Conflicts & War

Expanding minefields in Ukraine present growing danger to civilians

By Luis Ángel Reglero

Derachi, Ukraine, Jun 11 (EFE).- Before Russia invaded, Ukraine already had more landmines than most other countries around the world, due to the separatist conflict that has been simmering in the Donbas region since 2014.

These sinister explosives – which are particularly harmful to civilians – become more threatening with each day that the war with Russia drags on.

From an initial 16,000 square kilometers where there was evidence of mines in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, minefields have spread to more than four times that area to other parts of the country, according to the Ukrainian government.

Even if the war ends one day, there will still be mines left behind that explode when they detect vibrations as small as those emitted by a cell phone, without even being stepped on.

Antov Pavchencko works in one of the teams defusing these mines and other explosives left over from the fighting around the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, close to the front lines.

POM-3s, mines whose sensors detect the proximity of people at the slightest vibration, and can cause an aerial explosion that launches fragments meters away, have been found in this area.

He and his colleagues walk along ditches on the road leading to the town of Derachi, as well as the surrounding fields, to check that they are safe before workers can go in to repair a power station so that the farmers can get back to work.

A few days ago one of them was killed when his tractor drove over an explosive, while in a nearby village a woman died when she opened the door to her house and another booby-trapped explosive went off.

The young man tells Efe that 90% of the calls they receive are from civilians, many of them farmers, at the State Emergency Service’s Humanitarian Demining and Rapid Response Center in Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city.

The mine detectors, too, are among the victims. Three colleagues were killed recently; it was not possible to recover the remains of two of them who were blown into pieces, while four others were injured on their way to defuse a pile of explosives they had removed, Pavchencko laments.

A stick is used to detect threads in the ground that warn of a mine, and an advanced technical system then comes in to deactivate it.

“It requires total concentration and being constantly on top form,” Pavchencko says, because the slightest mistake can be fatal.

Although they receive regular training, it is not something that “you can ever get used to in your life,” he says.

They also have to know first aid, how to defend themselves against chemical weapons and many other skills that “you only get with practice,” says the sapper of 13 years.

One of his colleagues, Mykola, was wounded and is recovering in a hospital. The 56-year-old explains to Efe that he suffered several injuries when he was doing his job and a firefight with tanks began.

“I got blown up, but I was lucky, because the impact was close” and could have been worse, he warns. “Those of us who clear mines are one of the Russians’ targets, it costs time and money to train us,” he adds.

As in many wars, both sides accuse each other of using mines against non-military targets, leaving them, for example, under the bodies of those killed in combat, but also of using them as another weapon to terrorize civilians.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 1,000 people have been killed by landmines since 2014 in Ukraine, one of the main causes of civilian deaths during the war that began in the Donbas. About 1.8 million people have been “surrounded by mines” there for eight years.

The hidden danger on the ground that the mines entail affects many displaced people, as they flee through or into mined areas, causing death, severe maiming and both personal and collective trauma, the UNHCR warns.

Related Articles

Back to top button