"We are getting used to live in isolation. There is no hope that the checkpoints in the Donetsk oblast will ever work normally. Ukraine has never been so far from us as it is now. You can travel to Russia without restrictions and to get to Ukraine – go through nine circles of hell and in the end, it is not a fact that you will get the necessary permission. At first it outraged, frightened, it was impossible to believe it, but now we’ve got used to it, you’re getting used to everything", - pensioner from Donetsk Maria told OstroV.
Occupation authorities of Donetsk and Luhansk closed all checkpoints with the controlled territory of Ukraine in the spring of 2020. This was done ostensibly to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Later, the occupiers partially resumed the passage of people across the contact line, but with the most stringent rules.
It should be noted that all checkpoints on the contact line are open from the side of the controlled territory of Ukraine and allow people to pass through without any restrictions.
"If you live in Donetsk with a local residence permit, like me, then there is no chance of leaving for Ukraine through the checkpoint. Before, I used to go there every three months to get a pension, buy medicines and clothes, see my friends who have left, but now there is none of these. People propose me to come through Russia, but my health is no longer good for such a long trip", - Maria complains.
The pensioner from Donetsk hopes that the checkpoints will start working as before sooner or later, and she will be able to come to the controlled territory.
"Someday this infection will pass (the coronavirus pandemic, - ed.)", - she notes.
Representative of certain areas of the Donetsk oblast in the Minsk TCG Serhiy Harmash believes that the checkpoints in the Donbas will not return to its previous mode of operation. According to him, this issue has long since moved to the political plane, and the presence or absence of the pandemic does not matter.
"I do not see any prospects for opening checkpoints in the Donbas. Occupation authorities are constantly coming up with new reasons. We understand very well that this is a political issue. It is not about coronavirus", - he told OstroV.
Despite the maximum tightening of rules and a decrease in passenger traffic through the checkpoints, people continue to travel across the contact line. OstroV was finding out how this is happening now.
Checkpoints in the Donetsk oblast
Only one checkpoint continues to operate in the Donetsk oblast – Novotroitske (Olenivka checkpoint on the part of CADO). Occupation authorities of CADO open it only twice a week – on Monday and Friday from 9-00 to 16-30.
On average, the occupiers let several hundred people through over the day. For example, 351 people were able to pass on December 3 (224 – to the occupied territory and 127 – to the controlled territory).
You can leave the "DNR" if you have registration in the controlled territory of Ukraine and after the mandatory signing of a notification about "the impossibility of entering (returning) to the territory of the "Donetsk people's republic" until the epidemic situation improves".
Those who are registered in the "DNR" can also leave, but only by the decision of the so-called "Interdepartmental Operational Headquarters". This additional item appeared only on October 7, 2021. Previously, there was no such possibility even theoretically.
However, OstroV did not find information on what statements and grounds are needed for this. The official Telegram channel of the "DNR" Coronavirus Warning Headquarters" provides a link for more detailed information, but it says about the grounds only for entering the "republic".
People complain on social networks that they cannot even find application forms to apply for leaving the "DNR".
"We called and wrote to them, asking them to explain how to get permission from the "Headquarters" for those who have local registration. We were told: submit information in any form and attach documents, and the "Headquarters" will decide whether to issue you a pass or not. There is no specifics", - resident of Donetsk Svitlana, told OstroV.
You can also enter the "DNR" only by the decision of the so-called "Interdepartmental Operational Headquarters", and if there is one of the following reasons:
- for the purpose of undergoing treatment in CADO;
- for the purpose of getting education in CADO;
- for the purpose of carrying out labor activity in CADO;
- for the purpose of caring for a patient living in CADO;
- for the purpose of reuniting with a family living in CADO.
Those who have all the relevant certificates must submit an application to the occupation authorities indicating the reasons for entry and copies of supporting documents to email address [email protected] or telegram bot @ShtabDNR_bot.
It is officially said that the application will be considered from 15 to 30 calendar days. People complain that, in fact, the review may take longer.
As noted by users in social networks, those who have a Donetsk residence permit have priority in obtaining an entry permit, but this is not a 100% pass either. Many people wait for months to get the "coveted permission".
"The answer may come in two weeks, or in two months. Or it may not come at all, and there are such cases too. We received an answer in a month, but it was irrelevant for us as we have already left through Russia. And this is what most people do. Few of themagree to wait so long for an answer, it is easier to drive through Russia", - resident of Donetsk Iryna writes in one of the social networks.
