HRWF (01.12.2020) – On 20 November 2020, HRWF organised a webinar with panellists from several Ukrainian civil society organisations about the humanitarian situation in the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. Elina Shyshkina from the Right to Protection in partnership with HIAS spoke about freedom of movement and the crossing of the line of contact in Donbass during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch the full recording of this webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU-K945o2LE).
The following is the paper used during her oral presentation:
Generally, movement across the line of contact is facilitated on a regular basis by five Entrance-Exit CheckPoints (EECPs): four in Donetsk region and one in Luhansk region.
On 22 March 2020, the Ukrainian Government closed all five EECPs along the line of contact due to quarantine measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the next couple of months, people weren’t allowed to travel between the non-government controlled area (NGCA) and the government controlled area (GCA).
The consequences of closing the EECPs included:
- the right to freedom of movement between the GCA and NGCA was restricted;
- families were separated;
- individuals were stuck either on the GCA or NGCA side without housing, costs for living, or medical care;
- it was not possible to visit relatives (particularly elderly people), receive pensions or other social benefits, access administrative services, etc.;
- and the crossing was only allowed for humanitarian reasons such as serious illness, death of a relative, or the need to reunite families.
From April to May 2020, only 297 people crossed the line of contact through the EECPs.
On 10 June 2020, the EECPs were reopened, but only two of them were operational.
From June to October, 231,542 people crossed the line of contact through the two functioning EECPs.
On 15 October 2020, the EECP in Luhansk region – Stanytsia Luhanska – closed again due to quarantine restrictions.
Although two new EECPs in Luhansk region – Zolote and Shchastya – were opened from the GCA side on 10 November 2020, they remain closed from the NGCA side. Therefore, there is still no movement through those EECPs.
Another issue that people crossing the line of contact from NGCA to GCA face is the obligation to install the “Act at home” app, which indicates their location for self-isolation. This obligation is imposed by the authorities due to quarantine restrictions. If travellers do not install this app, they must undergo a 14-day observation in locations provided by local authorities on GCA or return to NGCA.
This policy creates additional problems for individuals such as:
- old versions of smartphones do not support the application. In this case, individuals are not allowed to cross through EECPs.
- observatories are often absent or crowded.
- if individuals are not allowed to cross through an EECP, they have to stay for a night in a neutral zone between GCA and NGCA.
Administrative fines for violation of border procedure
According to Ukrainian legislation, travel to and from NGCA must occur exclusively through the EECPs. It is forbidden to cross the line of contact outside of these designated checkpoints. In February 2018, the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses was supplemented by Article 204-2, which established an administrative penalty for violating this procedure. Since then, people who enter or exit the NGCA outside the EECPs could be fined varying amounts of money.
Violations of this procedure have been recorded throughout Ukraine because people leaving uncontrolled territory use different routes, and may return to the territory controlled by the Government of Ukraine using any border region of Ukraine.
With the aforementioned quarantine restrictions, the number of administrative offenses under Art. 204-2 began to increase. This is due to the following reasons:
- limited functioning of the EECPs after their re-opening in June 2020;
- and the closing of “borders” between so-called “republics”. In this case, people living in the uncontrolled areas in Donetsk region could not use the road through the NGCA of Luhansk region to get to the checkpoint “Stanytsia Luhanska” and were forced to go through an uncontrolled part of the Ukrainian-Russian border to Russia and then from Russia to Ukraine.
There were 584 such cases in 2019, and 611 in 9 months of 2020 throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, 6,432 administrative proceedings related to the violation of the protocols for entry / exit of the NGCA were issued throughout Ukraine for ten months of 2020. A few comparisons follow:
In January 2019 there were 68 violations issued, while in January 2020 there were 390.
In February 2019 there were 270, while in February 2020 there were 351.
In March 2019 there were 706, and in March 2020 only 217 due to the pandemic.
However, in September 2019 there were 447, while in September 2020 there were 1,703.
Finally, in October 2019 there were 471, while in October 2020 -there were 1,685.
Fortunately, the majority of cases under Article 204-2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses ended in favour of the individuals for the following reasons:
- the term to press charges of an administrative offense expired;
- shortcomings of evidence such as a lack of recording of the violation of the order of entry into and exit from the NGCA;
- a warning or formal reprimand was issued in place of a fine;
- or there were no viable “components” of the administrative offense.
People living in NGCA have become hostages of the situation and quarantine measures as their opportunities to leave NGCA and go to GCA are much more restricted than they were before March 2020. In addition, the increasing number of cases under Art. 204-2 of the Code of administrative offenses further inhibits the freedom of movement of NGCA residents despite the fact that they are citizens of Ukraine.
For more details, please contact:
Elina Shyshkina, firstname.lastname@example.org
Advocacy Coordinator, CF “Right to protection”
 According to the official answer on the request of CF “Right to protection” to the State Border Service for public information as of November 18, 2020.
Pictures: Checkpoint of Stanitsa Luhanska, the only one open on the Donbass side (Credit: Shuttertock.com)