The way to Crimea: How people cross the administrative border

Author : Olena Holubeva

Source : 112 Ukraine

Since March 2016, the communication between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea has been lying through three checkpoints: Kalanchak, Chaplyanka, and Chongar. The journalist of has passed through Kalanchak and Armiansk motor vehicle crossing points to understand how people get to the peninsula
10:00, 26 February 2018

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The Kalanchak and the Armiansk motor vehicle crossing point (MVCP) are separated by some 500 m. "I have counted, these are some 600-650 steps," the driver of the minibus, who is driving people from Kalanchak to Kherson, told me. I take out my passport and turn to the pedestrian walkway, separated by a metal fence, painted with the colors of Ukraine’s flag; together with other people, I go to occupied Crimea. As soon as I do it, I immediately lose all the privileges that I had a moment ago, moving with a flock of fellow journalists who are visiting the checkpoints on the administrative border with Crimea together with representatives of the State Border Service, the Ministry for Temporary Occupied Territories and internally displaced persons, representatives of Kherson regional administration.

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From this moment, I should obey the norms and the rules actual for usual people, why daily cross the administrative border. “Put away the cell phone. The checkpoint is not the right place for taking photos or video. What is the purpose of your visit to occupied Crimea? " strictly and clearly asked Ukrainian border guard. I give him my passport: "I am a journalist. I want to cross the administrative border in a way the other citizens do it." The border guard for several seconds looks at me embarrassed. Then he puts a loose leaf in the passport and returns it back to me. Literally in ten meters the tall guys in warm camouflage, armed with "Kalashs," took it away. The border guards at the checkpoints with occupied Crimea go on duty with four complete magazines of 30 cartridges each and with a signal pistol.

Related: Since 2014, Russia detains 456 Ukrainians in occupied Crimea

Quite a shabby billboard "See you in Kherson region", coils of barbed wire, covered with a camouflage net, shelter, concrete blocks with a red marking on them in the form of a Christmas tree, a tower in the window of which one sees a person in a pea coat. The journalists ask whether this person is a sniper, border guards say that this is representatives of the State Border Service serve, and information about snipers is classified.

Related: How Russia bypasses sanctions and buys foreign equipment for Crimea

The distance between Ukraine’s and Russia’s flags is about several meters. A "neutral zone" begins here. Here are that 500 m, or 650 steps, to Armiansk MVCP, behind which the territory of the occupied Crimea begins.

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People are walking through the paved neutral zone, carrying their bags, bales, and shopping strollers. Several cars are passing by. The road to Armiansk MVCP has six lanes: three for entry and three for an exit. In addition, there is a pedestrian crossing. I have learned from the show on the Russian channel, that there is an armored capsule in the entrance direction of the checkpoint near the barrier. One more is on the exit. The representative of "Rosgranstroy" told that "in case of emergency, the fifth class of bulletproofness allows one to hide alongside and to fire back too". The show also said that along the perimeter of the MVCP, special floodlights have been installed, which make it possible to illuminate the territory in 50 m behind the checkpoint.

By the way, speaking about shopping strollers and bags. You can bring up to 10 thousand euros or Russian rubles in equivalent up to 10 thousand UAH trough Kalanchak, Chaplynka, and Chongar checkpoints. Goods and material values at a value of up to 10 thousand euros.

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Foreigners who legally leave for the occupied peninsula must show the thumb of their right hand to be scanned (fingerprint) to verify their identity. By the way, they can pass to the occupied peninsula only through Armiansk MVCP. It is impossible to go to the occupied peninsula or drive it by car with transit car plates: none of the three MVCP will let you go through the Ukrainian administrative border.

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So I am going through the neutral zone. There is a new sign in front of me: a warning that "when traveling from the state border of the Russian Federation to the checkpoint, it is prohibited to go outside the road (adjacent roadsides), disembark people, unload cargo, goods, and animals. Responsibility in accordance with the requirements of the legislation of the Russian Federation."

By the way, it is dangerous to leave the roadside: Ukrainian border guards do not hide that "the entire administrative border with the occupied Crimea is mined."

I was the only member of my group, who decided to go through the checkpoint of the occupational authorities. Did I understand that all the risks..? Apparently, not fully. After all, ordinary life in Ukraine...

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Clearly visible complex faced with gray slabs is ahead of me. The inscription: “Russia: Armiansk MVCP.” A billboard:" Welcome to Crimea." Before entering the checkpoint, two armed men in the form of Russian border guards check me. "Your residence permit?" one of them asks me. “I am a journalist, I just want to pass through the checkpoints." The border guard looks perplexed. "What is your residence permit?" “I am registered in Kyiv, but I am a journalist.” “That is clear. Will you cross the border?”


