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International team of observers has been in eastern Ukraine to monitor 2015 cease-fire

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukrainian officials have ordered a nationwide state of emergency for the next 30 days. This comes after Russia declared two regions of Ukraine as independent and then sent in Russian troops. There's an international team of observers in eastern Ukraine, and they're there to monitor compliance of a 2015 cease-fire deal between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists. That deal called for a buffer zone free of heavy weapons. Ambassador Yasar Cevik is chief monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Special Mission in Ukraine, and he says abuses of the cease-fire have been happening on both sides of this conflict. We spoke earlier this morning from his base in Kyiv.

YASAR HALIT CEVIK: The cease-fire violations have increased since Friday. And now the violations are around 2,500 daily. Before these tensions arise, there were around on average between 150 and 600. And also, another important observation we have is the heavy weapons usage has increased percentagewise. This means more weapons are used with fragmentation effects, artillery and those armaments that were actually proscribed by the Minsk weapons. So the situation is tense. We are receiving civilian casualty allegations from both sides. We are receiving also military casualties from both sides. These are all allegations for us because our protocol, our methodology, requires that we need to corroborate all this information before we put them in our weekly reports, which are, of course, public. So it is increased activity, but, I mean, we cannot determine, of course, which side is having more violations. All I can say is the violations are happening on both sides of the line of contact.

MARTIN: The OSCE has seen its numbers shrink in recent weeks in Ukraine. Staff from Canada, Great Britain and the U.S. have left. What kind of difference has that made?

CEVIK: Sometimes (ph) an inflexible organization, it is agile, it is adaptive, it is highly mobile. Of course, some of our colleagues have been withdrawn by some of the countries that you mentioned, but they were not limited to those countries that are being mentioned. We were able to make the necessary movements for their departure, and we arranged our posture during that time, and we continue doing our work, and we completed all this procedure within 48 hours. So a lot of movement had to be done, but we never ceased our normal operations.

MARTIN: Was it disappointing to see these countries pull out their OSCE monitors right when you need them more than ever?

CEVIK: I do not want to mix the feelings with the professional work we are doing. This mission can adapt, did adapt. It was maybe a difficult period, but now we are again stabilized and working and delivering our reports.

MARTIN: What do you want a broader audience to understand about the importance of your work right now?

CEVIK: In any tension and conflict, reaching out to the reliable information is the most important thing because part of fighting is also disinformation for the public. And I know the wider public looks for reliable information. This is why we are here. Being a neutral organization making observations, we try to satisfy that need - or demand, actually.

MARTIN: But does Russia consider you to be an independent broker? I mean, a Kyiv-appointed governor in the Luhansk region complained to The Guardian newspaper that the departures of Western countries in particular has led to a pro-Russian bias.

CEVIK: That is out of question. We are a multilateral organization. Our team is comprised of 40-plus nations, and we have mechanisms to eliminate any bias in our reporting. There is never a team comprised of one nationality. There is never reporting based on one nationality. This is normal for any multilateral international organization. And since we are doing a very sensitive job as a - from the beginning, from its establishment, from its inception, has taken well care of this aspect, I can say comfortably that our reporting is never challenged by the sides on the ground.

MARTIN: Ambassador Yasar Cevik, chief monitor for the OSCE Special Mission in Ukraine. We appreciate your time. Thank you.

CEVIK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.