When entering the occupied territory at the Olenivka checkpoint, residents undergo a free examination (rapid test for new coronavirus infection COVID-19). In case of refusal to undergo the examination with a rapid test, a consent form is filled out for referral to an inpatient department of a healthcare institution for examination.
In case of a positive result during the rapid test, residents are sent to the inpatient department of a healthcare institution for further examination.
Why did occupation authorities of the "DNR" close the checkpoints? Initially, this was justified by the difficult epidemiological situation in the controlled territory of Ukraine. Occupation authorities argued that this measure was temporary, until the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine normalizes.
The last statement of the so-called "DNR" head Denis Pushilin on the work of the checkpoints dates back to June 2021. He stated at that time that the situation with coronavirus and vaccination in the controlled territory of Ukraine was to blame.
"As for Ukraine, I probably have nothing to please you with. Until the situation with coronavirus in Ukraine changes, until the situation with vaccination changes, alas, there are no plans (to open borders with Ukraine - ed.)", - he said.
If earlier, when there was an increase in the incidence, these statements bore at least some meaning, now up to 10 thousand new cases are recorded in the controlled territory of Ukraine a day on average, and the level of vaccination has exceeded 44% (at least with one dose). But the situation with the checkpoints does not change. Thus, coronavirus is not the real reason why the "DNR" occupation authorities do not open checkpoints.
For example, the level of vaccination in the same Russia, with which the "republics" did not close the borders or tightened the rules, is about the same as in Ukraine. And the number of new cases exceeds several times (32 136 cases for December 5).
It is noteworthy that coronavirus restrictions on the part of the occupiers do not work to receive humanitarian aid. According to the latest message from the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees delivered 21 trucks with humanitarian aid to the occupied territories through the Novotroitske checkpoint last week.
"Residents of the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine were delivered 314.1 tons of food sets, medical supplies and hygiene products", - the State Border Guard Service notes.
Checkpoints in the Luhansk oblast
The CALO occupation authorities opened only one checkpoint – Stanytsia Luhanska. It works daily, but only for pedestrian crossing. The rules for crossing the checkpoint are either tightened or relaxed by the occupiers.
Representative of certain areas of the Donetsk oblast in the Minsk TCG Serhiy Harmash believes that the "authorities" of CALO cannot completely close the checkpoint (unlike CADO) due to the weak economic base of the region.
"It is economically unprofitable to completely close the checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska. They would like to, but cannot afford this. There is no economy and no money. They need pensioners to travel to the controlled territory of Ukraine and receive a pension. The economic situation in the "LNR" is much worse than in the same "DNR", because, practically, there is no manufacturing", - he told OstroV.
Currently, the departure of citizens, who are registered at the place of residence in the "LNR", from CALO to the controlled territory of Ukraine is carried out according to documents confirming this fact, not more frequently than once a month, regardless of the reasons for such departure.
Departure can be carried out more often than once a month on the basis of the decision of the chairman of the "emergency sanitary and anti-epidemic commission" under the "government of the LNR" in accordance with the protocol established by the permanent working group.
The entry of people into the "LNR" is allowed to those who have registration at the place of residence in the occupied territory. For this, you must present the appropriate document.
For those who do not have local registration, entry is carried out according to the lists and if there is one of the following grounds:
- residence of relatives in CALO;
- for the purpose of providing treatment in CALO;
- for the purpose of getting education in CALO;
- the need to care for the patient living in CALO;
- in connection with the burial of a near relative, relative or close person living in CALO.
Occupation authorities note that the lists will be formed on the basis of applications and copies of documents confirming the basis for entry, which must be sent to the email address in advance.
After crossing the checkpoint, you must go to self-isolation at your place of residence for the period of 14 days. If a negative PCR test result is provided, done no more than three days before the moment of entry, self-isolation is not required.
It is interesting that in the event of higher temperature, respiratory symptoms or a positive coronavirus test, citizens with a residence permit in the "LNR" are subject to involuntary hospitalization, and without a local residence permit – "they are not subject to admission and will be returned back".
The main problem at the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint is not even in the crossing rules, although they are quite strict, but in the fact that only a pedestrian crossing is possible there. Not all old people are capable of walking. Opening of new checkpoints in Zolote and Shchastia could be the solution.
