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Ukraine: ‘I found a shell of a large calibre’ — DRC deminers clear agricultural lands

Due to the ongoing war, Ukraine became the most contaminated with explosive ordnance country globally with about 30 percent of its territory requiring clearance operations. The Danish Refugee Council continues its actions there, step by step clearing the contaminated areas and opening the possibility for people to come back and live safely in their homeland.

©DRC Ukraine, Kyiv Oblast, 2023, Volodymyr Malynka.

Posted on 26 Oct 2023

Zakharivka village in Kyiv Oblast was in the epicentre of active battles in spring 2022—lots of houses were fully destroyed leaving just standing tubes of chimneys. Locals are aware of the possible threat of explosive remnants of war that litter the territory around—DRC specialists regularly visit this hromada in Ukraine’s North to highlight the risks and teach them safe behaviour algorithms over and over. When a farmer Danylo* was ready to cultivate his land again in 2022, he decided first to check it using the drone. The air footage showed lots of blast funnels in the field, so he immediately called the local authority alarming the need for clearance.

Before the Russian Federation military offensive launched in February 2022, this field was full of crops; the farmer received a good profit, and residents had jobs and income. The spring of 2022 changed the situation drastically for months to come—during active battles, this field was under shelling. The Mine Action Center prioritized this land for demining, which is why DRC, supported by the European Union, started the clearing process in April this year and finished it in September. The clearing of such a field is challenging work that requires patience and persistence, not only do you have to find the explosive ordnance using the various kinds of metal detectors but also every time deminers hear the signal, they excavate the soil to check the finding.

“Sometimes deminers investigate the signals one meter in depth, in line with national requirements. We must be conscientious because these territories are of public usage and the fields are going to be cultivated,” explains Ivan, Humanitarian Mine Action Supervisor.

The deminers had to check both the metal signals shown by metal detectors and all the blast funnels left by shells. In total, the demining site was almost 49,000 square metres. Today, DRC is waiting for external quality control of the site and if the area is approved as fully cleared, then it will be handed over to the local community.



A destroyed house in Zakharivka village next to the field where deminers work. After the territory of the village is cleared, locals can come here and start rebuilding their homes.  ©DRC Ukraine, Kyiv Oblast, 2023, Volodymyr Malynka.

A destroyed house in Zakharivka village next to the field where deminers work. After the territory of the village is cleared, locals can come here and start rebuilding their homes. ©DRC Ukraine, Kyiv Oblast, 2023, Volodymyr Malynka.

From economists to deminers

One of those who cleared this field was Danylo, 24. Four years in a row he clears the contaminated territories in Ukraine having two degrees in chemistry and economics. He had to leave his home twice—firstly in 2014, when the conflict started, he moved to the part of Luhansk Oblast which was under Ukraine government's control, and second time in 2022, with the escalation of the conflict.

“I like the job of a deminer. I chose this job because I wanted to clear the land, I lived to make it safe. I have personal reasons to work in humanitarian mine action. Having to leave home twice, you understand the consequences of the war,” says Danylo.

In the field in Zakharivka, teams found lots of parts of explosive ordnance items and one shell. Anastasiia, 38, was a deminer who found it.

“I found a shell of a large calibre. We used a superficial method of cleaning, a visual search, and I saw it. All the deminers stopped the work, we marked the area, took the coordinates, and reported it to the State Emergency Service. They took it away,” says Anastasiia. It is a procedure to be used for every explosive ordnance finding, as humanitarian mine action operators in Ukraine are not allowed to demolish the explosive remnants of war, they have to mark them and notify the state mine action services.

Anastasiia, similarly to Danylo, had to leave her home two times. They both originated from Pervomaisk, a town that became a non-government-controlled territory in 2014. She is an economist and had a job in a bank before, but she could not get back to her position because the conflict broke out during her maternity leave.

“The huge stress reflected on my son’s health—he started suffering from epilepsy, so I stayed longer on leave to take care of him. Then, I saw the vacancy of a deminer and decided to apply. I lived in Luhansk Oblast at that time and wanted to speed up its clearance, I wanted my son to move safely around,” says Anastasia.

She adds that she enjoys discovering several types of ammunition, finding it both intriguing and exciting. In Ukraine’s East, she found lots of shells for the Grad, a multiple rocket launcher, and even an aerial bomb dating back to World War II.

“My family is honoured that I have such an important job. My son always mentions that his mother is a deminer,” says Anastasiia with a shy smile on her face. Today, she lives far away from him and sees her son only during leave or weekends—she wants him to attend offline schooling to gain social skills, and due to the war, not every school in Ukraine can offer it.

Currently, DRC is expanding its Humanitarian Mine Action activities in Ukraine deploying demining teams in Mykolaiv and Kharkiv Oblast, in addition to Chernihiv and Kyiv Oblast where they have been working since mid-2022.

The UNDP Crisis Bureau estimates about 180,000 kilometres of territory in Ukraine to be contaminated with mines and other explosive ordnance, which is half the area of Germany or almost six times more than Belgium’s territory. It means that the risks that such immense contamination entails will be actual for years to come and Ukraine requires huge resources to cope with this problem: more demining teams, more non-technical survey teams, and more specialists in explosive ordnance risk education.

DRC’s Humanitarian Mine Action work in Ukraine is supported by the governments of Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States, as well as the European Union, the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, and Chemonics/PFRU.

*Name was changed for confidentiality purposes.

Deminer Danylo marks the contaminated territory.©DRC Ukraine, Kyiv Oblast, 2023, Volodymyr Malynka.

Deminer Danylo marks the contaminated territory. ©DRC Ukraine, Kyiv Oblast, 2023, Volodymyr Malynka.

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