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OSCE Blasts Kiev Travel Restrictions on Citizens in Eastern Ukraine

The Ukrainian government restricts the freedom of movement for residents of East Ukraine it claims are its citizens. A new OSCE report criticizes the unsafe and undair regulations.

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

On Wednesday the Ukraine government was heavily criticized for restricting the freedom of movement of residents by European officials and the OSCE. Observers have urged the Kiev government to reconsider a permit system used to control front line crossings.

Back in January the Kiev government introduced travel permits for citizens entering Ukraine government territory to cross back into separatist held territory. The move was said to be a bid to control the spread of separatism to other regions of Ukraine, but locals contend the move was a punitive action. So far some 6,000 people have been killed in the violence, and over 1.5 million have been displaced by conflict. The view from many observers is this permit strategy further fragments Ukraine, and that those in need cannot seek humanitarian aid. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published a report entitled “Protection of Civilians and their Freedom of Movement in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions”,  lambasting the system because of the humanitarian aspects. According to the OSCE the system imperils people’s safety when they attempt to obtain such permits in contended territory.

<figcaption>Ukraine government checkpoints - undue hazards for permit seekers</figcaption>
Ukraine government checkpoints - undue hazards for permit seekers

Among the other proposals in the report, the SMM recommends that: 

  • To ensure that civilians wishing to leave affected areas on the grounds of security are able to do so rapidly and safely with no excessive delays and restrictions that might put them at risk of shelling, crossfire or other forms of attacks, including at checkpoints;
  • To ensure free and safe passage for humanitarian aid and evacuation of civilians from conflict-affected areas;
  • To exercise maximum restraint, and fully assume the responsibility to protect civilians, including preventing further displacement and suffering, and to redouble their efforts to stabilize and ensure the agreed ceasefire holds;

Those close to the situation report the application of the permit system is inconsistently applied across border crossings. Citizens caught in the turmoil of the system often complain of being trapped on one side or the other due to the chaotic and hazardous process. The OSCE says some civilians also have extended wait periods before receiving their permits. The multinational organization has asked the Ukrainian government to revise the program to allow all citizens safe and free travel. The report told of some civilians having to wait up to 50 days to receive their permits, and urged the Ukrainian government to adjust the permit system to ensure that all civilians have a chance to travel safely and freely.

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