INFORMATION REPORT ON THE MAIN TENDENCIES ON TOT IN APRIL 2020

The Ministry for Reintegration carries out monitoring of developments in the situation on the temporarily occupied territories within the framework of the information reintegration strategy of territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol temporally occupied by the Russian Federation.

During April 2020 the following tendencies were observed:

1. The inability of the Russian occupation administrations on the temporary occupied territories to effectively counteract the epidemic of COVID-19.

In the context of the epidemic, the following negative factors have emerged that pose a threat to the civilians in the Russian-occupied territories and are common for the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (hereinafter referred to as “TOT of DLO”), the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol (hereinafter referred to as “TOT of the AR of Crimea”): 

  • Concealment of information about the real situation by the occupation administrations (in particular, by establishing an explicit ban on dissemination of information by medical workers, seizure of medical documentation); 

  • Underreporting (according to available estimates by at least 2-2.5 times) of "official" statistics on the identified cases by diagnosing "SARS", "pneumonia", "cardiac decompensation" in persons with pronounced signs of coronavirus; 

  • Prolonged denial of fatal cases (until April 22, 2020 on the TOT of DLO, until April in Sevastopol, until May 5 on the TOT of the AR of Crimea); 

  • Inability to establish the real situation due to lack of tests; 

  • Shortage of medical personnel (high morbidity rate of medical workers resulted in quarantine of a number of medical institutions), medicines, personal protective equipment, disinfectants; 

  • Special anti-epidemic activities to protect the occupying military contingents, which have become an additional existing epidemic threat due to non-compliance with social distancing (in particular, as a result of military training and parade rehearsals for May 9), in some cases at the expense of civilians; 

  • Attempts to spread false information about the threat of infection from the territory of Ukraine (used as a reason to close the EECP in March); 

  • Uncontrolled import of the virus from the territory of the Russian Federation, in the vast majority of cases from/through Moscow.

A pattern on TOT of DLO shows the signs of external control by the occupying state. In particular:

1) On April 10, the occupation administrations of the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk Oblast (hereinafter referred to as “TOT of LO”) and the temporarily occupied territory of Donetsk Oblast (hereinafter referred to as “TOT of DO”) have simultaneously declared the cessation of organized trips of local residents to Rostov Oblast, Russia, in order to obtain Russian passports after the establishment of repeated cases of infection imported by the participants of such trips;

2) On April 17, the postponement of the festivities and parade for May 9 was announced simultaneously (after a similar statement of the President of the Russian Federation Volodymyr Putin dated from April 16);

 3) On April 22, there was a simultaneous recognition of the first fatal cases in the context of the coronavirus epidemic;

4) Consolidated position on creation of obstacles for the supply of assistance by international humanitarian organizations from the territory of Ukraine and for the OSCE SMM (requirement of 14 days of observation, etc.). In particular, during the period from April 27 to May 8, there were recorded 25 cases of obstruction of the representatives of OSCE SMM to perform their tasks within the framework of the mandate;

5) Coordinated concealment of data on the facts of the identified cases among the occupation contingents amidst confirmed information on the presence of infected with COVID-19 and the like.

There are following cases among exemplary ones during this period:

1) According to the available information, on April 5, an employee of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, who recently arrived from Russia, was hospitalized with the identified diagnosis of COVID-19 in Donetsk (TOT of DO).

2) On April 17, in Yalta (TOT of the AR of Crimea) coronavirus infection was identified in family of volunteers (infected spread by a person who came from Russia), they were delivering food to citizens who were on self-isolation. On April 28, 7 residents of Yalta, who were in contact with infected volunteers, were diagnosed with coronavirus.

3) On April 21, in the TOT of LO, in the town Pervomaisk, an elderly man infected with coronavirus died. On April 23, an otolaryngologist from a local hospital of Pervomaisk died (as of April 30, 49 coronavirus cases out of 129 were recognised on TOT of LO). At the same time, information about the doctor's death was concealed for almost two weeks and was only made public on May 5. This contributed to the spread of panic sentiment among local residents, who knew about several deaths and understood that the local "leaders" were misleading to conceal the scope of the epidemic.

4) In Sevastopol, on April 24, military engineers caught an illness at the facilities of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in Omega Bay and Belbek. As a result, as of May 7, the coronavirus disease was confirmed in more than 60 military engineers (135 cases of infection were recognized in Sevastopol, including 2 fatal ones), more than 700 engineers were localized in observatories. The number of infected persons is expected to increase.

A common feature of all TOT is the non-recognition of incidents among the occupation contingents. In particular, amidst of more than 2000 infected in the armed forces on the territory of Russia, "official" information about coronavirus incidence in the occupation contingent in Crimea and Sevastopol is absent (at the same time, as noted, more than 60 infected military engineers were in Sevastopol). There is a significant number of eyewitnesses’ reports on coronavirus incidence among the representatives of the occupation contingents in TOT of DLO.

