@StateDept Issues Guidance For Ukraine Land Border Crossings

 

On March 1, the State Department issued new guidance on land border crossings for U.S. citizens departing Ukraine.

U.S. citizens wishing to depart Ukraine by land have several options, listed below. We understand that most border crossings into Poland and all main crossing points into Moldova are severely backed up and some are experiencing extremely long wait times (well over 30 hours in some cases). We recommend that, if possible, U.S. citizens consider redirecting to border crossings with Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, which are currently experiencing lower wait times to cross.

Note that conditions at each border can change very quickly and wait times can increase at any time without warning. Be prepared to wait for many hours to cross:

    • Have extra batteries and power banks for your mobile phones.
    • Bring enough food and water for at least two days.
    • Stock up on diapers and baby food, if applicable.
    • Bring blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes.
    • Ensure enough pet food if you are with your pet.
    • Bring hard copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports [even if expired], any other identification) and don’t rely on cell phones and computer batteries.
    • Book accommodations prior to arrival, as many hotels near the borders are already booked.

Local authorities in Romania, Poland, and Moldova have reception centers immediately beyond most border crossings, where you can find food, temporary lodging, clothes, and transportation to the next bigger town.

Specific info on entering neighboring countries from Ukraine

Read more here.

US EMBASSY POLAND

US EMBASSY ROMANIA

US EMBASSY HUNGARY

US EMBASSY SLOVAKIA

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US Embassy Moscow Now on “Authorized Departure” For Non-Emergency Staff and USG Family Members

 

On February 28, 2022, the State Department also announced the US Embassy Moscow is now under an “authorized departure” order for non-emergency staff and USG family members.

The U.S. Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (“authorized departure”) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia. We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine. The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation. We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.

Also on February 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel Advisory for Russia citing the Russian military forces attack in Ukraine, the potential harassment of American citizens, and limited flights out of the country among other things, and urge their departure from Russia while commercial flights are still available.

Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, limited flights into and out of Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.  U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.

Due to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, an increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines.  In addition, air space around southern Russia is restricted and a number of airports in the area have closed.  U.S. citizens located in or considering travel to the districts of the Russian Federation immediately bordering Ukraine should be aware that the situation along the border is dangerous and unpredictable. 

Given the ongoing armed conflict, U.S. citizens are strongly advised against traveling by land from Russia to Ukraine.  In addition, there is the potential throughout Russia of harassment towards foreigners, including through regulations targeted specifically against foreigners.  Given the ongoing armed conflict and the potentially significant impact on international travel options, U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.

The Advisory notes that the embassy’s ability to provide routine or emergency assistance to Americans is severely limited, as well as the voluntary evacuation of non-emergency personnel and USG family members from the country:

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia is severely limited, particularly in areas far from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow due to Russian government limitations on U.S. staffing and travel, and the ongoing suspensions of operations, including consular services, at U.S. consulates.

On February 28, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members and non-emergency personnel from U.S. Embassy Moscow.

Also on February 28, @USUN Spokesperson Olivia Dalton issued a statement on the expulsion of 12 Russians reportedly intelligence operatives at the Russian Mission at the United Nations for “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security:”

The United States has informed the United Nations and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling twelve intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security. We are taking this action in accordance with the UN Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months.

 

US Embassy Moscow Issues Security Alert on Limited Flights Into and Out of Russia

 

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USG to Allow Certain Persons From Ukraine to Travel to US Without Pre-Departure COVID-19 Tests

