Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 14.11.2017
To civilized people, the term “safe corridor” implies a worthy humanitarian purpose. People use a safe corridor to travel from one place to another without being attacked. To Russians who are invading Europe in Ukraine, “safe corridor” means a place where Ukrainians will be unarmed and where they won’t shoot back when they are attacked; it is a soft target. There are five functioning checkpoints in Russia-invaded and occupied Donbas which are supposed to be safe corridors. With regular shelling, decrepit infrastructure, and arduous bureaucracy, the Russians make travel as miserable and as dangerous as possible for Ukrainians who fall under their power. The hatred Muscovy has for Ukraine is unfathomable.
In the north-west corner of the Russian occupation zone in Donetsk region there is a “safe corridor” known as the Horlivka–Bakhmut, Zaytseve checkpoint. The amenities for travellers are primitive in the extreme, and long waits of many hours are endured in all kinds of weather. Even elderly and handicapped people have to withstand huge lines without a place to sit. The Russian invader-occupiers of Donetsk region regularly shell Ukrainian armed forces defensive positions in Zaytseve and Mayorsk, striking the “safe corridor” directly and intentionally.
West of Donetsk city is the Donetsk–Kurakhovo, Maryinka checkpoint. Conditions here are also primitive. Once again, the Russian invader-occupiers regularly shell the vicinity of the checkpoint, including the town of Maryinka itself.
South of Donetsk, half-way to Mariupol, is the Novotroitske checkpoint. Russia regularly launches artillery bombardments from the town of Dokuchaievsk which it occupies. These attacks hit the town of Novotroitske, and the nearby villages of Berezove, Mykolayivka, and Bohdanivka. The “safe corridor” is between Dokuchaievsk and the target of these attacks. Imagine what the experience is like for a civilian at the Novotroitske checkpoint, with shells flying overhead and impacts heard all around.
North-east of Mariupol there is a checkpoint near the village of Hnutove. Every night the Russians shell Hnutove or Talakivka or Pavlopil – often all three.
In Luhansk region, there is only one functioning crossing, for pedestrians only, across the Siverskyi Donets River at Stanytsia Luhanska. The Russian invasion army almost completely destroyed the bridge used for this crossing in 2014. Travellers must go on foot, on a flimsy, makeshift, and dangerous path over the ruins of the bridge. The Russians refuse to allow reconstruction of the bridge. The Russians also refuse to pull back their forces as they agreed to do under a “deconflictization” arrangement with Ukraine supervised by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. The Russian invader-occupiers regularly shoot at Ukrainian defensive positions in Stanytsia Luhanska and at Donets station, and fire grenade launchers and mortars at civilian targets in Valuiske. In 2017, the biggest increase in crossings by Ukrainians was at Stanytsia Luhanska; even though it has the worst conditions, it is the only way to get from the city of Luhansk in the Russia-occupied zone to free Ukraine.
Long waits in brutal heat in the summertime make crossing the battlefront at “safe corridors” a torment, especially for elderly and handicapped travellers. It is the policy of the Russian invader-occupiers to make crossing at checkpoints as arduous and as dangerous as possible. The Ukrainian government could be doing much more to improve amenities and smooth bureaucracy on its side of the de facto border, but it neglects to do so. The Ukrainian government loses an “easy win” propaganda battle by failing to treat Ukrainian citizens with dignity and respect at checkpoints.
The first “safe corridor” in Luhansk region that will allow vehicles as well as pedestrians is supposed to be opened at Zolote. Zolote is on the battlefront along the road between Russia-occupied Pervomaisk and Lysychansk in free Ukraine. The Ukrainians are ready and the OSCE monitors are ready, but the Russians and their “LPR” terrorist proxies are not. There is no explanation for the Russians failing to keep up their side of the bargain to open up the Zolote checkpoint. There is no indication that the Russians have done necessary de-mining on their side of the checkpoint. To date, the Zolote checkpoint is not functioning. As always, the Russians regularly shell the vicinity. Shooting from Pervomaisk and Kadiivka, the Russians bombard the villages of Zolote and Katerynivka on and near the Zolote “safe corridor.”
Russia is obliged under the Minsk Agreements to allow the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to have access to the international border between Ukraine and Russia. The Putin regime stubbornly refuses to fulfil this obligation. The OSCE SMM has limited access to two border crossings, at sporadic intervals. 410 kilometres of the Ukraine-Russia border is uncontrolled by Ukraine, and unmonitored by the OSCE SMM. Without a Ukrainian or an international presence, Russia chooses for there to be no effective border control at all, and no barrier to the passage of Russian troops, weapons, ammunition, matériel, and fuel. The invasion-occupation forces of Russia in Donbas have unlimited supplies. There is also no barrier to the flow of stolen coal and stolen factories and stolen crops making its way from Ukraine to Russia across this uncontrolled frontier.
The international border which Russia seized has free movement of Russian soldiers and war matériel. The battlefront which Russia imposed inside Ukraine has highly restricted movement of Ukrainian civilians and their property. The Minsk Agreements and its associated ceasefires are violated every day and night by Russia, with no ill consequences whatsoever to the aggressor. Ukraine carries out the Minsk Agreements and respects the ceasefires one-sidedly, and gets no substantial support as Europe’s defender. Ukrainian civilians suffer the most, when all they’re trying to do is travel from one place to another in their own country. Safe corridors need to be exactly that: safe. Until Russia is made to adhere to its agreements, that won’t happen.