The war in Donbas does not only mean destroyed cities, factories and more than a million and a half people who have left their homes forever. It is also hundreds of hectares of land full of deadly metal. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict holds the first place in the use of anti-vehicle mines.
Nothing has been planted in this field for 5 years. It is mined. About 2 thousand people have already died from mines in the east of Ukraine — every fifth victim of this conflict. Because of the mines, local farms lost hundreds of hectares of fertile land. And the land is one of the few sources of income for residents of front-line territories.
“There is no opportunity to cultivate the field. Only recently has HALO Trust come in to check the fields and detect explosives there. We already had accidents: our neighbors got blown up, the equipment was damaged, and there were victims,” says Sergey Mandyuk from Vostok-Agro.
The British HALO Trust is the largest international organization that deals with humanitarian demining in Donbas. More than 400 people are working in the conflict zone.
“The number of victims is coming down due to awareness raising, demining of territories, educational projects and demarcating of minefields. There is progress, but mine explosions occur every month,” Toby Robinson, coordinator of operations at HALO Trust, says.
The emergency service or the military will only clear a piece of land when someone accidentally finds ammunition. Deminers of HALO Trust and other humanitarian funds clear the fields methodically and completely. Compliance with safety regulations is an important rule here.
Deminers work only at the command of the team leader. TM-62-M is an anti-tank mine. It contains 7 kilograms of TNT. The Donbas conflict is known for massive use of such mines.
These mines are searched using a frame mine detector. This is a relatively quick procedure. If there is a danger to come across a grenade on a stretch or a mine-trap, then the earth is probed literally centimeter by centimeter.
“A novice deminer covers two to three meters a day. A person who has worked at least half a year, covers 10-16 meters maximum,” the head of the demining team Dmitry Khomenko said.
Most of those who work in these fields are residents of Donbas.
“I have a small child, and I want her to walk safely, not being afraid to go with me to the forest, gather flowers,” says deminer Maxim Vasilchuk.
Both men and girls work together in the cold and rain. There are about 50 deminers in the team.
“This is a matter of habit. Athletes also find it hard to get used to. I’m a girl, I can do it. We are coping,” says Tatyana Shmanina, deputy head of the demining group.
During the three and a half years of operation, the Ukrainian branch of the HALO Trust has cleared 360 hectares of fields from mines and extracted about 2,000 explosive items.
“These are fuses, mortar mines, unexploded ordnance. We also found a large number of anti-vehicle mines, a smaller number of anti-personnel mines, and, of course, there was plenty of small-caliber ammunition,” press officer of HALO Trust Marina Lantuh said.
Securing this field will take the deputies about six months. With the current pace of demining, it will take at least 10 years to clear just the “quiet” territories of Donbas from the deadly remnants of war.
Alyaksandr Papko, Alyaksandr Barazenka, Novoluhanske (Donetsk region), Belsat TV