On February 14, the United States announced the temporary relocation of US Embassy operations from Kyiv to Lviv. (U.S. Shuts Down Embassy Kyiv, “Temporarily Relocating” Operations to Lviv). 
According to a CDC announcement, on February 15, 2022, the Secretary of Homeland Security determined that it is in the national interest to permit the entry of noncitizen nonimmigrants who (1) are traveling with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; (2) were physically present in Ukraine as of February 10, 2022; and (3) possess valid travel documents allowing them to travel to the United States. Covered persons will not be required to provide proof of negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding their flights to the United States. All travelers are still required to “properly wear well-fitting masks during the flight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that, based on a request from the U.S. Department of State and consistent with the determination made by the Secretary of Homeland Security, it will exercise its enforcement discretion regarding certain aspects of its “Amended Order: Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test Result or Recovery from COVID-19 for All Airline Passengers Arriving into the United States,” and its Amended Order Implementing Presidential Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic pdf icon[PDF – 52 pages],” effective immediately. This exercise of enforcement discretion is limited to the following groups of individuals, to the extent they were physically present in Ukraine as of February 10, 2022: U.S. citizens; lawful permanent residents; noncitizens in possession of a valid U.S. immigrant visa; as well as noncitizen nonimmigrants who are traveling with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and possess valid travel documents allowing them to travel to the United States (collectively, “covered persons”). This exercise of enforcement discretion will enter into effect immediately and expire on March 1, 2022, at 2359 ET, subject to any further extensions.

Pursuant to this exercise of enforcement discretion, covered persons will not be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding a flight to the United States or to complete the attestation at Section 1 of the Combined Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America pdf icon[PDF – 7 pages] form.

CDC requests that all air carriers cooperate in this exercise of enforcement discretion. Noncitizen nonimmigrants must continue to complete Section 2 of the Combined Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America pdf icon[PDF – 7 pages] form attesting to either being fully vaccinated and providing proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or, if traveling pursuant to an exception, including a national interest exception, that they have made arrangements to receive a COVID-19 test within three to five days of arrival in the United States, to self-quarantine for seven days, to self-isolate in the event of a positive COVID-19 test or the development of COVID-19 symptoms, and to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19 within 60 days of arrival in the United States if intending to stay in the United States for more than 60 days.

All travelers are also required to properly wear a well-fitting mask to keep the nose and mouth covered during the flight, including on public transportation and in airports and other transportation hubs. Travelers may further be subject to additional public health measures as may be required by State and local health authorities at their arrival location in the United States.

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U.S. Shuts Down Embassy Kyiv, “Temporarily Relocating” Operations to Lviv

Secretary of State Blinken on US Embassy Kyiv Operations /February 14, 2022 via state.gov:

“I have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world, and that, of course, includes our colleagues serving at our posts overseas. My team and I constantly review the security situation to determine when prudence dictates a change in posture. With that in mind, we are in the process of temporarily relocating our Embassy operations in Ukraine from our Embassy in Kyiv to Lviv due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces. The Embassy will remain engaged with the Ukrainian government, coordinating diplomatic engagement in Ukraine.  We are also continuing our intensive diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis.

These prudent precautions in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine. Our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We also continue our sincere efforts to reach a diplomatic solution, and we remain engaged with the Russian government following President Biden’s call with President Putin and my discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov. The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage in good faith. We look forward to returning our staff to the Embassy as soon as conditions permit.

In the meantime, I have ordered these measures for one reason — the safety of our staff — and we strongly urge any remaining U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately. U.S. citizens seeking emergency assistance in Ukraine should complete this online form, and the State Department will follow-up, as appropriate.”

WSJ reports that the State Department “ordered the destruction of networking equipment and computer workstations and the dismantling of the embassy telephone system” citing  U.S. officials familiar with the matter and internal communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.  “Those moves render the Kyiv embassy inoperable as a diplomatic facility.”
Remember that photo we posted about the closure of US Embassy Tripoli as they prepared to evacuate post in 2011? (see Photo of the Day: Sledgehammer Workout, No Joke). That’s that.
The Regional Security Officer and two Assistant Regional Security Officers destroy electronics at U.S. Embassy Tripoli on February 24, 2011 as they prepare to evacuate the post. (Photo from Diplomatic Security 2011 Year in Review)

The Regional Security Officer and two Assistant Regional Security Officers destroy electronics at U.S. Embassy Tripoli on February 24, 2011 as they prepare to evacuate the post. (Photo from Diplomatic Security 2011 Year in Review)

U.S. Embassy Kyiv Suspends Consular Services, Maintains Consular Presence in Lviv

 

On February 12, the State Department ordered the mandatory evacuation of “most U.S. direct hire employees from the US Embassy in Kyiv. Also on February 12, US Embassy Kyiv announced that U.S. citizens may enter Poland through the land border with Ukraine:

“Poland has indicated to the U.S. government that U.S. citizens may now enter Poland through the land border with Ukraine.  No advanced approval is required.  We encourage those traveling into Poland by land from Ukraine to cross at the Korczowa-Krakovets or Medyka-Shehyni border crossings.  U.S. citizens must present a valid U.S. passport and proof of COVID-19 vaccination.  Travelers are also encouraged to present a negative test result from a PCR or antigen COVID-19 test, which will facilitate entry into Poland.”

