Starting from March 22, 2020, quarantine restrictive measures have been introduced in Ukraine to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). These restrictions, in particular, provided for the partial suspension for the people to cross through the checkpoints on the contact line and the administrative border with the temporarily occupied territories. The first restrictions on passing came into force on March 7 for the checkpoints located on the contact line with the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, on March 16, in accordance with the order of the Commander of the Joint Forces, new restrictions on crossing the contact line were imposed on the checkpoints with the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and on March 22 the crossing of the contact line was stopped in both directions. The JFC order ‘on completely halting the crossing for an indefinite period’ came into effect. This being said, the possibility to cross in case of ‘vital life circumstances’ and for representatives of the international organizations was kept. On March 14, 2020, the Government adopted decree No. 291r that imposed restrictions on crossing the administrative border with the temporarily occupied territory of the AR of Crimea and Sevastopol City.
Later in March ‘tit-for-tat’ measures were introduced by the de facto authorities in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.
It should be noted that, unlike Decree No. 291r of 14 March 2020, the document that banned crossing at the contact line with the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions was never published. No amendments were made to the procedure for entry or departure of persons, or the movement of goods to or from the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine according to the Law.
Exceptions to the restrictions or bans on crossing were the so-called “humanitarian grounds” providing good reasons to cross the entry-exit crossing points (EECPs). According to information obtained from open sources, on March 18, 2020, recommendations on what grounds could be considered humanitarian were sent to the Ministry of Defense and the State Border Guard Service by Mr. Oleksiy Reznikov, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine – Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine. On May 11, the SBGS published information that starting from March 22 the JFC had issued 283 such personal permissions including 236 for crossing the contact line at the STANYTSIA LUHANS’KA Checkpoint. This being said, only DONBAS SOS hotline had received over 2,200 such requests – most of which referred to crossing the EECPs for the same period.
The imposed restrictions on crossing the EECPs in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as the administrative border with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol resulted in a significant reduction in the number of crossings. Thus, according to the SBGS, in March 2020, 593 thousand people crossed the contact line, and 84 thousand people crossed the administrative border with the occupied territory of Crimea (for comparison, in March 2019 these figures were 1,149 thousand and 145 thousand people, respectively). Data on the number of crossings in April 2020 is not currently available.
Since May 11, a gradual lifting of quarantine measures has started in Ukraine. However, according to the plan announced by the Prime Minister of Ukraine in April, there is no information about opening the EECPs. This situation makes one think that the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine are beyond the scope and attention of the Government of Ukraine. The quarantine measures are not communicated to the people living in the temporarily occupied territories who are unable to visit relatives, receive medical care, administrative services, etc.. This does not help build confidence in the Government and the further reintegration process. In fact, they receive information about the restrictive measures only from the occupation administrations. It should be noted that a lot of people who actually reside in governmentally controlled territory have found themselves on the other side of the contact line, and they can’t go to work and / or reunite with their families. So, in fact, one might argue that disintegration processes rather than reintegration processes have been in place in the country since mid-March.