Such concealment of data poses a threat for civilians, especially in the context of regular engagement of military personnel from the occupation units of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation in training on the territory of Russia.

The situation at the TOT of LO is alarming, where as a result of outbreaks of the epidemic the occupation administration is using the tactics of quarantine blocking entire cities, forbidding to travel even by personal transport, including bicycles.

At the same time, there are signs that the epidemic is spiralling out of control and that its negative impact on the overall health system is increasing. Therefore, as a result of the illness among medical workers, due to the lack of personal protective equipment, the 4th emergency substation in Luhansk, which served in Kamenobridskyi and Leninskyi districts (112 000 persons, about 30% of the population of Luhansk) was quarantined on April 27. Closing of this facility will increase the time of arrival of ambulance crews on call (it is already over one hour wait).

If on April 24 the occupying "authorities" of TOT of LO reported 70 coronavirus cases, then on April 30, they recognized 129 cases of infection. The latest data, when 162 cases were recognized, were reported to the TOT of LO three days ago, on May 5. This is due to a critical shortage of tests, which are distributed among medical institutions for 5 pieces under strict reporting and reserved for the needs of representatives of the occupation authorities and military contingents. 

In case of complications in the Russian Federation, where as of May 7, more than 177 000 cases of coronavirus were identified and more than 1.6 thousand dead persons have been recorded, the civilians of TOT of DLO may find themselves in a difficult situation.

The Russian Coordination Center is forcing the occupation administrations on TOT of DLO to the contradictory actions, which pose a direct threat to local residents. On the one hand, contacts with the free territories of Donbas and international humanitarian organizations are artificially blocked, on the other hand, supplies of medicines and raw materials for manufacturing personal protective equipment and disinfectants are blocked from the Russian Federation. As a result, during the epidemic, a total dependence of the temporarily occupied territories on monopoly supplies from Russia, around which a system of abuses is built, is artificially formed.

2. Continued commitment to the militarization of the TOT of the AR of Crimea

Despite the difficult epidemiological situation and crisis phenomena in the economy, the Russian occupation "authorities" continue their policy of subordinating life on the temporarily occupied Crimean Peninsula to the logic of military base development.

This was manifested both in maintaining high intensity of purely military activities and in attracting the occupation military contingent to perform tasks in the interests of civil occupation administrations.

In general, in April 2020, there were more than 30 notable military trainings of various occupation units in Crimea, from mine detection service and UAV calculations to Marine units, ships, aviation and S-400 missile system. 

On April 17, it was announced in the Russian Federation about the transfer of CBRN defence units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the temporarily occupied Crimea to Abkhazia (Russian-occupied territory of Georgia). This fact was presented as continuation of the "humanitarian mission" of the Russian Armed Forces in the context of the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. The forces of the Russian Black Sea Fleet also conducted a show off disinfection of military and some civilian facilities in Crimea and Sevastopol.

On April 30, the Army Corps of the Russian Black Sea Fleet conducted rehearsals on "repelling the attack" of the conditional enemy saboteur group to the branch of the Naval Clinical Hospital in Simferopol.

On April 28, 2020, the "Head" of the Russian occupation administration in Simferopol Mykhailo Razvozhaiev reported that according to the analysis of water and bread consumption 700 000 persons reside in Sevastopol. As of January 1, 2014, the population in Sevastopol was 393 000 persons. As of January 1, 2020, "Russian statistics" shows that 450 000 persons officially reside in the city.

These data testify that during 6 years of occupation the nominal population of Sevastopol has increased by 15%, and the real population has almost increased by 80%. A significant part of new residents are servicemen of the occupation contingent, employees of the security services of the Russian Federation and members of their families. Taking into account the departure from Sevastopol of some citizens of Ukraine, who have not accepted the occupation, it is about a conscious significant replacement of the population by an occupying state, which is a violation of international humanitarian law and is equated to a war crime.

3. Rapid deterioration of the economic and environmental situation at TOT of DLO

In April 2020, a deepening of a number of critical phenomena was recorded. As a result of barbaric exploitation of resources and infrastructure of TOT of DLO by the occupation administrations and Russian entities, the territory is systematically deteriorating and economic, social and environmental problems are accumulating.

In particular, the occupation "authorities" of TOT of LO have decided to "reorganize" coal enterprises, which in practice will mean significant reduction of jobs and closure of some social infrastructure facilities.

Among other things, it was decided to dry preserve the "Nikanor-Nova" mine (Zorynsk, Perevalsk district of TOT of LO), where salary arrears have been accumulating since 2019. On April 29, more than 50 miners refused to come up to the surface demanding payment of arrears.

After almost a week-long underground strike, which was accompanied by protests of relatives on the ground, the administration agreed to pay back arrears for November-December 2019. At the same time, the decision to close the mine was not changed, and the very situation with the strike was not covered by local "mass media".

