Death and destruction brought to Donbas by Russian ‘humanitarian convoy’
Why would armed militants prevent OSCE observers from viewing a ‘humanitarian load’ from the Russian Federation if it contained, as asserted, children’s food and rescue equipment? Ukrainian and many western analysts have long assumed that Russia’s so-called ‘humanitarian convoys’ are carrying a much more lethal load, with this the most credible explanation for the behaviour around the seventy-fifth convoy reported by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission and the US Mission to the OSCE.
The OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk issued a spot report on 24 May, stating that “a seventy-fifth Russian convoy of 16 vehicles crossed into Ukraine and returned through Donetsk Border Crossing Point” The convoy included 10 cargo trucks, with all but two of these with the inscription “Humanitarian help from the Russian Federation”.
Both the official RF reports and the Kremlin-backed ‘republics’ call this the seventy-seventh ‘humanitarian convoy’, meaning that two such convoys crossed into Ukraine without even the modicum of surveillance provided by the OSCE mission.
That spot report was similar to those about previous convoys, however this one coincided with apparently separate ‘humanitarian’ cargo trucks mentioned in the report for 24 May from the (separate) OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM).
The SMM reports visiting two border areas not under government control. At the border crossings near Sievernyi and near Izvaryne, men in military-type clothing told the SMM to move away. While near Izvaryne, SMM saw 11 white covered cargo trucks (all with Russian Federation licence plates), seven of which were labelled “Humanitarian Aid from the Russian Federation” (in Russian).
They also reported seeing “a convoy of cargo trucks from the Russian Federation. Of five cargo trucks in a compound in Luhansk, one was labelled “Humanitarian Aid from the Russian Federation,” the other trucks were not labelled. The SMM saw three armed men in military-type clothing standing around the perimeter of the compound. At the entrance of the compound, an armed man in military-type clothing told the SMM that it could not enter* and that none of the people traveling with the convoy could speak to the SMM without permission from the armed formations in Luhansk. Later the same day, the SMM observed a convoy of 11 white covered cargo trucks exiting Ukraine at the border crossing point in Izvaryne (52km south-east of Luhansk)”.
There would be no reason to so heavily guard and deny access to ‘children’s food items” or, indeed, any humanitarian freight. It is also unclear what this convoy was if the other one – where 16 entered Ukrainian territory, and 16 left, is that widely reported on Russian state-controlled television.
On 31 May Charge d’Affaires Harry Kamian from the US Mission to OSCE pointed out that they “have no idea what is actually inside these supposed humanitarian aid convoys, because the Russian Federation will not let the Observer Mission or the SMM inspect them or watch them unload. We do know, however, that these so-called aid trucks did not unload at any hospital, school, NGO, or UN warehouse. Rather, they were unloaded at a compound the SMM reported as used by Russia-led forces. Armed men in military uniforms guarded its perimeter and prevented the SMM monitors from seeing the cargo or speaking with anyone on site”.
Unfortunately, only the first of these convoys attracted international attention. The 280 trucks in August 2014 were supposed to be checked near Kharkiv and reloaded onto International Red Cross trucks. Instead the trucks suddenly changed direction entering the Luhansk oblast through the militant-controlled border.
It should therefore not be of any surprise that foreign journalists discovered that many of the trucks they were shown appeared either half or almost totally empty. Some of their contents may have been quietly removed en route, or the entire exercise was aimed at exhausting international interest so that the subsequent convoys could pass virtually unnoticed. The ruse may also have served as a distraction. Around this time, a Polish TV correspondent was filming a seemingly endless succession of Russian military trucks with men, armed personnel carriers, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons moving towards a part of the Russian-Ukrainian border not under Ukrainian government control.
A video posted on Jan 8 apparently showed militants unloading what they termed ‘New Year gifts’ for Ukraine’s President and others from another such convoy. Both the comments from the militants, and the long crates visible, make it clear that the men are unloading weapons.
Another possibility considered in Ukraine, and by the independent media in Russia, is that the trucks have also been used to carry back to Russia the bodies of Russians killed in the fighting, and / or technical equipment, even coal, plundered from militant-controlled Donbas.
In January, 2016, when there had been 48 such convoys, Ukraine’s Mirko Sablich group produced a video clip about the likely content of these ‘humanitarian loads’. The clip was a biting response to a pathos-filled propaganda stunt on the Russian State-controlled Channel One in which the convoys are referred to as ‘brotherly aid’.
The satirical clip begins in exactly the same place as the Russian Channel 1 clip with the presenters waxing lyrical about the ‘humanitarian supplies’. However, where the presenters claim that the convoys brought ‘textbooks’, the viewer sees the passenger bus hit by a militant Grad missile while standing at a Ukrainian checkpoint near Volnovakha (Donetsk oblast). Then when the presenter talks of “toys for children”, we see grenades.
The bitter satire is heightened by the use of the same original footage from the propaganda event. The lines below are sung twice.
When we took a humanitarian convoy …. I thought of my bitter fate.
It’s a simple arrangement, triple pay. We take weapons there, and bring Cargo 200 back. Why the hell, brother, tell me, am I putting my life on the line for the sake of the big Kremlin lie?
When we return from the war, if we return from the war, I’ll run and visit Kirill [Patriarch Kirill is shown, in a picture clearly indicating his support for the convoys] for him to absolve my sins. I’ll go to confess, to pray my sins away.
For the mountains of suffering, for the sea of tears, for the crippled children, for the sorrow that I brought, for the pain of soldiers’ mothers, for the sorrow that I brought them.
The day will come, the day of reckoning will come to us for having bandit-like taken Crimea, for having destroyed Donbas, for having like brutes taken Crimea, for having destroyed Donbas.
Those who incite war will always be called to answer, those thousands of deaths will pave our road to hell. (then the refrain)"
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