Andrii Bogdanovych about the monitoring at the control points in Donetsk region

January 31, 2017

The chairman of NGO "Foundation.101" Andrii Bogdanovych in the air of "Holos stolytsi" talked about the situation at the control points on the line of contact, ways they are operating, as well as about the waiting conditions for people queueing at the control points.

Andrii, could you tell why Foundation.101 started caring about the situation at the entry-exit control points?

Our organization operates in Luhansk and Donetsk regions since September 2015. At that time only two checkpoints were opened to pass — "Zaytseve" and "Novotroitske". The situation was reported to be awful in media and Facebook. Because we knew that some of that information was used for speculations, we’ve decided to check whether it is truthful and provide stakeholders and the society with objective information.

What did you expect to see there?

We came down to the issue without any prejudice, wanted to explore the situation from the very scratch. Given the information from media and social network, our expectations weren’t very optimistic. When we started to work at control points, it turned out that the things were not all that bad. Surely, there were many problems, but in general it wasn't as bad as it was described by some people. By the moment when our project had begun to work the monitors of NGO "Foundation.101" were visiting the control points every day. They were checking the passport inspection procedure as well as the luggage inspection. In fact, a lot of officers at the control points demonstrated very respectful attitude toward people crossing the contact line. For example, State Border Office workers helped old people to carry heavy bags from the bus stop towards the inspection point. But at the same time some negative cases occurred as well, when officers treated people disrespectfully and rudely. Those were our first impressions.

So you mean that at first, the idea was to assess how civilized and adequately everything works at the control points?

Yes, exactly. It’s clear that, for that moment a pass control had just started to operate. There were a lot of problems. Some of them still exist.

Let’s remind how it was earlier. It seems like at that moment the intersection rules and procedures were different, weren’t they?

There were paper passes to intersect the contact line. To cross the contact line, people had to get this paper pass by applying documents to special departments first. Waiting for a reply usually took a lot of time, up to a half of a year. It was much easier to get the intersection permission for people from the government controlled area. They were able to file the documents directly to these departments and came periodically to check the result. For citizens from the uncontrolled area this process was way more complicated. They had to file a stack of documents and put it in a special mailbox at the zero checkpoint placed directly at the contact line. Since it was being launched only, it took a lot of time to get an answer. In some cases people were not sure whether they get their permissions at all. So the situation was a lot much worse than now. Later ATO center has launched e-passes. Now the documents can be applied on a special website. Afterwards the person will be added to the border guards’ e-database.

Talking about the reason for crossing the line of contact. Have you conducted the survey on this issue? What changes have you noticed starting with 2015 and till now?

When we started operating at the control points, besides the observation of the inspection during crossing the line of contact, we were interviewing people about the reasons for crossing the contact line. But we were mostly focusing at the observance of human rights. In 2015, the majority of people crossed the line of contact for buying food and receiving pensions. So people came to the controlled territory, bought all the things needed and returned to the uncontrolled territory. As a way for solving this issue, logistic centers were built. In fact, it’s a open air market located in the so-called "gray zone", in the area between the zero checkpoint and the enty-exit control poin. In these logistic centers people can go shopping and withdraw their pensions from ATMs without crossing the entry-exit control point. But now they are not functioning properly the same way as at the beginning, actually. A complex of problems occurred there. Firstly, the people moving towards the uncontrolled territory to visit the logistic centers had to be passed through with the special pass without waiting in the general line. The pass allows to enter the logistic center, buy all the things needed and come back, at the same time, the passage through the entry-exit control point with this ticket is prohibited.

However, the border guards, who were coordinating the movement of people throught the contact line at the zero checkpoint, still directed the people who want to visit the logistic center to a general queue and made them wait sometimes up to 5-6 hours. After that, when it’s their turn, there is no sense for people to visit the logistic center, because at that point it doesn’t take much more time to cross the checkpoint and buy everything in the stores of the frontline cities located at the government controlled area. The choice at the cities’ stores is better and wider. Secondly, there were cases when people who were allowed to enter the logistic center without waiting in a queue, faced off against those who were waiting in a general queue and were unaware about this beneficial right, sometimes it even came to fights.

How has the dynamics changed? Do the observers stay at the control points all the time?

