Babushkas without borders: freedom of movement in Donbass
Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right that Ukraine, as a democratic state, guarantees all its citizens within its sovereign borders. The territories controlled by the Ukrainian Government in the Donbass region are not an exception, despite a number of security measures instituted as a result of the protracted conflict, now in its fifth year. Over one million people travel across the contact line each month, through the five official Entry-Exit Crossing Points (EECPs). The majority of these citizens are older persons, a highly vulnerable population with complex needs. Facilities at the EECPs remain poorly equipped and managed. Citizens stand in long queues (usually for several hours) with minimal access to shelter, health care and food— often in extreme temperatures.
Ukrainian citizens living in the east have the right to coherent and expedient procedures governing their movement, as well as the transfer of goods and cash across the contact line. It’s imperative that ineffective and inappropriate restrictions are lifted and discriminatory checks eliminated for persons registered in the NGCA. Conditions in the staging area near the checkpoints are in dire need of improvement, to ensure the preservation of dignity and to guarantee access to essential services for all citizens.
The Ukraine NGO Forum has launched an advocacy campaign to promote the freedom of movement in Donbass. This campaign includes a petition #BabushkasWithoutBorders, that was launched on the web-site avaaz.org: http://bit.ly/BabushkasWithoutBorders to collect signatures from all over the world in pursuit of freedom of movement in eastern Ukraine.
Pulitzer Prize photojournalist, Manu Brabo, was on assignment for the Ukraine NGOForum in February 2019, and traveled to all five EECPs along the 500 km contact line, documenting the lives of vulnerable populations. The photo exhibit, ‘Freedom of Movement. On the Last European Frontline’ captures the stories representing millions of Ukrainians trapped by the conflict (fom.ngoforum.org.ua). The images were exhibited in Paris (12-17 March), Geneva (29 March – 7 April) and will be displayed in Washington DC, as well as in Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa and other Ukrainian cities, to raise global awareness and pursue instrumental change.
The Ukraine NGO Forum joined a coalition of NGOs (Right to Protection, Donbas SOS, Vostok SOS, and Group of Influence) that submitted a petition in February to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mr. Dmytro Groisman, asking him to expedite adoption of a new and improved government resolution regulating the procedures for crossing the contact line, as well as the transfer of goods (including adoption of a list of prohibited goods). This included a request to consider the comments and incorporate the proposals made by NGO members of the working group under the Ministry of Defense.
In addition to these advocacy efforts, the Ukraine NGO Forum participated in the events of the 2019 Kyiv Half Marathon (6 and 7 April, 2019) to alert both the public and Ukrainian leadership to the dire situation in eastern Ukraine and to advocate for immediate action. Every race represents freedom, movement, fight, and victory, which inspires our push for the freedom of movement. The Half Marathon is a multinational and multicultural event as runners descend upon Kyiv from dozens of countries and various regions within Ukraine, including Donbass. Unity, mutual respect, support, and empathy for those who suffer, are the basic values of any mature, democratic nation.
The Government of Ukraine has implemented a number of important measures to improve the situation at the five EECPs. With that said, many significant issues still require an urgent response from the Ukrainian authorities. Among them are the following:
• Recognition of all existing checkpoints in Ukrainian legislation to document legitimacy and accountability.
• Improvement of administrative systems and procedures to ensure effective and efficient movement of civilians and commodities.
• Commitment of reliable funding to assign ample staffing and ensure operational improvements.
• Immediate attention to conditions in the staging area, with ample support and services available to civilian populations meeting health, sanitation, and safety standards. Allocation of substantive funding for the maintenance and management of all essential services.