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Alleviate people’s suffering and bring this crisis to an end

Saturday, 22 May 2021, 08:00

4,191. That is the number of ceasefire violations reported in eastern Ukraine over the last two weeks alone.

That is 4,191 instances of turmoil that leave people fearing for their lives and property.

That is 4,191 more moments of distress than any person or community should ever have to face. 


Sadly, ceasefire violations are a common reality in eastern Ukraine and have been for a long time now. Of even more concern: despite calls by the international community for restraint and de-escalation, tensions have worsened over the past few months.

Our monitors in the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), who continue to objectively report the facts on the ground despite multiple challenges, have observed more activity across a wider area along the contact line, especially with live fire and explosions stemming from the use of heavy weapons. This means increased civilian and military casualties and more damage or destruction to civilian infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the hardships of conflict-affected communities further. There is a moral duty to alleviate the plight of people who deserve enduring stability and security in their daily lives.

The OSCE, including the Swedish Chairpersonship, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) Heidi Grau and the four Working Group Coordinators in the TCG, has worked for seven years to address the crisis and its impact on people affected by the conflict. We remain fully committed to the Minsk process and the efforts of the Normandy Format, supporting the sides to reach a sustainable resolution. 

But for this crisis and the suffering it causes to end, the sides have to live up to their commitments. These commitments, enshrined in the Minsk agreements, still provide the plan to de-escalate, restore stability and security and ensure people’s safety.

Dialogue is the only way to rebuild trust and bring a lasting resolution. I have seen and learnt that myself from the negotiations I have participated in. It is never easy when you do not see eye-to-eye. But it is absolutely possible. It demands patience, courage and a focus on the real desired outcomes, rather than the process or modalities.

Looking at the work of the TCG, we can see what the participants can do when there is political will. They come together and find a common ground: from brokering ceasefire agreements and co-ordinating the release of detainees, to opening and re-opening of crossing points across the contact line. In such a highly pressurized and complex situation, we need exceptionally skilled and dedicated negotiators who use all of their invaluable experience, nuance and judgment to find a way ahead.

We also see what can be done through local mediation efforts by the SMM. In 2020 alone, around 1,500 "windows of silence" – specific localized ceasefires – facilitated and monitored by the SMM, allowed for repairs to critical infrastructure providing water, electricity, gas and communications to six million people. 

These are examples of real progress that helps real people. But there is an urgent need for much more progress – opening new crossing points and re-opening of existing ones, more demining, further disengagement, releasing detainees. These will not in themselves end the conflict, but they will help those whose lives are directly affected by it, and they can help lay a basis of engagement and dialogue that can help move towards a longer-term resolution.

The SMM’s role can also not be overstated. The Mission is vital to facilitating dialogue and serving as the world’s objective eyes and ears on the ground. They establish facts to provide an accurate picture of the real situation – information that can form the basis of a mutual understanding for peace discussions in fora like the TCG. But the incessant restrictions and impediments to the SMM’s work, such as repeated jamming and shooting of its technical monitoring equipment like cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, prevent the Mission from fulfilling its mandate. The SMM relies on its unrestricted movement and tools for 24/7 monitoring to establish and report facts. It must be able to work safely, securely and unhindered on both sides of the contact line. 

In addition to the TCG and the SMM, the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk also continues to enhance transparency through its work on the international border, while the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine provides support for wider reforms while also addressing the impact of the conflict.

Ultimately, it is up to the sides to uphold their commitments and find a sustainable political resolution. Any lasting resolution can only come from dialogue between the sides, not by using force. Any lasting solution comes from the slow but vital business of building confidence. The Minsk agreements continue to be the agreed way forward and are the only documents that offer a way out of the crisis in and around Ukraine.

I urge all sides to implement and fully respect the agreements they have already reached at the Normandy Summit in Paris in December 2019 – to open crossing points, disengage, withdraw weapons and demine – and to protect people’s lives and their communities. This needs to happen now. Already in 2021, the SMM has confirmed 27 civil casualties. That is 27 too many.

Everyone must build on the efforts already made. The OSCE will continue to do all we can, but it will take political will and engagement on all sides to bring this crisis to an end for good.

By Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General

Disclaimer: Articles reflect their author’s point of view and do not claim to be objective or to explore every aspect of the issues they discuss. The Ukrainska Pravda editorial board does not bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided, or its interpretation, and acts solely as a publisher. The point of view of the Ukrainska Pravda editorial board may not coincide with the point of view of the article’s author.

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