Crossing points in eastern Ukraine are gradually re-opening, yet lack a coordinated, systematic approach
On 21 March 2020, all entry/exit crossing points (EECPs) in eastern Ukraine were closed in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 in communities along the 420-kilometer ‘contact line’ as well as in the rest of Ukraine. Before the closure, approximately 1.2 million people regularly crossed each month to reach Government and non-Government controlled areas and even at higher rates during the summer period, averaging at 1.5 million crossings per month.
Four months after the introduction of COVID-19-related quarantine measures, most of EECPs remain closed, with only two out of the five official crossing points allowing people to cross the ‘contact line’ (EECP ‘Stanytsia Luhanska’ in Luhanska oblast and EECP ‘Novotroitske’ in Donetska oblast). The gradual easing of quarantine restrictions and the adoption of humanitarian exemptions permitting people with acute needs to cross have led to an increase in civilian crossings across the ‘contact line’ in summer. In July, some 37,700 persons were able to cross the ‘contact line’ compared to 17,700 in June.
Even though more people are now able to cross the ‘contact line’, some of the most vulnerable categories as pensioners are still unable to withdraw their pensions in areas under Government control. It is estimated that the closure has impacted more than one million people, including more than 360,000 elderly and 163,000 vulnerable persons who have not been able to access their hard-earned pensions or withdraw cash since late March by crossing the ‘contact line.’ After several months without access to the only source of income for many, elderly are forced to find alternative ways to reach their pensions, which are usually lengthier, costly and legally challenging. To a large extent, crossings have been limited to those who have been granted humanitarian exemptions negotiated by the humanitarian community. These exemptions include death or disease of a close relative, as well as severe or chronic illness requiring urgent medical intervention. Students participating in university admissions exams and adults accompanying them have also been granted special permission to cross.
In some cases, people could not cross as they could not fulfil some of the requirements (i.e., self-isolate using “Dii Vdoma” application or undergo observation upon arrival). Even after the expiration of the Cabinet of Ministers’ resolution regulating these requirements on 1 August, reportedly, people willing to cross to the Government-controlled side were still mandated to install the app to undergo self-isolation or agree to observation in a designated facility. The rule that requires to install the app to monitor self-isolation prevents people with older phones or without internet connection from crossing the ‘contact line’. While some ad hoc solutions were implemented as a temporary measure (e.g., installing WiFi hotspots at EECPs), no systemic resolution to this issue was found so far.
The insufficient and large gaps in communication, as well as the absence of clearly communicated information concerning eligibility and crossing procedures continues to lead to people spending nights at the ‘contact line’. Humanitarian and other actors have been assisting these people with food, water, and other basic supplies, yet, it remains imperative that all relevant parties apply well-coordinated and realistic measures to prevent such situations from happening in the future. It is also essential that all actors involved in re-opening the EECPs follow recommendations from the World Health Organization and the humanitarian community to mitigate the potential health risks for those crossing and working at the EECPs and to ensure smoother operation of crossing points.