At the end of April, at "Dovzhanska Kapitalna" mine (Dovzhansk, TOT of LO), over 250 miners were laid off due to significant problems with coal sales. If the sales dynamics continues, further staff cuts are expected.

This is a typical situation for TOT of DO as well, where "reorganization" of mines and job layoffs are also planned. Currently, according to the available information, only 6 so-called "state mines" are operating at break-even levels, but 11 are unprofitable. It should be noted that most of these assets are formally controlled by Vneshtorgservis CJSC registered in South Ossetia (territory of Georgia occupied by Russia).

In particular, there is a growing crisis at the "Komsomolets Donbas" mine (Khrestivka, previously known as Kirovske), where 4.6 thousand persons are registered. Debt to the mine for the produced goods is RUB 4.9 billion, at the same time, the mine itself has already accumulated almost RUB 300 million of debts for the consumed electricity and more than RUB 31 million of salary arrears.

At the end of March, 2000 employees of the mine were sent on vacation with 2/3 of their nominal salary retained. During April, 65% of the salary for February 2020 was paid in three instalments. As a result of debt accumulation and work closures, the mine is gradually flooded, and there is a risk of flooding of the "Shakhtarska Hlyboka" mine.

Another stressful factor for the companies at TOT of DLO is the changing situation. In particular, by the end of the year the "Snizhniansk Mashinobudivnyi Zavod" is expected to be completely shut down (TOT of DO, hereinafter referred to as "SMZ"), previously it was part of the "Motor-Sich" system and specialized, among other things, in manufacturing blades for aircraft engines AI-222, but was captured by the militants.

Starting from December 2019, Russian customers, primarily the main manufacturer of engines for helicopters JSC "Klimov", cancelled the order for blades on SMZ. This coincided with the opening in December 2019 in Rybinsk (Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia) on the basis of the enterprise "ODK-Saturn" of the Center for manufacturing of turbine blades for aircraft, marine and industrial engines. Moreover, during 2014-2019 there was information about export to Russia of equipment and production documentation by SMZ. In April, SMZ was transferred to quarantine regime, workers over 65 years of age were sent on vacation, for the rest there was a reduced working week. Destruction of once profitable enterprise, which created more than 1.5 thousand job places, will provoke a deepening of the social crisis in Snizhne.

A difficult situation is observed at the enterprise "Stirol" (Horlivka), where almost 600 persons are working. Salary arrears have existed there since August 2019 (the last payment of 40% of the salary took place in July 2019), at the end of April there was accumulated RUB 87 million of debts.

More than RUB 10 million of salary arrears were accumulated as of April 16 to 200 employees of Donetsk Electrical Engineering Plant.

The situation is deteriorating on one of the largest employers, the so-called SE "Donetsk Railway" (12.7 thousand employees are registered there). As of May 1, 2020, there was an average salary arrears for 2 months, on April 16 employees were paid each RUB 1000 (~ UAH 350) in March 2020.

The economy of TOT of DLO is experiencing additional losses due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Therefore, according to the calculation of the occupation administration of TOT of DO, as a result of the epidemic, direct monthly budget losses due to the reduction in revenue from economic activities will amount to more than RUB 233.4 million of tax revenues and RUB 84.7 million of insurance contributions. The biggest losses of monthly revenues will be caused by curtailment of retail trade in non-food products (over RUB 73 million) and household sector enterprises (over RUB 48 million).

The crisis phenomena force occupation administrations to organize "reforms" in the social sphere, which are reduced to cuts and dismissals. In particular, in 2020 it was planned to carry out a 'reform' of medical institutions by transforming municipal (urban, regional) hospitals into so-called 'republican' hospitals with subsequent 'release' of administrative and medical personnel through 'optimization'. In total, about 2000 beds were planned to be rolled up. This process was somewhat halted by the epidemic, but the "optimization road map" for the nearest future includes 370 doctors.

Under the condition of reduction of subsidies from the Russian Federation, the economy and social sphere of TOT of DLO risk being on the verge of collapse. This is already reflected in the inability to ensure environmental safety and proper condition of critical infrastructure.

The Ministry for Reintegration has already reported on the contamination of Volyntsevske water reservoir (TOT of DO, Yenakiieve district), which provides over 300 000 persons with drinking water, and Isakovske water reservoir (TOT of LO, Alchevsk district), where there is a risk of disappearance of river "Bila". Also, in Horlivka, where drainage from the Lenin mine is carried out, contaminated water flows through small reservoirs into Kryvyi Torets.

The Ministry for Reintegration draws the attention of the international community to the failure of the occupying state to comply with its obligations to protect the life and health of civilians in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

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The information was prepared with the assistance of the intelligence community of Ukraine, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, Mission of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Civil-military administrations of Donetsk and Luhansk, Kherson Regional State Administration.

We thank colleagues for their cooperation.