Checkpoints in the Donbas have been operating in a limited mode for more than a year. Despite the fact that the Ukrainian side has opened all the checkpoints long since, occupation "authorities" of CADLO continue to block their work. If everyone can leave the occupied territory of Luhansk oblast, then leaving the "DNR" is possible only if there is registration in the controlled territory of Ukraine.
Many residents of CADLO have found a way out of this situation and travel to the controlled territory of Ukraine through Russia. Such trips are more expensive, they take much more time and, most importantly, they are illegal from the point of view of Ukrainian legislation. But this does not stop people, and they are in great demand today.
OstroV figured out what threatens people for trips from CADLO to the controlled territory of Ukraine through the Russian Federation, how it is possible to avoid administrative liability and why the situation may change in the near future.
What is going on now?
"My parents came from Donetsk to Kyiv recently. At first, they tried to somehow resolve the issue through the Interdepartmental Headquarters (a body in the "DNR" that issues permits for entry and exit from the "republic" - ed.) and personal liaisons, but this brought no success. My parents were simply not allowed to go to Ukraine. Then they decided to go through Russia. I was looking for reliable carriers for a long time, fortunately, there were a lot of them, the service is in great demand and popularity. We chose one of the most expensive options for $108 per person, it was good bus with no pedestrian crossings. The road took almost a 24-hour day",- migrant from Donetsk Mykhailo told OstroV.
According to him, his parents installed Vdoma application for self-isolation at the Russian-Ukrainian border, and they were issued a ticket on an administrative violation.
"In total, we had to pay $123 for two people. We did it the next day. I know that it is possible to go to court and not pay, give the border guards a bribe (the driver warned us about this), but I decided to act according to the law. We paid everything", - he told.
Currently, the occupiers open only certain checkpoints of entry/exit on the demarcation line for travel from the occupied territories of Donbas. It is possible to leave from CADO only through one single checkpoint, which works twice a week, with the permission of a special "Headquarters". The headquarters does not always issue such permits, and if it does, it is only to those who will give a subscription that they will not return to the territory of the "republic" until the COVID quarantine ends… Therefore, people travel through Russia. But leaving for Russia through the checkpoints in the occupied territories that are not controlled by the government, it turns out that a person crosses the state border illegally. Therefore, when entering Ukraine later, the border guards have a question: how did you get to the territory of Russia if you did not leave Ukraine according our databases?
Administrative liability is provided for illegal border crossing in Ukraine in accordance with article 204-2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in the form of a fine from 100 to 300 tax-exempt minimum incomes ($61-195).
But many residents of CADLO have no other choice but to illegally (from the point of view of the Ukrainian legislator - ed.) travel to Russia, enter Ukraine from it, and agree to the fines. For example, almost 12 thousand decisions on administrative violations were drawn up in 2020. But what else can people who have actually become hostages of the occupation regimes do?
"De jure, this is a violation of the law of Ukraine on crossing the border, for which a fine is imposed. Border service officers en masse write out decisions on administrative offenses in accordance with article 204-2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. According to the border service, about 1500 people face them every month. Most often, the case ends with a fine of $63", - MP Musa Magomedov explains.
According to him, in 95% of cases, these fines can be canceled by going to court.
"The first thing to do when receiving such a fine is to ask for legal assistance. The border guards will most likely refuse, but this may become the basis for going to court. Now the border guards are increasingly recording people on video, where they demand a confession of the violation. There is no need to argue, but it is better to say about the forced circumstances that did not allow crossing the border in a different way. When a person is released, he needs to immediately call lawyers and start preparing documents for filing a lawsuit", - Magomedov explains.
According to him, border guards do not fine in all cases. If you have documents proving the reason for your trip, the chances of not having to pay a fine increase.
"Sometimes people are given a "sound" advice - not to pay a fine. You do not need to listen to this, because if the fine is not paid within 10 days, it doubles. The person's task is to file a lawsuit in court within 10 days", - the people's deputy notes.
In addition, recently, carriers have been offering "no fines" and protocol drafting border crossing services.
