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Weekly digest on the ongoing Russia's aggression against Ukraine and illegal occupation of Crimea
09 April 2020 23:36

Weekly digest by the delegation of Ukraine to the OSCE, 3 – 9 April 2020

Developments related to the ongoing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and illegal occupation of Crimea

Executive summary:

The Trilateral Contact Group reached fundamental agreements on the lists for the mutual release of detained persons, with the date of release no later than Easter (Orthodox, on 19 April).

The SMM’s continued to face denials of access at the checkpoints of the Russian armed formations in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions along official crossing routes, impeding the implementation of the Mission’s mandate.

Foreign diplomats and members of international humanitarian and monitoring missions (including ICRC and OSCE SMM) are exempted from compulsory hospitalization for observation after coming from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in Donbas and Crimea.

In Crimea, the Russian occupation authorities started another illegal conscription to military service, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

The SMM registered two-fold increase in the number of ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the four-fold increase of weapons outside of designated storage sites in the Russia-occupied parts of Donbas (47 to 188).

For the period of 2 – 8 April, the Russian occupation forces unleashed fire against the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on 80 occasions, including with the use of 120- and 82-mm mortars and 122-mm artillery systems, which are prohibited by the Minsk agreements. Antitank missile systems, infantry fighting vehicles, different grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, other small arms and forbidden drones loaded with VOG-17 (40mm rifle-fired grenade) were also widely used by the occupation forces. Ukrainian Armed Forces opened adequate fire in response to the armed provocations to save the lives of civilians and Ukrainian servicemen.

According to the SMM reports, violations of the disengagement of forces and hardware by the armed formations of the Russian Federation in 3 respective areas continued.

Russian occupation forces shelled the residential areas of Novotoshkivske, Verkhniotoretske, Mariinka settlements inflicting injuries among civilians and damage to their property.

The Russian proxies fired a civilian car with Ukrainian journalists inside with the use of grenade dropped from an UAV near Krasnohorivka.

Ukrainian military downed a Russian-made UAV “Zastava” Bird Eye 400, which has been produced by the Russian Federation since 2012.

Notwithstanding severe restrictions of the SMM’s freedom of movement by the armed formations of the Russian Federation, the Mission recorded a large number of Minsk-proscribed weapons on the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas during the last week.

Illegal military exercises and spring conscription campaign, in the temporarily occupied Crimea, were conducted by Russia in the beginning of April.

Thursday, 2 April

On 2 April, the SMM corroborated damages in Novotoshkivske settlement caused by an artillery round fired by the Russian occupation forces on 1 April. In particular, the Mission reported on fresh crater about 7m away from a five-storey inhabited residential building and about 50m from a functional school.

Armed formations of the Russian Federation denied SMM patrols passage in Donetsk and Luhansk region, along official crossing routes.

According to the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Ukrainian Defence Minister Andrii Taran inspected Ukrainian small armoured artillery boat “Berdyansk”, which was shelled and captured by Russian troops in November 2018 in the Black Sea. Only a year later, in November 2019, “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol” boats, as well as “Yany Kapu” tugboat, were returned by Russia to Ukraine in accordance with the binding order of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Ukrainian ships which returned from the Russian Federation were missing weapons, equipment and assets.

Friday, 3 April:

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the decision, according to which foreign diplomats and members of international humanitarian and monitoring missions (including ICRC and OSCE SMM) are exempted from compulsory hospitalization for observation after coming from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in Donbas and Crimea, unless there are reasons to believe that they were in contact with a COVID-19 infected person. We appreciate humanitarian assistance and unbiased monitoring of dire security and humanitarian situation in the Russia-occupied parts of Donbas provided by the international bodies, and we stand ready to facilitate their activities even in the current challenging circumstances.

Saturday, 4 April:

The MFA of Ukraine in its statement on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action highlighted the scale of mine threat in Donbas, caused by the ongoing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The intensive use of this inhumane weapon by the Russian occupation armed formations continues to cause numerous civilians casualties, including among children. Together with the international partners, Ukraine takes significant efforts to clear the mine-contaminated areas. It is notable that the Russian side continues to ignore its own commitments in mine clearance in Donbas: on the same day of 4 April, an SMM mini-UAV spotted about 60 anti-tank mines, assessed as belonging to the Russian armed formations, inside the disengagement area near Zolote.

In its daily report, the SMM informed on a fresh crater near a residential building and a school in Novotoshkivske, caused by a probable artillery round fired from a south-south-easterly direction, that is by the Russian armed formations. On the same day of 4 April, in a flagrant violation of the international humanitarian law, the Russian proxies shelled residential area of Verkhnotoretske, leaving one civilian wounded. This was later confirmed by the SMM in a contact with medical personnel at a hospital in Toretsk. We strongly condemn the ongoing shellings of the residential areas by the Russian proxies. We remind the Russian side that establishment of a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire remains a critical prerequisite of further implementation of the Minsk agreements.