On February 13, the State Department suspended consular services in Kyiv. The Level 4/Do Not Travel advisory for Ukraine notes that the Embassy Kyiv “will maintain a small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine to handle emergencies” but no passport, visa or routine services will be provided.

Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19; those in Ukraine should depart immediately via commercial or private means. If remaining in Ukraine, exercise increased caution due to crime, civil unrest, and potential combat operations should Russia take military action. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

On February 12, 2022, the Department of State ordered the departure of most U.S. direct hire employees from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action. U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine, and those in Ukraine should depart immediately using commercial or other privately available transportation options. The Department previously authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members on January 23, 2022.

As of Sunday, February 13, 2022, the Department of State will suspend consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. The Embassy will maintain a small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine to handle emergencies, but will not be able to provide passport, visa or routine consular services.  U.S. citizens may seek these services at U.S. Embassies in neighboring countries. U.S. citizens seeking emergency assistance in Ukraine should complete this online form and the State Department will respond.

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@StateDept’s Interagency Group to Coordinate Repatriation – Not Convened Since April 2019

 

In November 2021, the GAO released its review of the State Department’s repatriation efforts at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (see State Carried Out Historic Repatriation Effort but Should Strengthen Its Preparedness for Future Crises).
GAO’s report concludes in part that:

State carried out a historic effort in helping to repatriate more than 100,000 individuals during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the passengers who responded to our survey gave State high marks for its communication and information related to repatriation. In addition, State’s application of lessons learned from its COVID-19 repatriation effort will help it address future crises effectively.

However, although State took steps to prepare for a global crisis such as the pandemic, addressing several gaps could improve State’s
preparedness to carry out future repatriations. Reconvening quarterly meetings of the WLG, which has not met since April 2019, would ensure better communication among the agencies involved in planning emergency evacuations.

The publicly available 1998 MOU between the State Department and DOD on the protection and evacuation of US citizens and nationals and designated other persons from threatened areas overseas explains the role of the WLG:

The Washington Liaison Group (WLG) is an organization consisting of members of the Departments of State and Defense, chaired by a representative of the Department of State, which has basic responsibility for the coordination and implementation of plans for the protection and evacuation in emergencies of persons abroad for whom the Secretaries of State and/or Defense are responsible. The representatives on the WLG are the points of contact for their departments on all matters pertaining to emergency evacuation planning, implementation of plans, and coordination of repatriation activities with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Regional liaison groups are established overseas and activated upon the recommendation of the WLG to assist in the coordination of emergency and evacuation planning between the Departments of State and Defense for areas outside the United States.

GAO notes that WLG members include DOD, DHS, and HHS, among other agencies, as well as a number of State bureaus. Specifically, State WLG members include CA, DS, the Bureau of Administration, the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, the Office of the Legal Advisor, and regional bureaus.
More from the GAO report:

Although State established an interagency group—the WLG—to ensure coordination for the protection and evacuation of U.S. citizens abroad, State did not sustain the regular quarterly WLG meetings, which may have contributed to gaps in interagency communication during the global repatriation effort. State and DOD established the WLG in 1998, with State as the lead agency, to coordinate and implement plans for the evacuation of persons abroad during emergencies, and according to State officials, State formalized WLG’s charter in 2018.39 The charter states that the WLG is expected to meet quarterly. CMS—which is responsible for department-wide crisis preparedness and response activities—manages the WLG’s day-to-day operations, including scheduling meetings.40 However, as of May 2021, CMS officials told us that they had not convened the group since April 2019.

