Both sides in the village of Stanytsia Luhanska in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region began to withdraw their forces. How does something like this happen? Both sides – the Ukrainian military and the Russia-backed separatists – fired signal rocket showing that they were ready to withdraw their forces.
“We forced the enemy to withdraw units from the line specified in the Minsk agreements of 2014. No withdrawal of positions happened, our units improved their position,” said Bohdan Bondar, the deputy commander of the combined forces and the representative of Ukraine in the security subgroup at the Minsk talks.
Ukrainian troops walk near the demarcation line at the checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska village in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 25. Photo: Hromadske
Within three days, the parties will withdraw from other positions near the village of Stanytsia Luhanska.
What preceded the withdrawal of forces?
The parties agreed to separate their forces at a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on June 5. The separation was supposed to start from June 10.
But it wasn’t until June 19 that a continuous ceasefire started and, for the first time, lasted 7 days. This allowed for the process of the separation of forces to begin on June 26.
The Ukrainian military advanced to new positions. The Chairman of the Stanytsia Luhanska District State Administration Yuriy Zolkin confirmed to Hromadske on June 26 that, according to his information, the separatists had also started to withdraw their forces.
Since 2016, Minsk representatives tried to divide troops in three sectors along the frontline. Three years ago, on September 21, 2016, representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE decided and recorded this in a framework agreement – in three settlements: Petrovske, Zolote and Stanytsia Luhanska, the parties must retreat one kilometer into their respective directions.
What is it for?
“The withdrawal of troops in Stanytsia Luhanska will give the civilian population a safe crossing over the Siversky Donets River. We have documented this process, but for the time being we cannot say what exactly was done,” the then deputy head of the OSCE observation mission, Alexander Hug, told Hromadske back in 2016.
Everything is ready from the Ukrainian side. In the Minsk talks, however, the fact that the only automobile checkpoint to the occupied territory of the Luhansk region should be opened by the separatists in the region cannot be agreed.
People walk past a barricade at the last Ukrainian-controlled checkpoint before separatists' positions start on June 25, 2019. Photo: Hromadske
The separation of forces in Stanytsia Luhanska would allow for the restoration of a destroyed bridge. Just last month, 465,000 people crossed this bridge in both directions – on foot, along a bombed-out bridge.
What do locals fear in Stanytsia Luhanska?
Yuriy Zolkin – the head of the Stanytsia Luhanska military-civil administration – said "I hope that the safety of citizens after separation will be ensured, I now have no information on the technique of separation from that side."
In October 2016, residents of the village protested against the separation of forces. They were afraid that the Russia-led separatists would not fulfill their conditions and would simply return to the abandoned positions immediately after the withdrawal and capture the whole village.
After this protest, the withdrawal was postponed indefinitely.
OSCE representatives and Donbas residents walk toward the destroyed bridge at the checkpoint near Stanytsia Luhanska village in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 25, 2019. Photo: Hromadske
For three years, the Ukrainian side has constantly accused the separatists of disrupting agreements. Also, the Ukrainians in Minsk talks had requirements for the OSCE to conduct round-the-clock surveillance at this site – but the observation monitoring mission insisted that their mandate does not provide for night-time observation with the participation of monitors. At the same time, their cameras at night in this area see everything.
Why is it bad for the separatists?
The separatist forces have a hilltop advantage, where there is a monument to Prince Igor. From a military point of view, this is a more strategic position than the Ukrainian military, whose positions are located below.
If there is a total withdrawal, the militants will be forced to leave this strategic height.
Also, the creation of a buffer zone of two kilometers around the village of Stanytsia Luhanska will allow people to safely pass the checkpoint in both directions.
But, of course, all this would only happen if all sides fulfill the terms of the agreement.
/By Anastasia Stanko
/Translated by LP Luo