On 4 April, inside the disengagement area near Zolote, the SMM reported on 60 anti-tank mines of the Russian armed formations. This is a clear violation of the TCG Framework decision on disengagement of forces and hardware of 2016.

Sunday, 5 April:

Ukrainian military downed a Russian-made UAV “Zastava” Bird Eye 400, which has been produced by the Russian Federation since 2012. This UAV was handed over to experts for further examination of data storage devices. This is another proof of Russia’s direct involvement in the conflict in the east of Ukraine, despite its cynical denials of this mere fact. The images and information regarding these UAV can be found on the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine web-site.

The Russian Federation held military exercises in the temporarily occupied Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine. These illegal exercises involved 100 pieces of military and special equipment, including missile complexes “Bal” and “Bastion”, with the latter one being able to destroy targets at a distance of 600 kilometres and its modernized versions even able to carry nuclear warheads. We reiterate that stationing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian Peninsula and conduct of any military activities without the consent of Ukraine are illegal. Russia’s destructive policy of deliberate militarization of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov region contravenes fundamental OSCE principles and commitments, further aggravates regional stability and security and degrades the environment. Russia’s Armed Forces contaminate the soil and groundwater of the temporary occupied Crimean Peninsula with heavy metals, fuel and lubricants, and chemicals. Military sites and bases are located, in particular, on the territory of reserve parks that leads to the destruction of landscapes, as well as of the local flora and fauna.

Russian border guards did not allow the Ukrainian citizen in need of oncological treatment to travel from Crimea to Kyiv. They refused a sick woman to cross into Kherson oblast of Ukraine referring to the fact that a resident of Crimea has a Russian passport (forcibly obtained in the Crimea), and she, in their opinion, can be treated at the place of registration on the peninsula.

Monday, 6 April:

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the EU position expressed on its behalf by HR/VP Josep Borrell on the UN SG Appeal for Immediate Global Ceasefire. Minister Kuleba has in particular stressed that with the ongoing armed aggression of Russia, Ukraine is fully devoted to its obligations under the Minsk Agreements for a truce in Donbas, and urged the Russian Federation to take notice of the UN SG appeal, ensure an immediate ceasefire in Donbas and guarantee unrestricted access for the OSCE SMM and international humanitarian organizations to the temporarily occupied parts of Ukraine.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine condemned the conduct by Russia of illegal conscription into its armed forces, in the temporarily occupied Crimea. The statement reads that such actions by the Russian Federation constitute a flagrant violation of the international humanitarian law, which prohibits Russia, as an Occupying Power, from forcing protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. It is also forbidden to pressure and propagate in favour of voluntary military recruitment, as well as to move persons under protection outside of the occupied territory. The majority of the conscripts are sent outside the Peninsula to serve in the Southern Military District, whose military units and command are directly involved in carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine in Donbas. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine demands from the Russian Federation to cancel the conscription into military service in the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and to ensure strict compliance with its international obligations as an occupying power.

The worrying developments with human rights protection in the occupied Crimea were discussed within the framework of the 10th Information Meeting on the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine) organized by the UNESCO Secretariat in the format of online conference. The relevant reports of Organization’s institutional partners: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and Amnesty International were distributed among the Member States on behalf of UNESCO Assistant Director-General Mr. Matoko. The reports stated further deterioration of the situation in the temporarily occupied Crimea in UNESCO’s fields of competence, citing specific facts of ongoing violations of human rights, oppression of national minorities, abuses of freedom of the press, the safety of journalists, protection of cultural heritage, obstacles to access to mother-tongue education. A joint statement of 33 UNESCO Member States aimed to support Ukraine's position on Crimea was delivered during the event. The statement notes the growing degradation of the situation on the peninsula and emphasizes the importance of the efforts to ensure a direct international monitoring of the situation in Crimea. In this regard, taking into account the deny of access to the SMM by the Russian occupation authorities to the Crimea, Ukraine reiterates its call to the SMM jointly with the OSCE autonomous institutions, ODIHR, HCNM and RFoM, to conduct the human rights monitoring remotely, including by systematic and direct interviews with victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations and abuses in occupied Crimea, as well as other stakeholders; travel to the Administrative Boundary Line with the occupied Crimea; collection and analysis of available information and of the human rights impact of legislation and practices of the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea.

Tuesday, 7 April:

Shellings of civilians by the Russian armed formations continued: near Krasnohorivka, a civilian car with Ukrainian journalists was fired with the use of grenade dropped from an UAV; near Mar’inka, a woman was wounded from a grenade launcher.

We urge the Russian side to stop deliberate targeting of civilians and to adhere to a ceasefire regime agreed within the N4 and the TCG.

According to the Joint Forces Operation press centre, a woman sustained shrapnel injuries as a result of shelling from mortars, by the Russian occupation forces, of residential areas of Mariinka settlement.

According to the SMM Weekly report 14/2020, the Mission faced  repeated restrictions by the armed formations of the Russian Federation at the checkpoints in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions each time it tried to pass. They made the SMM unable to cross the contact line and travel between temporarily occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, thus impeding its access to and monitoring of temporarily occupied areas. It also created challenges to efforts to facilitate repairs to civilian infrastructure. Although the Russian armed formations concealed the majority of Minsk-proscribed weapons by severely restricting the freedom of movement of the SMM, the Mission was able to register 15 weapons in violation of withdrawal lines and 188 weapons outside the designated storage sites, on the temporarily occupied areas of Donbas. These ongoing restrictions and accumulation of weapons close to the contact line, point to further reluctance of the Russian side to peaceful settlement of the conflict it started and continues to sustain.

Russia-controlled so-called “Armyansk City Court” in the temporary occupied Crimea sentenced Denys Kashuk, accused of «possession of explosives», to 3 years and 8 months of imprisonment. According to his relatives, D.Kashuk refused the assistance of independent juridical protection for their safety. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine expresses its resolute protest to the Russian Federation in connection with the illegitimate “court” decision on the occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. It called this act as “the continuation of political repressions against the Ukrainian citizens, who live under occupation.” The MFA of Ukraine also emphasized that “the occupation administration deliberately resorts to actions that put under the serious threat the lives and health of the Ukrainian citizens in condition of fast spread of the COVID-19 virus, inappropriate medical protection in the occupied territories and particular epidemiological vulnerability in Russian prisons.” The Ukrainian prosecutor's office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has opened criminal proceedings according to the part 1 of Art. 146 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (illegal imprisonment) on the fact of detention and imprisonment of a resident of Simferopol, citizen of Ukraine Denys Kashuk.

Wednesday, 8 April:

The SMM weekly report informed on two-fold increase in the number of ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This testifies to Russia’s unchanged position to fuel the armed clashes in Donbas in the pursuit of political gains. The four-fold increase of weapons outside of designated storage sites in the Russia-occupied parts of Donbas (47 to 188) registered by the SMM for the same period underlines the ongoing unpredictability of Russia’s military intentions in Donbas, which undermines the prospects for peace. The real number of Minsk-proscribed weapons in those occupied areas remains beyond the reach of SMM’s monitoring, as all such weapons observed by the Mission in them were spotted with the use of long-range UAVs and aerial imagery, while the ground patrolling was severely hindered by the remaining in place denials of access imposed by the Russian armed formations.

From 6 to 8 April, the regular meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group and its Working Groups were held (through video conferencing due to the coronavirus pandemic). Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak, while addressing the participants of the consultations, stressed the need to concentrate on resolving security and humanitarian issues as a matter of priority, and emphasized the importance of full, comprehensive and continued compliance with the ceasefire regime on a sustainable basis.  During the video conference, the TСG:

reached fundamental agreements on the lists for the mutual release of detained persons, and a date - not later than Easter;

discussed the issues of humanitarian demining of territories (the parties must provide the OSCE with a list of such locations for demining and guarantee security at all locations);

continued negotiations on the next areas for disengagement of forces and hardware in Donbas.

The abovementioned arrangements were also confirmed by CiO Special Representative in Ukraine and in the TCG Heidi Grau in her press statement following the TCG meeting.

Thursday, 9 April:

Another SMM spot report confirmed that denials of access for the SMM patrols passage at checkpoints in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions, imposed by the Russian armed formations, remained in place.

On 8th April, on the initiative of the Russian Federation, the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the start of court hearings in the case of bringing to justice the first four defendants in the crash of the Malaysian Airlines flight MN17. The position of States Parties to the Joint Investigation Team (Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine) was presented by a member of the UN Security Council, Belgium. The participants of the meeting expressed full support for the independent and impartial process ongoing in The Hague District Court. Russia was urged to stop spreading disinformation, implement UNSCR 2166, cooperate fully in the investigation and respond to requests for legal assistance from a joint investigation team. Investigators and prosecutors from Ukraine will continue to work in a joint investigation team to identify all those involved in the deaths of 298 passengers and crew members of the MH17, including those responsible for the crime. The Ukrainian side will continue its efforts to hold the Russian Federation accountable for violating the Convention on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism, as this horrific crime was committed exactly due to the Russian support including supply of the “Buk” missile system. We believe that justice will be established and all those responsible will be held accountable.

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