Our pilot monitoring had started since September 2015, and in November the monitors of the organisation have already worked at the two control points — "Zaytseve" and "Novotroitske" on a daily basis. The observation lasted for the next three months. We have monitored and reported the problems that we observed and drafted our recommendations to the authorities, including the State Border Service of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, and Ministry of internal affairs of Ukraine.

Did you receive any feedback on your recommendations?

We have received the responses from all the state bodies that were addressed. But their feedback differed significantly. The biggest number of changes in the operating process was implemented by the State Border Service of Ukraine. I want to make a point that the State Border Service of Ukraine welcomes any co-operation and responds to most of the suggestions. It depends on the situation, not all of the issues can be solved but they heed our advice in the cases when it is possible.

The Security Service of Ukraine is the less cooperative. The Anti-Terrorist center at the Security Service of Ukraine provides the operating coordination at the line of contact in general, and they mostly don’t respond to any suggestion at all. Their typical answer tells that Ukrainian legislation forbids to interfere in the anti- terrorist action. That’s what concerns the crossing the line of contact. As for humanitarian issues, we have applied to the military-civilian administrations which are open for cooperation as well. We always keep in touch with the regional administrations.

Summing up the list of problems which were recorded in the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Firstly, there were mined roadsides on the way to the entyr-exit control points. cars queued to cross the contact line right on the road. It was dangerous to slough off the road to the roadside, because of a risk to be blown up by a land mine or a trip wire. Over the mentioned period there was a difficult situation with informing the citizens about this issue: either there were no warning signs at all or they were indistinguishable and too small.

Was the road fenced off by something?

It has not been fenced off since then, but the situation with the information signs on mining has improved significantly. There is information about mining almost everywhere. This issue has been resolved now because in most cases these actions were done by the international organizations, not by the authorities.

Also there was no shelter from the sun and the rain in late 2015 — early 2016. In winter there are heating tents provided by the Ministry of Emergency Situations. There are some changes, and the situation is improving. Besides, in our opinion, public transportation was organized incorrectly earlier. According to the temporary procedures (method), passenger transportations through the line of contact are prohibited. Previously, a person was brought to the checkpoint, she/he crossed it on foot and then sat in the same bus but from the other side of the checkpoint. What was the problem, in our opinion? The buses were crowded at the control points. Sometimes three of four buses could bring the passengers to the control point at the same time. They waited till the last passenger go through the inspection at the control point and ride this particular bus again. When there were a lot of the buses crowded people were mixing and confused, they could find their bus easily. As a result, the process took a lot of time and was complicated.

That is why in our opinion it was more logical to break the rout into two different parts: first one — from the settlement to the entry-exit control point, and the second one — from the control point to a zero checkpoint. Authorities accepted and implemented this suggestion of ours.

How did you come to the following scheme: by yourself or did people who crossed the line of contact suggested it?

Firstly, we saw that previous arrangement of transportation is not efficient. In addition, we talked with people and wondered whether this scheme of transportation was convenient for them. Based on this, we drew the conclusions and submitted our suggestions.

By the time we resumed the second part of our monitoring in the summer 2016, we had observed all the changes occurred at the control points and had compared them with the previous situation. Now we have been focusing on communication with people, conducted the survey on a subject of their main concerns while crossing the contact line, reasons for the crossing and what they would like to change.

Are people open to communicate with your observers?

It depends. It depends on the situation and a particular person as well as a way of crossing the line of contact. Those who travel by car usually feel more open to start a conversation because there is a distance between them and other cars. Meanwhile it is more complicated to have a conversation with the citizens from the pedestrian queue given that there are many people around. In our opinion, they are afraid that someone can hear their answers and report it.

What do you ask people in your survey?

One of the questions we ask is about the reason for crossing the line of contact and the frequency of intersection of the contact line. I want to point out that we interview people from the both sides of control point and record the direction of moving of the respondent. Thus, 40 per cent of the interviewees noted that they travel to visit relatives. Shopping is at the second place cited by 31 per cent of respondents. Besides that, a lot of the citizens travel to withdraw cash because they receive social payments and pensions in Ukraine. 29 per cent of the respondents mentioned it as a reason to travel. 14 per cent of respondents travel through the line of contact for paperwork. Another 13 per cent travel to check their property. Noteworthy is that, quite often people combine several tasks in one trip that’s why they are allowed to indicate more than one option as their reason for crossing.