Ukraine opened two new checkpoints there on November 10, 2020. But the occupation authorities refused to launch them from their side, despite the previously reached agreements. When Ukraine nevertheless launched the work of these checkpoints and some people went in the hope that they would be let through, the occupiers turned them back.
The question of opening these checkpoints is regularly raised at meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group, but the Russian side blocks the process every time.
"I cannot say that positive decisions were made (at the TCG meeting - ed.). The Russian party is showing miracles of creativity, coming up with reasons not to open the checkpoint", - Serhiy Harmash stated.
According to him, if earlier the occupiers claimed that Ukraine allegedly did not give them "security guarantees" for opening the checkpoint in Zolote, now they believe that the zero point – the place from which "the parties' control over the grey zone" begins – has been defined incorrectly.
"In fact, they demand that we give 350 meters of our territory in order to open the checkpoint, so this issue again remains on pause and has not been resolved in any way. In any case, they make the solution of humanitarian issues dependent on the fulfillment of their political requirements, therefore everything is delayed", - Harmash said.
Ukraine: minimum restrictions
Ukraine has opened all checkpoints in the Donbas and allows people to pass through without any restrictions. General "quarantine" rules apply to them.
All travelers entering from the occupied territories must:
1. Install the Vdoma mobile application on the mobile phone.
2. Go through a mandatory two-week self-isolation at home or in a medical facility. It can be terminated earlier in the event of obtaining negative test for COVID-19 (you can take it at the checkpoint or any certified laboratory).
If it is not technically possible to install the Vdoma application (for example, because of an old phone model or lack of Internet), then you will need to undergo a two-week observation in one of the medical institutions in the controlled area. If the test for COVID-19 is negative, it will be possible to terminate the observation prematurely.
In addition, now everyone (with the Vdoma application installed) can take a free rapid test right at the checkpoint. There is no need to self-isolate in case of negative result (after 30 minutes).
At the same time, there is a wide list of categories of citizens to whom self-isolation is not applied. For example, this applies to those who travel to the controlled area for vaccination against coronavirus. To do this, you need to present an invitation for vaccination with a Ukrainian identifier.
You can sign up for vaccination and receive the necessary invitation at one of the vaccination centers and points located on the territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson oblasts in the territorial proximity to the checkpoints.
Registration takes place at the number of the contact center of the Ministry of Health on countering COVID-19: +38 0800 60 20 19 or using a chat on the website of the Ministry of Health.
In addition, the Vdoma application has also changed. It will no longer track geolocation, and will be deactivated after 72 hours. When registering, you need to provide personal information, phone number and place of self-isolation. The result of the PCR test or lateral flow test should appear in the application within 72 hours.
If a person does not pass the test, then the application is deactivated, and the information is automatically transferred to law enforcement agencies, which will conduct a random check for being located in the place of self-isolation.
Not many people leaving CADLO want to install the Vdoma application and take tests. Border guards recorded two attempts at bribery at the Novotroitske checkpoint in early December. So, citizens offered law enforcement officers $18 and $59 for a pass to the controlled area without installing the Vdoma application.
"The attempts to provide unlawful benefits are documented, and those who offered a bribe were handed over to the police officers for making an appropriate legal decision", - the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine notes.
OstroV has already written about "resolving issues" with the Vdoma application on the Russian-Ukrainian border. This service is offered to those who decided to travel to the controlled territory of Ukraine through Russia.
Minibus drivers charge in advance an average of $7 to $18 per person for the fact that they will not have the Vdoma application installed when crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border. Apparently, such a scheme does not work when crossing the demarcation line. But, as eyewitnesses told OstroV, some people in the queues at the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint offer paid services for helping to install the Vdoma application.
"Not all retirees understand where to look for the Internet, how the application works, how to fill it and so on. Therefore, some people agree. It seems that they are not scammers, and they take not much", - eyewitness Mykhailo told OstroV.
Residents of the occupied territories of Donbas, especially those living in CADO, became hostages in the Kremlin political games and the puppets under its control. Someone has been trying to get the coveted permission for months, someone is traveling through Russian territory (expensive and long) and someone has already despaired and accepted the fact that it will not be possible to travel to the controlled territory of Ukraine.
Those who are not directly affected by this problem do not understand that it is not an abstract travel restriction of citizens, but disunited families, lack of freedom to choose a place of study or work and inability to visit the graves of relatives, or still living relatives…
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV