Kyiv, March 4, 2016. Over the last weeks the sides have continued to breach the ceasefire in conflict zone. The monitors of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) have recorded the most flagrant and violent breaches in the wider Donetsk city area. “The most intense violence was recorded there on the evening of 21 February with over 300 explosions recorded around the airport. Of particular note has been increased violence around Yasynuvata. On 22 February, for example, our monitors heard more than 140 explosions around the town, caused by mortars, automatic-grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons”, stated Alexander Hug, Principle Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine during the press-briefing in Ukraine Crisis Media Center. He added that the wider Horlivka area has remained violent, too. During the evening hours of 23 February, SMM monitors in Debaltseve heard approximately 50 explosions within half an hour.
OSCE SMM noted a slight decrease in the use of artillery and mortars. However, the monitors observed a greater use of multiple launch rocket systems. “This Wednesday, for instance, our monitors in non-Government controlled Debaltseve heard approximately 40 MLRS rounds being fired in a matter of minutes,” said Mr.Hug. He added that the SMM monitors have observed an increased presence of other proscribed weapons inside the security zone. For instance, SMM observed eight Grads near government-controlled Ivanivka; 11 main battle tanks were spotted by SMM unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a residential area of Donetsk city. In addition, Mr. Hug stated, the proscribed weapons are often missing from permanent storage sites and heavy weapons holding areas. “Over the weekend, at one Ukrainian Armed Forces permanent storage site, we noted 32 tanks, one mortar and seven anti-tank guns missing. At a so-called DPR site we noted 10 howitzers and 5 mortars missing”, explained Alexander Hug.
Mr. Hug stressed that in such context civilians are as ever paying a heavy price, especially there where the sides have positioned hardware close to residential areas. Schools and houses are often damaged by shelling, for example, a school in Staromykhailivka. In Holminskyi the monitors saw craters just 60 meters from the local school. “We still observe most exercises – involving dozens of tanks and artillery systems – taking place in areas just outside the security zone in areas not controlled by the government”, he stressed.
Alexander Hug has added that within the last 2 weeks there has been some progress with the release of captives. In particular, the members of so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR’) released Marina Cherenkova, the head of Responsible Citizens of Donbas NGO. However, after that Ms. Cherenkova was expelled from areas not controlled by the government. A number of other captives – Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel – were released in exchange for detainees held by the Ukrainian authorities.
Alexander Hug also informed that the session of the security working group within the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk resulted in an agreement on de-mining actions and the prohibition of live-fire exercises within the 30 km security zone. “The sides have agreed to map, mark and fence off mined areas in 12 previously-designated priority areas. And crucially, they have agreed to do so along approach roads and at checkpoints leading to and crossing the contact line”, he announced. These measures are expected to contribute to the repair work on damaged essential civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of people crossing. During the following week the SMM will specifically document where mined areas have been marked and fenced.