by Olena Goncharova
Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) of the Ukrainian border guards drive past a newly constructed part of the border near the Goptivka border crossing on the Urkainian-Russian border, north of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has closed 23 checkpoints on the border with Russia as the Kremlin build up forces close to the strategic port city of Mariupol, situated between Russia and Crimea in Donetsk Oblast.
On Feb. 20, Ukraine's government issued a decree ordering the closure of one international, four interstate and 18 local border crossing points in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts.
A total of 39 checkpoints will still operate on the border with Russia, the State Border Service said. Three are located in Chernihiv Oblast, 14 in Sumy Oblast, 15 in Kharkiv Oblast, six in Luhansk Oblast and one in Kyiv Oblast.
Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers in Ukraine had already suspended crossings at 14 border posts (6 in Donetsk Oblast and 8 in Luhansk Oblast), due to a direct threat to the lives of those attempting to cross.
At that stage the border posts closed were Marynivka, Novoazovsk, Uspenka, Ilovaisk, Kvashyno, Donetsk, Dovzhansky, Chervona Mohyla, Izvaryne, Krasna Talivka, Yuhanivka, Herasymivka, Petrivka and Luhansk.
Viktoria Siumar, a former National Security and Defense Council official and a member of Prime Minister's Arseniy Yatsenyk People's Front, supported the decision.
“Ukraine is weak and can't defend itself as long as the country's borders are not protected," Siumar told the Kyiv Post. “It's a key priority task. When Ukraine doesn't control its borders Russia can influence the situation."
Siumar earlier said that “the Wall", an ambitious construction project announced by the Ukrainian government in early September, could be a great help in defending the country. The plan is to tighten security along the whole perimeter of the Russian border, which stretches along 2,295 kilometers.
The government plans to equip the border with ditches, vehicle-barrier trenches and high-tech surveillance towers to detect troop and vehicle movement from the Russian side.
In October, Yatsenyuk predicted that the wall will cost €66 million to build. Some months later, on Feb. 11, during the Cabinet meeting Yatsenyuk said that the government would try to halve the cost of the construction work, while some work has already started in Kharkiv Oblast.
Oleksandr Turchynov, who heads the National Security and Defense Council, said that Russia is doing its best to prevent Ukraine securing its border with the country.
"All Russian-terrorist groups staying in the occupied territory understand that as soon as the border is closed they will not stand even for several weeks, so Russia is blocking the [border closure] decision-making in every possible way," he said in Kyiv on Feb. 21 at the exhibition of Russian weapons captured from separatist and Russian forces during battles in the east of Ukraine.
Turchynov also believes closing the border is the first task that should be solved, and needs to be directly addressed by the participation of a peacekeeping mission.
However, some experts think the closure of the border should have been done much earlier, and is in fact well overdue.
“It would have started in summer, but now when Russian tanks and trucks loaded with ammunition cross the border almost daily it won't help much," Viacheslav Tseluiko, a military expert at the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, said. “If they couldn't enter the country via a checkpoint they would probably find another way."
According to Tseluiko, this step could only become effective if complemented by additional measures such as strengthening the border with engineering constructions and armed patrols.
Pavlo Kyshkar, a Donbas Battalion member and Samopomich Party lawmaker, was skeptical about the decision.
“This step may be a sign that Ukraine's officials are considering options of readiness for the introduction of martial law," Kyshkar says. “But the checkpoint closure in general won't solve our problems, it would be effective probably in Kharkiv Oblast only."