'There was a bang': Ukrainian civilians learning the hard way that Russian mines will take years to clear

Source: news.sky.com : 2022-07-03 13:35:00 :

We stuck rigidly to a narrow strip of safe ground. To the left and right it’s littered with mines.

We were following Vadym Shvydchenko up a dirt track in a rural area near Makariv, west of Kyiv. He wanted to show us the wreckage of his truck which was hit by two landmines on this road last month.

It’s still lying in the spot where he was thrown through the windscreen.

“The first time there was a bang, and there was a crater here. The cabin door jammed, I couldn’t open it,” says Vadym. “And on the second explosion, the windshield was blown out and I was thrown forward through it.”

“And then they found four mines here, they were arranged in a checkerboard pattern.”

In a smaller vehicle Vadym may not have survived.

His livelihood was reliant on his truck and he’s been unable to work since.

Civilians have learnt the hard way that this area is contaminated with munitions and it is so unsafe they don’t come here anymore.

And this is the picture across swathes of Ukraine.

Fields that should be planted with wheat – are covered in munitions and mines.

Landmine charity the Halo Trust has told Sky News that Ukraine is now the most lethal ground in the world for civilians.

“The volume of artillery, rocketry, landmines and scatterable munitions now being used in Ukraine makes it the most lethal environment anywhere in the world for the civilian population. These munitions are being used on a highly indiscriminate basis by the Russians,” said Halo CEO, Major-General James Cowan.

After the mass exodus of Russia‘s troops around Kyiv in April, it soon became clear much of the ground was heavily contaminated with threats to civilians.

Halo has moved many of its deminers from the Donbas region on the frontline to clear areas around the capital.

We joined a team of deminers in a minefield near Makariv. Locals had reported Russian tanks and soldiers positioned around a recreation field there.

“I don’t see any safe place in this field at all.” One deminer, Olexsandr Popchuk, tells us.

This area is just 100 metres from civilian homes.

Many are still haunted from the arrival of Russian troops in March.

One woman, Olga Kyrylova, who lives in a large family home next to the minefield, shows us her front gate peppered with bullet holes.

“They drove along here and shot at every house, every gate was shot at so that nobody would come out. They said if anyone comes out, you will die,” she said.

The family were given an hour to leave before Russian soldiers took over their house.

“I’m still scared. I’m talking to you now, and my heart just breaks with memories,” says Olga.

She describes how she’s lost weight, struggled to communicate due to stress and how the house shakes every time there’s a controlled explosion in the minefield nearby.

The sound of the mine clearance is clearly exacerbating her trauma – and it won’t end anytime soon.

Picking through the grass for trip wires, mines and artillery is painstaking work. A large number of Russian shells don’t detonate and get buried in the ground. It will take an estimated two years for the two teams demining this field to clear the entire area.

And this is just a tiny corner of the country that is contaminated with explosives.

These threats are stopping Ukrainians returning to the daily lives they had before this war – and clearing them all could take decades.

Major-General Cowan has said: “I’d like to particularly emphasise that the British are also playing a leading role in supporting the humanitarian demining of Ukraine. The foreign secretary has approved a significant uplift of money for this work in Ukraine which will save lives and restore Ukrainian livelihoods.”

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