The following data shows us that connection among the people in the uncontrolled and the controlled territories remains strong. Therefore, the populist statements like Donbas should be cut off, to build a wall are not tied to reality.

A high percentage of those who go shopping, told us that the uncontrolled territory has the problem with food and other household products.

Does your poll contain the question about the procedure of crossing?

We do not ask exactly about the procedure but wonder which problems people are facing during crossing the line of contact as well as the threats and concerns they feel. Interestingly, over the last two months, a percentage of respondents concerned about the long queues is significantly higher than those worried about the threat of shelling (79 per cent vs. 46 per cent respectively). In our opinion it shows that people are used to living in the conditions of periodical attacks, it has become a normal state of affairs and some routine issues such as long queues worry them more.

Do you monitor a security situation? What is a number of attacks directly on the line of contact?

Now our monitors go to the control points twice a week. We record cases of attacks heard near the control points.

(A question from а listener): Could you tell if it is possible for a citizen, for example, from Chernihiv or Poltava to enter the uncontrolled territory not to visit relatives but with a different purpose. Or is it easier to go there from the side of Russia?

Theoretically, it is possible to go through the contact line. But you need to get an entry permit for crossing the line of contact. While applying the documents it is necessary to indicate the reason for crossing. This request is checked by the Security Service of Ukraine, although it is tough to tell how exactly they verify it.

Does your survey contain any description of a socio-demographic structure of citizens moving through the control points?

Of course, we record age and sex of the respondents. We indicate a number of men and women interviewed, their age etc. But given low response rate, it is not always representative for the population that travels over the contact line.

Characteristics of age also do not make it possible to draw such conclusions, do they?

In general, we can say that people of middle age tend to cross the line of contact more frequently than older people. For example, a great share of young people travels on a weekly basis, while retired people tend to travel monthly. Also, I would like to point out that journeys of the retired people who live at the uncontrolled territory and potentially can receive pensions in Ukraine, are often connected with their pensions. It is either paperwork or withdrawal of the cash from the ATMs. However, for many of them it is hard for them to cross the line of contact and withdraw cash on the controlled territory every month.

Which problems have you identified out after resuming your monitoring? Have any problems remained unsolved since 2015?

Talking about sanitary conditions at the control points, in particular we monitor a condition of sanitary infrastructure (a presence of toilets, heating points, medical aid stations, tanks with drinking water and garbage containers), all the following are available at the control points. But some problems occurred regarding a winter period. For example, currently heating points are at all control points but they are usually placed only at one side of the control point. Accordingly, a person who travels from the uncontrolled territory can not get to the heating point until he or she passes the inspection at the entry-exit control point. But after the intersection there is no sense to use a heating point, because a person continues his travel right away. Moreover, tanks with water that used to be located along the road from the both sides of the entry-exit control points were moved to the heating points in winter. Otherwise the water in the tanks could simply freeze. Since water is now located at the heating points only, one can't reach it in cases he or she travel from the opposite site and the heating point is located further.

What is the situation with the toilets?

Basically, the toilets are on both sides, but there are some peculiarities again. Mostly toilets are located directly at the checkpoint. However, often people stand in the queue several kilometers long expecting for 5-6 hours. Thus, a person can not use the toilets until he or she drives close to the checkpoint. When there is no possibility to go to the equipped toilet, a person has to walk to the roadside that can be mined. There is a threat to be undermined.

Is the issue of long queues still topical?

The border guards and the State Fiscal Service work quite fast and are competent. It will be wrong to say that they slow down the inspection of peopleon purpose. However, there is a rotation of workers approximately once a year. And at the very beginning of the work of a new group, it can take them some time to adjust. But generally, they work more or less fast and professionally

So what is the reason of the queues in this case?

The reason is that a flow of people crossing the line of contact is really significant. In 2015, when only two control points were operating, almost 4.5 million people crossed the contact line in both directions. Meanwhile, in 2016 they opened three additional entry-exit control points the number of people travelling over the contact line has almost doubled. On the one hand it is good for people to have an opportunity to cross the line of contact and do it in a more convenient way. But on the other hand more control points won’t solve the problem if the number of travelers will be growing rapidly, too.

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