However, you will have to pay separately $18-25 per person "to bribe the Ukrainian border guards". Particularly enterprising carriers offer to "solve" the issue of installing the Vdoma application for self-isolation for an additional fee. They demand another $7-18 for this.
"Everyone knows how much it costs to travel without a fine. The accepted "tax" per person is $18. If a bus travels, for example, with 10 people, then you can come to terms with the border guard for $145 from the bus. This way, carriers make money on this as well: you give them, for example, $22 for this, and they give $14.5 in fact. As for the Diya application, there is some kind of scheme there. You seem to say in words that you have installed the application, give any address, any phone number and move on. "Officially", you thus state that you will live at this address for 2 weeks", - a displaced person from Donetsk, familiar with the transportation business, told OstroV.
The OstroV journalist contacted several carriers and found out that a trip from Donetsk to Kyiv through Russia costs an average of $90 to $108. You can find cheaper options, but they will be with a transfer. The fact that it is possible not to pay a fine for a bribe in the amount of $22-25 is said immediately and directly. They clarified in a face-to-face conversation, that "the process is automated and there is nothing to worry about".
"We have our own places where we go, so do not worry, there will be no protocol or fine for $22. We have not yet had a case when someone refused us and wrote out a protocol. The main thing is do not give money yourself, but negotiate with the driver in advance", - was said by phone.
Separately, they offered a service not to install the Vdoma application. They even promised a small discount if I take "avoidance of protocol and self-isolation" through the driver. A sort of "combo".
According to OstroV, people in general willingly give bribes through drivers. Otherwise, they will either be forced to pay $61, or will receive a protocol and challenge it in court, but only the court fee will cost $16.
Recently, information has appeared that Ukrainian border guards have begun to write out fewer fines, limiting themselves to verbal warnings. This information is confirmed in the Eastern Human Rights Group non-governmental organization, which is monitoring this situation.
"So, our consistent actions have yielded results and now the border guards have started issuing fewer fines. Now the border guards take explanatory letters from people and issue warnings", - their message says.
According to OstroV's information from eyewitnesses, this is selective. People report on social networks that fines are not issued mainly to children and pensioners.
"I was driving through Milove today, pensioners and beneficiaries are not given a fine, only a warning! They are also forced to sign a bunch of papers, saying that they have no complaints!", - Maria writes.
"We drove through the Milove on the 17th, we and the child were not fined, but a lot of people in our presence were sent to fill out the protocol", - Oleksandra writes.
"The easing is selective: children under 16 and people over 65 were not given fines. They were limited only to verbal warnings", - Iryna writes.
What to do on the border?
The Vostok SOS non-governmental organization has drawn up a number of recommendations that can help avoiding a fine at the Russian-Ukrainian border.
If, while crossing the state border of Ukraine, an employee of the border service reports that you have committed an offense under Art. 204-2 of the Administrative Code of Ukraine, then you need to politely explain to him all the circumstances by which you were forced to enter government-controlled territory bypassing the checkpoint. This may be the lack of permission from the so-called "republics", the urgency of the trip, the state of health, etc. If possible, present supporting documents to the border guard. Also, due to the insignificance of the offense, you can request not to apply administrative liability and limit yourself to a verbal warning (according to Article 22 of the Code of Administrative Offenses).
"If the border guard still intends to bring you to administrative liability, appeal the penalty and demand drawing up of a protocol on an administrative offense (Article 258 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Be sure to indicate in the protocol why you do not agree with the prosecution and indicate all the circumstances for which you were forced to enter government-controlled territory bypassing the checkpoint", - Vostok SOS advises.
Such circumstances may be:
- advanced age, presence of a disability, a serious state of human health;
- presence of two or more minors or persons with disabilities dependent on a person;
- caring for a close relative in serious condition (mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, child, brother, sister, adopted child or adoptive parent);
- following with the purpose of visiting the funeral of close relatives; receiving medical care; training for students / schoolchildren or for passing the session or external independent testing; resolving issues related to paperwork (passport, inheritance, driver's license, pension and social benefits, etc.); vaccination against COVID-19;
- refusal on the part of the occupation administrations (the so-called "L/DNR") to allow crossing of the checkpoint;
- other grounds of a humanitarian nature.
