søndag 12. mars 2017

Crossing the border between Donbass people's republics: DPR and LPR

What does it take to travel in the former Ukraine, from Donetsk to Lugansk? Many westerners don’t know even the basic facts about Donbass, that it consists of two young nations, the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. But when you live here in Donbass, you soon start to understand, that Donetsk and Lugansk really are different states, which have many remarkable differences and independent statuses.

The procedure for crossing the border between Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) People's Republics has been in a constant change. Since the beginning of the civil war, the difference between Lugansk and Donetsk has been visible and also real. Both young states have had their own governance, leaders and armed forces, independent administrations and state institutions. 

When I arrived for the first time to free Donbass about two years ago, the separation between the states was seen only on the administrative level and army structure. For normal civilians, it really didn't matter if you were from Donetsk or Lugansk, and visible differences were seen only in state ceremonies, flags, shields and batches.

In the past two years, we have witnessed lots of changes in this sphere. Today the DPR and LPR have their own passports, and both states have their own systems. We can see that two new national identities are growing.

My opinion is that political, administrational and armed cooperation, coordination and people's unity between DPR and LPR have improved significantly in the past two years. Development has been dependent on the people and on the mutual respect. It has come clear that both young states want to keep their independence, and this means also from each other. 
Demand for mutual respect of their independence has also grown new borders between the Donbass people. 
When I for the first time crossed the border checkpoint between Donetsk and Lugansk in Summer 2015, not even my passport was checked. The border control station was like any other military block post, which you can find in a conflict zone.  But in matter of just a short period of time, things have changed between the republics. 

First, we saw new Customs Offices being built on both sides of the border line, and then the united block posts were separated into two different check points, which soon had their own officials, flags, batches and systems. And then after the physical changes, came also the new bureaucracy and rules.

Today when you pass the border between DPR and LPR, you have to be ready for full border control and procedures, which are common on all borders in the Russian world. The team of officials from three different state institutions are presented on the border: Police, Ministry of State Security (MGB) and People's Militia.

On the border, instructions are written in Russian and everybody speaks only Russian, so for a foreigner the situation can be a challenging experience. Foreigners are also not common visitors at the border control stations, so you can easily find yourself surrounded by curious officials, and at the same time, you will suddenly see lots of pistols, uniforms and of course, Kalashnikov's around you.
Don't worry. Your safety is guaranteed and DPR and LPR officials have very high morale. So please, don't even try to bribe these guys!
Today your car will be checked, all documents are inspected carefully, and official information is placed to the border control database. For foreign cars, special documents will be written. You can hear some questions about your occupation or destination, reason for your travel, etc. 

This all shows clearly, that the border between the DPR and LPR is very real, and its tight. These days the border procedure can take approximately an hour, depending on the traffic, and this needed "extra time" should take into account when anticipating traveling time in Donbass. 
But in the end, what makes everything easy is the good, very polite - even warm atmosphere, which you feel when dealing with the officials. 
I have passed the border between LPR and DPR tens of times at different crossing points (Debaltsevo and Krasnyi Luch) and what I can assure you after lots of experience, is that officials in the DPR and LPR do not want to make you feel uncomfortable, because of them filling their tasks. In the end, security, control and procedures, are all for the common good, in the proudly independent Donbass people's republics.

Editorial article, Janus Putkonen, director
DONi Donbass International News Agency