, it happened at night, because the night before another group closed the tent and went home. Then the other group arrived in the morning and recorded the fact of damaging. We believe that this may be related to the fact that few days before the incident we sent a complaint to the Ministry of Defense and the Border Service about the fact that our monitors have recorded the damage of citizen's property who was passing the control point. After he passed the control point, he left his car on the side of the road and went somewhere. At this time, military car without any signs or markings drove by (we recorded the plate number). Our monitors couldn't figure out who it was, because all the soldiers who work at the control points should wear badges. The badge does not have name, but there is a number by which you can identify the soldier. This military man drove to the civilian's car and stopped. He did not like that the car was standing without a driver. He saw that the driver wasn't nearby, so he took his knife out and cut two tires of the car and then drove away. Our monitors have recorded that, specified all the details in the report and sent the information to us in Kyiv. According to this information, we sent a complaint to the Border Guard Service and the Ministry of Defense. In a couple of days, the incident with our tent happened. Of course, we can't be sure that these cases are related to the fact that we have sent a complaint. However, the probability exists.
Dou you know what has happened to this man?
In fact, this man is occasionally seen on the control point. He does not work there permanently like border guards, who constantly carry out their duties. But our monitors record the presence of the man and his car from time to time. All of this has happened recently. On December 8 if I am not mistaken, there was an incident with cut tires, and on December 9 we sent a complaint. According to the law on Citizens' Appeal, an appeal is examined within one month, so we have not received answers and the results of the official investigation which we asked to conduct. So currently we can't tell what are the results of this investigation.
Thank you for your response, everything is clear. One more question. You mentioned that according to the rules of control points citizens can't carry than 50 kg of luggage with them. Do you know what legislative bodies regulate that? And to what extent does it correspond to human rights?
It is regulated by the Temporary order of control over the movement of people, vehicles and cargo (goods) through the contact line in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. There is a special provision approved by the order of the Security Service of Ukraine. All of this is regulated at the level of this legislative act which specifies that one person can't carry more than 50 kg. Basically, it's logical. This is done in order to avoid abuse, speculation, and the smuggling.
Andrii, smuggling means illegally moving something through border. But we are talking about the contact line, not about the border. It is also considered smuggling? Because we are transporting these goods inside of the country.
Well, this should be treated with understanding. After all, there is fighting going on and the threat of attacks exists in the region. Therefore this admission procedure is established in order to avoid prohibited traffic, such as weapons from the uncontrolled territory. We believe that the fact that there is admission procedure and thorough check of citizen's luggage on the control points is justified. It's all done to ensure our security. Of course, not everyone likes it. Some citizens say that these checkpoints must be removed at all, let the civilians go themselves. Some citizens say that these control points should be removed at all. However, objectively, we recognize that these control points should exist at the current stage. Because, if they don't, the flow of weapons can appear or anything else dangerous can happen.
Andrii, has your monitoring group been to the pedestrian crossing on a bridge in Stanytsia Luganska in Lugansk region?
No, we work only at "Zaytseve" and "Novotroyitske".
Monitor is a person, right?
Yes, this is an observer. This is our representative who observes the work at the control point. Each checkpoint has six observers, who work in three shifts of two people. For example, one group works today, and the other one works the next day. They rotate and observe the work of the control points. Currently, there are no our representatives in Lugansk region. The pedestrian control point has opened recently. But later we can perhaps monitor other control points.
Andrii, let's return to the question of Lugansk region. Why can't you get there? Is there something that prevents you? Is there any reason for this? Since considerable attention is drawn to this control point.
In general we don't have any problems with getting to this control point. We actively cooperate with the Border Guard Service. I would like to highlight that the administration of the Border Guard actively cooperates with us and always tries to take our recommendations into account. Sometimes they call and ask if there are any problems at the control points. There are no physical obstacles to get to the control point in Lugansk region. We just haven't had time to do it, because this control point has just opened. And in order to start full monitoring we need some time to prepare. Let's say, to launch a pilot monitoring at "Zaytseve", we had been preparing for a month and a half. It was necessary to select the monitors and teach them. This is a process which takes time. Of course we can just go one-time. But to run a full monitoring we need time to prepare, as well as financial resources to implement it. Generally we have the monitoring of that control point in plans. But yet it's difficult to announce the launch date.