Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine left tens of thousands of Ukrainians unable to live their lives freely. But Russia’s aggression did not change Ukraine’s international borders.
Ukraine has internationally recognized borders. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its control of parts of the Donbas don’t change that.
About 1.5 million Ukrainians are categorized as internally displaced since 2014, when Russia illegally seized Crimea and invaded parts of eastern Donbas. Many Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes and have been unable to return.
A “line of contact” resulting from the 2014 Russian invasion stretches approximately 400 kilometers long in the southeastern corner of Ukraine, through Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, known as the Donbas region. Ukraine’s central government controls the west side of that line while Russia-led forces control the east. Both sides of the line are internationally recognized as part of Ukraine’s territory.
“Russia blocks Ukrainians from crossing the line of contact, cutting them off from the rest of the country …
Hundreds of families don’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead.”
~ U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Despite Russia’s efforts to portray the conflict as an internal one carried out by “separatists,” the armed groups in Russia-controlled Donbas are Russia’s proxies. They help spread disinformation and undermine the reintegration of the rest of Ukraine, as stipulated by the Minsk agreements.
Understanding the ‘line of contact’
The line of contact is more difficult to cross than many international borders. One of the checkpoints, Novotroitske in Donetsk, is only open twice a week.
Ukrainians seeking to cross the nearest contact line to visit relatives, withdraw money or obtain pension benefits are forced to travel long distances. They spend hours waiting to cross checkpoints because many of the sites are ill-equipped to accommodate large numbers of people.
Two-thirds of all Ukrainians who cross the line are older than 60 and must do so to provide verification for their pension benefits, according to the United Nations.
In 2019 an average of 1.2 million people crossed each month. About 59,000 people crossed the line in December 2021.
The United States signed an agreement in February 2022, called the Partnership Fund for a Resilient Ukraine, with the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland to provide funding for communities in eastern Ukraine affected by Russia’s aggression.
“Ukraine isn’t the aggressor here,” Blinken said.