According to CMS officials, after the WLG last met in April 2019 and before the pandemic began, members of the group questioned the
purpose of further meetings. CMS officials told us that, in response, they offered to schedule future meetings on request or if the need arose.
According to the officials, in February 2021, interagency WLG members expressed interest in CMS reconvening the WLG to discuss information sharing about repatriation across and among the task forces. However, CMS delayed reconvening the WLG in part because of limited capacity within CMS to manage the group while also playing an active role in managing State’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CMS officials.

State documents and comments by CMS officials suggest that the lack of WLG meetings before and during the pandemic may have contributed to gaps related to interagency communication. In internal documents, State identified a number of gaps related to interagency communication during the pandemic, such as a lack of knowledge of how to communicate with other agencies, lack of guidance about points of contact at other agencies, and lack of clarity about U.S. government policy on repatriation. Comments by State officials indicated that such gaps led to challenges in communicating with the correct offices at interagency partners and coordinating repatriation efforts with interagency partners in the absence of clear, established policy. For example, CMS officials told us that regular meetings of the WLG would have facilitated interagency communication at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, because such communication would have reduced the effort required to identify the correct contacts in other agencies.

In part because CMS did not convene quarterly WLG meetings in accordance with the group’s charter, State’s ability to coordinate with other agencies to respond to the pandemic and carry out repatriation activities was diminished. In addition to the requirement for the WLG to meet quarterly, leading practices for interagency coordination based on our prior work call for agencies to consider how to sustain leadership of interagency groups over the long term—such as by meeting regularly—in order to maintain the group’s effectiveness.41 CMS officials told us in May 2021 that they planned to reconvene the WLG in the future but did not know when that would occur. Convening quarterly meetings of the WLG would enhance State’s ability to coordinate repatriation activities with other agencies in any future global crisis.

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US Embassy Minsk Now on Ordered Departure For USG Family Members

 

On January 31, the State Department issued a Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for Belarus. It also announced the “ordered departure” of family members of USG employees from Belarus. Ordered departure is a mandatory evacuation order. Excerpt below:

Do not Travel to Belarus due to the arbitrary enforcement of laws, the risk of detention, and unusual and concerning Russian military buildup along Belarus’ border with Ukraine. Reconsider travel due to COVID-19 and related entry restrictions.

On January 31, 2022, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees.

Due to an increase in unusual and concerning Russian military activity near the border with Ukraine, U.S. citizens located in or considering travel to Belarus should be aware that the situation is unpredictable and there is heightened tension in the region. On January 23, 2022, the Department of State also authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees (USDH) and ordered the departure of eligible family members (EFM) from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action. Potential harassment targeted specifically at foreigners is also possible.  Given the heightened volatility of the situation, U.S. citizens are strongly advised against traveling to Belarus.

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Belarus is already severely limited  due to Belarusian government limitations on U.S. Embassy staffing.

Read the full announcement here.
In June 2021, the Belarus Foreign Ministry summoned the Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Minsk and informed him of retaliatory measures against the United States. The measures included the reduction of the diplomatic and administrative-technical personnel of the American diplomatic mission, the tightening of visa procedures, the limitation of the work of American specialists in Belarus on a temporary basis. The government also revoked the work permit for USAID.
In 2008, the Belarusian Government imposed restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Minsk, and the State Department was forced to reduce its embassy staff from 35 to five diplomats as well as withdraw the U.S. Ambassador. The number of U.S. diplomats was later increased to six in July 2014. The current CDA Ruben Harutunian assumed his duties as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on May 24, 2021.
In April 2020, with improved relations with the dictator in Belarus, the Trump Administration announced the nomination of  career diplomat Julie Fisher as the first U.S. Ambassador to Minsk since 2008. She was confirmed in December 2020.  It April 2021, Ambassador Fischer was reported to temporarily reside in Lithuania as she was not granted a visa to travel to Minsk. Her official bio at US Embassy Minsk says she was refused a visa by the Belarus authorities, and she relocated to Lithuania in October 2021. She currently holds the title of U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus, a position with ambassadorial rank.

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