A Rocket’s Tale
November 6th marked the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, which is a moment to reflect on an important issue for a number of OSCE participating States, where explosive remnants of war (ERW) pose a serious threat to human life, limit access to farmland and pollute the environment. Eastern Ukraine is the most recent conflict zone in the OSCE region to suffer from this scourge, as the aftermath of the ongoing fighting harms people and their livestock and makes it dangerous, if not impossible, to plant or harvest crops, or allow their animals to graze.
In May of this year, a male resident on Lenin Street in the village of Rozsypne told monitors of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) about an unexploded 7.6 metre-long rocket which has been in his garden since September 2014, putting the local population, farm animals and the environment at risk. The rocket had hit the garden when the village was targeted with Smerch rockets capable of carrying warheads powerful enough to penetrate tank armour. Though no one in the town was injured in the attack, the debris from the rockets was scattered across the area.
After speaking with the resident earlier this year, monitors then informed a military officer attached to the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) in Debaltseve about the unexploded ordnance (UXO).
“As a result, the UXO was deactivated and partially removed,” OSCE Monitoring Officer Donal Fitzpatrick explained, “thus providing a safer environment for the residents”.
Forwarding information about facts on the ground, including threats to local people’s safety such as explosive objects, is one way that the SMM implements its mandate and thereby helps lessen the threat to civilians and fight against the environmental damage caused by ERW.
Since fighting began in 2014, significant areas of Donbas have been contaminated by UXO, with people – particularly where fighting has been intense or at strategic locations – facing the same kind of problems as those in Rozsypne.
In accordance with the March 2016 Decision of the Trilateral Contact Group on Mine Action, the sides are responsible for mapping, marking and fencing mined areas in the immediate proximity to the entry-exit checkpoints of the six road corridors along the contact line and the roads leading to these points within a two-kilometre radius. Monitors observing implementation of the agreement have noted limited progress in this regard, leaving in danger thousands of civilians who travel between government-controlled and non-government-controlled areas of Ukraine on a daily basis.
Other OSCE structures are also active in assisting with the clearance of munitions in the country. The Secretariat and the Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine (PCU) are helping Ukraine establish a humanitarian mine-action programme, install a nationwide digital map of cleared and active UXO hazards, demarcate areas known to be mined, and train and equip national humanitarian demining agencies.
Residents in Rozsypne are still concerned about shells and other debris unearthed by farmers when they plough the surrounding fields.
They are, however, pleased with the results of the threat-reduction measures taken on Lenin Street. “Now we feel much safer,” village resident Yulia Ursu told monitors during a recent patrol.