Promoting mine awareness in eastern Ukraine – OSCE Monitors on patrol
On 11 March, a 12-year old boy picked up a small object on his way home from school in Vuhledar, a coal mining town of about 15,000 in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Shortly after, it exploded in his hands. When the police arrived he was lying in the street: another civilian casualty of the three-year-old conflict.
This story, and many others like it, are in focus on 4 April, the United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which aims to raise awareness about landmines and progress toward their eradication, as well as efforts to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war.
For the staff of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, raising awareness about the dangers of landmines and other explosives is a priority on patrols and in presentations for school children and other groups. SMM monitoring officers distribute pamphlets and calendars in Ukrainian and Russian warning about the dangers of landmines and helping residents recognize the various types that have been deployed in the region in the past three years.
“We are in direct contact with people at checkpoints, in schools, on city streets and elsewhere, and this gives us an opportunity to inform them about the risks posed by mines. Often, the citizens themselves inform us about the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance,” said Dariusz Banach, Mine Action Officer, with the Luhansk Monitoring Team.
In an unpredictable and volatile conflict, this work is essential and is regularly documented in the SMM’s daily reports. SMM monitoring officers and mine action officers foster dialogue and enable the sides to reduce the threat posed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war positioned around residential areas and places frequently visited by civilians, such as checkpoints.
“Due to the ongoing fighting, these checkpoints have been shelled and contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), posing a threat to residents and monitors alike,” a Mine Action Officer with the Donetsk Monitoring Team said. “When an UXO is located in an area between two positions, neither side responds rapidly to remove it.”
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 250 people have been killed and 470 injured by explosive remnants of war since the start of the conflict in mid-2014. Since December 2015, there has been an average of more than 50 casualties a month from mines and improvised devices, according to the HALO Trust.
On 7 March during a visit to the village of Rodina within the Zolote municipality, residents informed SMM monitoring officers from the Luhansk Monitoring Team about the presence of four pieces of UXO that had landed in the village following heavy fighting. The monitoring officers noted the location and informed the residents that the UXO posed a high risk, since they were within ten metres of a house.
The SMM informed the Joint Center for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) and included the information in its daily report. In response, the JCCC facilitated the clearance process. It was carried out three days later by a demining team from the State Emergency Service.
Similar work by the Donetsk Monitoring Team has also proven effective. From August 2016, it regularly highlighted the presence of mines and UXO at checkpoints in its reports, particularly that of anti-tank mines at the Marinka entry-exit checkpoint. As of this February, the mines were gone – a successful example of awareness-raising work leading to action by those responsible.