The Cease-Fire War, Ukraine
"I never see them here at night."
"In the evening, I look out and they are gone, and then the concert [fireworks] starts."
Tatyana Petrova, Avdiivka, Ukraine
"Becoming the buffer, or the shield, is not our role and would exceed our mandate."
Alexander Hug, leader, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
"We call them deaf, dumb and blind [OSCE observers]."
"They know nothing. They see nothing. They are too soft."
Ukrainian military nurse, Avdiikva
|The trench networks at the front lines in Avdiivka, Ukraine. Paul D. Shinkman for USN&WR|
The prewar population of this Ukrainian town was 35,000. About half still remain. Soldiers of the 58th Ukrainian Brigade are stationed near the town. Within the town in eastern Ukraine there are Russian-speaking, Russian-backed separatists from the Ukrainian Army. And supposedly between them are the white-clad European cease-fire observers with their notebooks.
During the daytime hours the area is calm and it is quiet. It is, in fact, a waiting game. Waiting for twilight which will turn into day's end and the entry of night and all-encompassing dark. This is when the OSCE troops make themselves scarce. They are there as observers, to ensure that the two sides, the green-clad soldiers and their adversaries who do Russia's bidding respect cease-fire rules.
Should any violations occur that the unarmed OSCE observers make note of, they do just that. And nothing more. They can escort humanitarian aid and they may negotiate local truces. But only during daylight hours. OSCE reports cease-fire violations daily, however. The United Nations' figure is 10,000 deaths in eastern Ukraine since March of 2014.
|Soldiers from the 128th Brigade look toward separatist-controlled territory at a mining complex now serving as a frontline position. Paul D. Shinkman for USN&WR|
When the observers are out on patrols they accede to the demands of military commanders representing either side who may object o their presence; they simply turn and leave. They are so eager to please that one observer mission stationed at crossing posts on the Russian-Ukrainian border complied with Russian requests that binoculars not be used; what they cannot see they cannot report.
The mandate of the OSCE limits them to peace monitoring. They are not peacekeepers. Along the front line between Ukraine and the rebels about 600 observers are deployed. For the monitors business is over at five in the evening and they depart for the night to return the following morning. And then activity breaks the silence of the night.
Shooting erupts, bullets are fired from both lines to whack into the abandoned houses. Shooting escalates and then heavy artillery, forbidden to either side under the cease-fire agreement, sounds. Mysteriously, ambulances suddenly appear to carry the wounded to hospital.
|An apartment block that faces the current cease-fire line, and where locals still live, bears the scars of previous skirmishes. Paul D. Shinkman for USN&WR|