Trouble on “Friendship of Peoples” Street as Russia Fortifies its Border with Ukraine
24 October, 2018

In a small town on the eastern edge of Ukraine, the state border dividing Ukraine and Russia runs along “Friendship of Peoples” Street or Druzhby Narodiv in Ukrainian. One side of the street is in the Ukrainian village Milove, the other in the adjacent Russian village Chertkovo.

Residents of the two villages, many of whom hold citizenship of one country and a residency permit in the other, have shared the street since Soviet times. Despite the military conflict that began with Russian incursion into Ukrainian territory in 2014, locals consider Milove and Chertkovo one town and are used to passing between its Ukrainian and Russian parts on a daily basis.

Russian border guards began constructing a barrier along the state border line on August 30. In just two weeks they had constructed about a third of the 1.5-kilometer fence, which runs down the middle of Friendship of Peoples Street.

A local resident passes by the barrier the Russian border service is building along the state border in Milove, Luhansk region, Ukraine, September 7, 2018. Photo: Hromadske

Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov called the street a Soviet symbol. “So much for ‘friendship of peoples,’” he tweeted on August 30.

Hromadske traveled to Milove, Ukraine’s easternmost regional center, to learn what local residents and authorities have to say about the border fence Russia is constructing.

One Town, Two Countries

Most families in Milove and Chertkovo have relatives on both sides of the border.

“They’ve divided us, they’ve split up our families. If something happens to me, my parents and sister won’t come. I’m here alone,” says Tetiana, a Russian citizen who has been living and working in Ukrainian Milove for the last 25 years. The rest of her family lives a few hundred meters away, across the border, in Russia.

The fence being constructed in the middle of the street in Milove, Luhansk region, September 7, 2018. Photo: Hromadske

Many shops and a dentist’s office on the Russian side of Friendship of Peoples Street plan to close, as most of their clients live in Milove. A considerable number of people from both towns will lose their jobs because of the fortified border.

“I don’t care who’s to blame, whether the Russians or the Ukrainians. It’s the people who are suffering,” says Milove resident Olena.

While a few Russians celebrated the fence separating them from the Ukrainian “junta,” residents of Chertkovo held an impromptu demonstration in support of leaving the border as it is. However, according to the Russian border guards, the decision to build a fence was made at the highest levels, hence it cannot be reversed.

As Easy As Crossing the Street

Until recently it was easy for residents of Milove and Chertkovo to cross the border. In addition to one international border crossing, there were two checkpoints for locals – one for bearers of Russian passports and the other for Ukrainian citizens.

Once the border fence is built, at least one of the local checkpoints will be closed, creating a significant increase in traffic through the international border checkpoint. The wait time to pass through a checkpoint – currently up to three hours – may double.

Russian border guards are constructing a fence along 1.5 kilometers of the border in Milove, Luhansk region, September 7, 2018. Photo: Hromadske

Nothing will change for Ukrainians crossing the border, according to First Deputy Head of the Milove Border Guard Service Mykola Ferin. They will still be allowed to cross the border with the Russian Federation with their ID cards, while Russian citizens will now need an international passport to enter Milove in Ukraine.

“The local state border checkpoint will be only for Ukrainians,” says Ferin. “Russians will not be allowed through the local border checkpoint.”

An Intelligible Border

Tension has been rising on the local border between Ukraine and Russia since the start of this year, when Russia stopped passenger rail service on the part of the North-Caucasus line that passes through the Ukrainian territory around Milove.

People wait in line at the Milove border checkpoint, Luhansk region, September 7, 2018. Photo: Hromadske

In early August the Russian Border Service blocked the road that connects the Ukrainian regional centers of Milove and Markivka because part of it passed through Russia. Ukrainian regional authorities have built a dirt road detour, but according to locals, it will become impassable when the autumn rains come.

People wait in line at the Milove border checkpoint, Luhansk region, September 7, 2018. Photo: Hromadske

Russia’s actions may be aimed at provoking the Ukrainian side, says Luhansk regional civil-military administration head Yuriy Harbuz. The Russians informed the Ukrainians about their plans to build a barrier through the center of Friendship of Peoples Street on August 29, just one day before beginning construction work.

“What’s happening here is probably only natural. The state is now finally establishing intelligible borders,” says Harbuz, adding, “I think it would have been wiser to leave things as they are, as creating additional infrastructure problems for one another and aggravating the situation is not right.”

/By Ivan Bukhtiyarov, Konstantin Reutski

/Translated by Larissa Babij