The circumstances to which you refer should, if possible, be documented, as this will be important for further judicial appeal.
"Carefully read the protocol for compliance with the factual circumstances of the case. This protocol must be attached to another document - the order on prosecution. The order must mention drawing up of the protocol, since it is an addition. Get a copy of the order (Article 258 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Do not neglect your right to compulsory receipt of a copy of the decision on prosecution, as well as familiarization with the case materials, if possible, make copies of all documents", - human rights activists advise.
They also point out that if you receive a fine, you do not have to pay it on the spot. In accordance with Art. 307 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, the fine must be paid by the violator no later than fifteen days from the date of delivery of the order to impose the fine.
The appeal to the court stops this period and the need to pay the fine is renewed only if the claim is left unsatisfied. However, if you nevertheless decide to pay the fine on the spot, the border guards are obliged to do this using only a cashless payment terminal and issue a receipt.
Further, human rights defenders recommend contacting a lawyer as soon as possible in order to draw up a claim - appeal against prosecution, since a complaint against the decision can be filed within ten days from the date of the decision (Article 289 of the Code of Administrative Offences). At the same time, the court may recognize the reasons for missing the deadline as valid (for example, if they relate to restrictions associated with the introduction of quarantine) and restore it.
Contacts of Vostok SOS lawyers who can advise on these issues: +38 (068) 664 21 04, +38 (095) 374 82 70, +38 (066) 617 14 58, [email protected]
In addition, displaced persons can contact the Free Legal Aid Centers https://www.legalaid.gov.ua/ free of charge.
There is another plan of action, which was drawn up jointly with the Eastern Human Rights Group.
1. File an application that you are going to cross the border of Ukraine and the Russian Federation from the side of the checkpoint through which you are going to go.
2. Indicate in the text of the application for what reasons you are leaving CADLO for Ukraine through the Russian Federation (this should be a compulsory measure in accordance with Article 18 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses).
3. Be sure to indicate in the text of the application that you have no motive for violating the current legislation regarding entry and exit from the occupied territory and that you are acting on a compulsory basis.
4. Send this application in advance by e-mail to the Eastern Directorate of the State Border Guard Service and the border detachment of the oblast in which the checkpoint is located (Luhansk, Kharkiv or Sumy).
5. When crossing the border, present this letter to the border guards. If they decide to draw up a decision on a fine, ask that this letter be attached to the case file, which will be a good reason for the court to overturn the border guards' order about the fine.
If the fine was nevertheless issued, the lawyers of the Eastern Human Rights Group non-governmental organization recommend going to court and challenging the decision of the border guards. Human rights activists represent the interests of displaced persons in court free of charge. Contacts: +38 (096) 868 85 02, [email protected].
Penalties can be canceled
Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksii Reznikov spoke about the need to abolish fines for trips from CADLO to the controlled territory of Ukraine through Russia in December 2020.
"We will prepare a package of documents that will change this situation and will try to settle this issue at the state level as quickly as possible", - he promised.
Reznikov then noted that he had already begun negotiations with head of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Serhiy Deineko.
But four months later, this issue still has not been resolved at the level of the Cabinet of Ministers.
At the end of April, the Verkhovna Rada registered bill No. 5405 on ensuring the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens while crossing the part of the state border temporarily not controlled by Ukraine. The document was initiated by MPs from various factions and groups (Servant of the People, European Solidarity, Trust), as well as non-affiliated people's deputies.
The bill has only one article, which abolishes fines for people during periods of limited operation of checkpoints of entry and exit to the temporarily occupied territories in Donbas. Such periods will be determined by the Joint Forces Commander.
The document is currently under consideration by the relevant committee.
In the meantime, residents of СADLO, who need to get to the controlled part of Ukraine, will continue to pay bribes or fines. Or hope that the border guard will not draw up a protocol. The hopes that the occupation "authorities" of СADLO will open the checkpoint on their side and people will be able to move more conveniently across the contact line are getting smaller day by day.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV