Cleaning-up unexploded ordnance in eastern Ukraine
Every year, unexploded ordnance and landmines kill or injure thousands of people throughout the world. In eastern Ukraine, after a year of armed conflict, large areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are left with deadly military remnants.
“Explosive remnants of all kinds, including unexploded ordnance and explosive devices were left behind in devastated towns and villages, threatening the people of Ukraine. Something needed to be done,” said Alexander Savelyev, OSCE Vienna-based Associate Project Officer.
The OSCE and the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU), financially backed by a one million Euro financial contribution from the German government, launched a project in July 2015 to assist in cleaning territories in the eastern regions from explosive remnants of war.
Children at risk
Children are particularly at risk from unexploded ordnance and landmines. At least 109 are reported to have been injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since March 2014, UNICEF reported this year.
“Children play a lot outdoors and tend to be drawn to the occasionally brightly coloured remnants, which almost always lead to death,” explained Savelyev.
He pointed out that more than 37.000 explosive remnants had been located and removed so far in these regions. However, the displaced families returning to communities formerly under conflict are still at great risk from the highly hazardous materials that have yet to be cleared.
The OSCE Project Co-ordinator was the first international presence to launch a mine risk education project in Ukraine and respond to the increased danger of accidents with unexploded munitions as a result of conflict in Donbas.
Raising awareness, saving lives
- 20,000 safety posters printed and delivered for all Ukrainian schools
- Documentary and a short cartoon produced for safety lessons at schools
- ‘Webspace of Safety’ set up at child.mns.gov.ua
- 50,000 exercise books with mine risk education messages distributed
Boosting Ukraine’s efforts
“Risk posed by the explosive remnants of war to the lives of people, their property and important state infrastructure in Donetsk and Lugansk regions, must be eliminated,” said Jeffrey Erlich, Senior Project Officer from the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine. “The State Emergency Service is doing all it can, but united we can do much more.”
In addition to posing risk to human life, the presence of explosive remnants has a negative effect on the local economy. Destruction of infrastructure and contamination of arable lands hamper social and economic recovery.
Erlich said that the SESU staff will receive training, equipment and assistance in optimizing its clearance standards for the removal of unexploded ordnance. “There was a need for urgent response to the challenges the country was faced with. Enhancement of national capacities for the “explosive remnants of war” clearance is a high priority for Ukraine, and consequently the OSCE.”
The term “explosive remnants of war” has been used to describe various explosive munitions that are left in an area of Eastern Ukraine as a result of the 2014-2015 hostilities. It includes unexploded artillery and mortar shells, grenades, missiles, rockets, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as the remnants of World War II.
“We will train four explosive ordnance disposal teams, consisting of 22 operatives, to be assigned to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and provide detection and protective equipment and vehicles,” said Savelyev.
The goal is not only to improve the efficiency of clearance operations, national standard operating and training procedures, but also train people and work with the instructors who will carry the Programme in the future, noted Savelyev.
Kateryna Bila, Head of Arms Control and Non-Proliferation at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry stressed the life-saving nature of the project. “Providing equipment and technical assistance is not the ultimate goal – what is most important is that by safeguarding the lives of the people working on the ground, we are then able to go on and save the lives of thousands of civilians.”
The urgency of providing assistance to Ukraine is due to the fact that assets of the two regional emergency services teams in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been destroyed during the ongoing conflict.
The launch of the project is part of OSCE efforts in helping to enhance Ukraine’s capabilities for dealing with explosive hazards, by providing equipment and training to emergency service personnel.
OSCE Project Co-ordinator’s assistance to Ukraine since 2006
- 82 Ukrainian officers and technicians trained on advanced techniques in dealing with contamination
- 67 demining equipment and 240 gear sets for technicians responding to explosive contamination
- Handover of digital system for mapping explosive risk areas and managing clearance operations to Ukrainian emergency services