Related: Feb.26 to be officially recognized in Ukraine as Day of Crimea’s opposition to Russian occupation

In order to move on, I need to fill in the declaration. "Surname, name, date of entry, date of departure, passport number, date, the purpose of visit, signature". "And how can I indicate the purpose of my visit, I am a journalist? Should I underline ‘work’?” "Please underline ‘private purpose’," the border guard advises.

It was also necessary to specify the type of baggage. I have a tiny backpack with me. "Please underline, hand luggage," he said. "May I take a picture of this declaration? " I asked, taking out the phone from my pocket. "Put the phone away. Taking photo and video at the checkpoint are prohibited," he snapped.

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After that, I find myself in a rather long and narrow corridor, formed by a green metal fence. In parallel to it, one more green corridor is on the way out. Perhaps, I would not manage to climb: the wall of the corridor is high. And what would happen if I run back to neutral zone? I go forward.

I am waiting in a queue and reading a set of rules written on the stand. It is prohibited to cross the checkpoint with forged documents, insult obscenities and use obscene gestures.

I go into the room. I present two passports at the front desk: internal and foreign one, as well as the journalist ID. I keep the driver’s license and the accreditation card to the Verkhovna Rada in my passport too. Frankly speaking, I am just a journalist, I want to leave the checkpoint in the direction of Armiansk and go back.

“Take off the cover from your passport! - The border guard became irritated. - Tell me the purpose of your visit!”

I repeat.

She turns to the employee in the form of a border guard standing behind. I understand that she needs help: the situation is really unusual. The man asks me to wait and goes out. Then he returns and suggests following him. We enter a tiny room with several chairs, tables, and two monitors (at that time non-working). A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the wall.

A man in the blue uniform of a Russian border guard is polite and friendly. He looks at my documents.

“How can I refer to you?” he asked. “Aliona. Just Aliona,” I said. He became embarrassed: "Sorry, I cannot refer to you like this." He opens my passport: “Yelena…” “Nikolayevna,” I replied. “Yelena Nikolaevna. Good.”

He calls his name and patronymic, without calling his surname and position.


Related: Some 20.4 servicemen in Crimea kept loyal to their oath in 2014 – former deputy defense minister

He asks whether I have equipment for photo, video or sound recording. I get the phone out of my pocket. My interlocutor asks me to turn it off and put it on the table. And I do this. I patiently explain the purpose of my visit, adding that I have only twenty minutes to find out all that I need crossing Armiansk MVCP. Soon it became clear to me that twenty minutes would not be enough. I had to repeat the same thing to several other interlocutors dressed in camouflage uniforms without identification marks.

They behaved very politely and calmly, but I felt the tension in the air. No, it is difficult to understand in Ukraine, in the usual reality. And there you can feel literally with your skin, you carefully chose every word, how you are afraid to say or do something wrong. My interlocutors felt tensed too. There was a feeling that they were just wasting time. I thought that, apparently, the issue was solved elsewhere, and they simply waited for a decision: the situation was really unusual.

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I was politely asked to show the contents of my bag. They have found a pen and asked me, what kind of pen was that? An ordinary ballpoint pen from some presentation. I wanted to give them my pen, but they refused. They ask me what aspects of Armiansk MVCP am I interested in, what do I write as a journalist, the purpose of my visit there. They also asked whether my relatives were somehow connected with the Security Services. I asked for water - they brought it for me. And the more polite and friendly my interlocutors were, the stronger and clearer was the feeling of my own helplessness, of understanding that I was in a foreign jurisdiction. And have realized that we are representatives of the warring countries. This awareness becomes so clear. And it is so incomprehensible and painful. You understand that you just have no experience, no knowledge of how to behave. What is right and what is not? What is moral and what is not? What can I do? What is not allowed? Many questions do not have an answer because there are no precedents in the past.


Related: Putin decided to annex Crimea on short notice on February 23, 2014, - ex-Russian MP

I am denied the opportunity to complete the procedure and leave the checkpoint (in the direction of Armiansk). I apologize for taking so much time. They explain that if I moved like an ordinary citizen of Ukraine without the goal of writing for the media, the whole procedure would take no more than a few minutes. They say that it is necessary to apply to the press service of the Border Guard Service of the Russian Federation.

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After turning to the Ukrainian side, I have walked no more than 50 m and made a few photographs of the neutral zone. The guys were waiting for me at the there. "How would they see from this distance that I am taking a photo?" I ask the border guards. "Just look. The video cameras are situated some ten meters from the place where we stand."

I was also explained that I have got a "double-crossing", and I should fill in the customs declaration. The line “The country you’ve arrived from” has really astonished me. "Is this a provocation?" I have yelled. No, the employee said: "Just write ‘Crimea’ Free economic zone’."

After that, the SBU representative came to the checkpoint to have a conversation with me. But I will not disclose its details.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.


Related: Up to 20% of officers of Crimean Department of SBU abided to Ukrainian oath, - ex-SBU Head

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