In Kharkiv, on 18 May, the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) observed two peaceful rallies of approximately 200 people each. The aim of the first was to demonstrate support for the Crimean Tatars, who were commemorating the 70th anniversary of their deportation. The second rally was organised by opponents of Ukraine’s unity, who called for a boycott of the presidential elections, nationalisation of factories, and asked the Russian Federation for support for their movement. The SMM observed a flag of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) at the rally.
The situation in Luhansk city remained tense. The SMM was approached by three Nigerian students on 18 May, who stated that the day before ‘pro-Russian people in uniform’ stopped a group of Nigerian students and led them to the SBU building. According to the interlocutors, 14 students are still being held – they had allegedly violated the ‘curfew’, introduced by the self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Luhansk.
The SMM observed a rally in front of the Regional Police building consisting of 100-150 persons, mainly pensioners, who demanded that the Head of Regional Police swear allegiance to the ‘Luhansk People's Republic’. Later on police officers with weapons and helmets were seen, when they were leaving the courtyard of the building. The SMM saw that the Deputy Police Commander shook hands with the representative of the separatist ‘South-Eastern Army’. The supporters of ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ informed the SMM that they had appointed their own ‘People’s Minister of Interior’.
In parts of Donetsk region tensions remained. On 18 May the SMM observed in the centre of Donetsk city a rally of approximately 400-500 supporters of the so called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, consisting mostly of people aged over 50 years. A number of different flags were displayed by the participants, including the ones of ‘Donbass Peoples’s Militia’, Russian Federation, ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Russian Block’. The separatist leaders, when addressing the crowd, openly complained about insufficient numbers of volunteers for their armed units and claimed that the Russian Federation had recognized the ‘referendum’ as legitimate. They called for a boycott of the presidential election and opening of the border with the Russian Federation for humanitarian aid to be delivered to the region. The crowd applauded or chanted slogans such as ‘Donbas’ or ‘Russia’ when incited by the speakers.
On 18 May in the morning five masked and armed men abducted three SMM monitors for about 20 minutes while on patrol in the centre of Donetsk. The monitors were informed that they were considered to be ‘prisoners of war’, and taken to the garage of the occupied SBU building. Later, the leader of the group apologised for the incident and the monitors were set free.
The SMM visited Telmanove, 80 km south of Donetsk, on 17 May. The overall situation in the town seemed to be normal. A Ukrainian flag was flying on top of the district administration’s building. According to the head of local police, the overall security situation was quiet and preparations for the upcoming presidential elections were underway. At the Uspenka Border Crossing (98 km south-east of Donetsk), the situation was found to be calm. The Ukrainian Commander of the Border Crossing informed the SMM that border traffic had decreased by one third when compared with last year.
On 17 May the SMM visited the city of Mariupol, which was surrounded by checkpoints manned by the National Guard and Ukrainian army. The centre of the city was cleaned of barricades. At the City Administration building, trucks were removing garbage. Mariupol sea port seemed to be operating as usual.
The situation in the southern Ukrainian cities of Dnepropetrovsk, Kherson and Odessa was calm. On 18 May in Kherson, the SMM observed the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. Approximately 250 people were present, including religious leaders and local politicians. In Odessa the SMM observed a peaceful rally of about 600-700 people, a clear majority of whom were aged over 50. They called for boycotting presidential elections and organising a referendum on ‘federalisation’.
Ukraine’s western and central parts with cities of Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Kyiv were calm. On 17 May the SMM spoke to the episcope of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), who informed the SMM that the monastery in Bancheny (23 km east of Chernivtsi) had been threatened by a small group of people from the Right Sector back in February. The episcope said that that he has been receiving numerous threatening and defamatory text messages since then, and that police responded well and have followed up on these threats.