The conflict in Ukraine has seen more than 10,000 people killed and three million displaced. Most of the fighting has taken place in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
In February 2015, the ‘Minsk II’ Agreement was signed to try and stop the violence. The Agreement established a ceasefire and ‘Line of Contact’ separating government and non-government controlled forces. The Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is tasked with monitoring the sides’ compliance with the conditions set out in the Agreement.
The SMM verifies movements and records breaches of the ceasefire. It tries to prevent more violence, build confidence across the dividing line, and ultimately help secure the conditions for a political agreement to end the war. The EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) covers costs for monitors and provides materials and information support to the SMM, including surveillance equipment and access to satellite imagery.
In 2016 there were more than 700 monitors in Ukraine. The primary objective of the monitors is to gather information on the security situation, establishing and reporting on key events. But they play other roles as well, helping to facilitate local deals, deliver humanitarian aid, and enable the repair of infrastructure.
The Mission is headquartered in Kyiv, while the monitoring teams are deployed around the country. They visit key areas across the Line of Contact from hubs and forward patrol bases, explains Olga Scripovscaia, a Team Leader managing a group of monitors in Donetsk. The monitors are busy: during the most active periods there can be more than 60 missions a day.
The IcSP’s overall support to the SMM is managed by Helga Pender, who is based at the EU Delegation in Kyiv. The EU’s investment, she says, is vital: “Monitoring the ceasefire and limiting violence are key steps to delivering peace in Donbass. The IcSP has been supporting the SMM from the start, and will continue to play an active part in ensuring that the mission is able to optimise the execution of its tasks.”
“The SMM provides facts from the ground, helping to assess the implementation of the Minsk deal. It provides the international community with access to independent information.”
The monitors prepare bulletins based on their patrols. The work is difficult. It is too dangerous to travel at night, and they often have to negotiate access - if it is granted at all - to areas not controlled by the government, such as border crossings with Russia. “Without the SMM, the situation would be worse,” says Pender.
“There are often situations when people approach monitors on the checkpoints between the Government and Non-Government Controlled Areas.
“Some of them ask for help; others just express frustration. But the fact they come shows the level of trust in the SMM, even though the Monitors themselves cannot provide direct assistance.”
The EU, among others, provides material support in Ukraine. in the volatile conflict zone, the equipment and access to information products enable staff to develop sophisticated analyses. The technology helps: static cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) enable the Mission to monitor remote areas, says Jukka Tuononen, an SMM team leader in Luhansk - but the equipment keeps getting shot at or destroyed.
One reason for the SMM’s increasing budget is that the Mission’s mandate has expanded, to include checking on the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides and monitoring areas of disengagement.The aim is to create a buffer zone, of between 50-140km for different rocket and missile platforms, on each side of the Line of Contact.
The mission also supports NGOs, the government and other agencies to remove mines and unexploded ordinance, allowing relief and recovery work to take place.
As the EU looks to build the strategic capacity of the SMM in Ukraine, this will be vital: the Mission intends to expand the human dimension of its work, developing relationships with local communities to provide more effective support.
The SMM’s Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug is clear on this point: “Though we are not a humanitarian mission, our observations help to identify places where people are most in need, and to refer this information to the relevant organisations. We talk with civilians on a daily basis, paying particular attention to those suffering most.”
It is ultimately the goal of IcSP support to the SMM to contribute to returning long-lasting peace and normality to the people of Ukraine.
Address: Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine; 101 Volodomyrska St., Kyiv, 01033 Ukraine
Phone: +380 (44) 390 8010
The EU’s work in Ukraine focuses in particular on support for democratic development and good governance, regulatory reform and administrative capacity building, infrastructure development and nuclear safety..