Severe mine contamination caused by the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine continues to jeopardize lives of civilians
In June 2019, Olga*, a 50-year-old woman from Troitske, a village on the contact line in the east of Ukraine, was severely wounded and spent, as a result, three months in the hospital. Doctors removed from her legs about 200 fragments of a hand grenade, which was blown off by her very partner.
“That day in June, I was working in our garden. My partner called me into the kitchen, says Olga. He was drunk, as usual. The armed conflict in the east of Ukraine made him more depressed every day. He took up heavy drinking. This made him rude and abusive.
He said: “Look what I have,” and stretched his hand. With horror, I saw him holding a hand grenade.
As he pulled the pin, I started to run away as fast as I could. Luckily, I was almost out of the kitchen when the grenade exploded, which is why the fragments only went into my legs and did not harm other parts of my body.
I managed to limp away and get my mobile phone to call an ambulance. I waited, but the ambulance never came. My neighbours saw me bleeding and called a military ambulance. Our village is located on the contact line, so we have a military unit stationed here. They came and took me to the hospital.
I remember waking up in the hospital after a three-hour surgery. I did not know what to do next, now that I was left alone. Because of the constant shelling, my children relocated to another country at the beginning of the conflict, fearing for the lives of their kids. They hardly make ends meet and are not able to support costly medical treatment. I had no savings, and knew that with wounded legs I would not be able to work. My future seemed very hopeless and grim.
All this happened a year after my only sister died, stepping on a landmine.
Fragments of her body were spread over a 50-meter zone by the explosion. Her 11-year-old daughter was adopted by my daughter.
I was laying there and crying in my hospital room when I saw three women coming in. They were volunteers of the humanitarian mission “Proliska”, UNHCR’s NGO partner in the east of Ukraine. They came to the hospital to help and support me. They looked like angels, seriously! I cannot tell you how grateful I am for their help.”
Staff members of the NGO “Proliska” supported Olga throughout her three-month recovery in the hospital. She received financial support to be able to buy food and medicine, as well as much needed psychological support. A year later, Olga has fully recovered from the accident.
These activities offered by Proliska such as ‘cash for protection’ financial assistance and psycho-social support are possible thanks to the generous support of UNHCR’s donors, such as the United States’ Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
“Recently, a very uplifting event happened in my life. Proliska offered me a job, and now I am a social worker looking after twenty immobile elderly persons in our village. I am very happy that I can help other people, especially after I myself got so much support.”
Ukraine is severely affected by landmines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).
Ukraine recorded the highest number of anti-vehicle mine incidents for the third year in a row. It is the third country in the world with the most mine related casualties, right after Afghanistan and Syria.
National authorities estimate that about 7,000 km² of the government controlled areas (GCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast in eastern Ukraine, is contaminated with mines and ERW. It is difficult to assess the scale of contamination in non-government controlled areas as little to no coordinated action has been taken there, whilst the situation is understood to be acute. Mines and UXOs contamination puts vital civilian infrastructure facilities at risk, inhibits freedom of movement, access to livelihoods and limits recreational activities for children.
Over 1,077 casualties have been recorded as a result of landmines and other ERWs between April 2014 and December 2019, as landmines continue to be planted in the ongoing conflict. In 2019, 35% of civilian casualties were attributed to landmine and ERW-related incidents.
Mine and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) contamination is a key security concern. It puts vital civilian infrastructure facilities at risk as maintenance and repair is impeded or made impossible by the presence of mines and UXOs. Mines, ERWs and UXOs limit access to income, as civilians are unable to engage in farming and agricultural activities. Mine contamination limits freedom of movement and poses a serious threat to civilians crossing the contact line between GCA and NGCA.
Access to some villages near the contact line is restricted as roads are contaminated by mines, leaving people cut off from essential services, while limiting recreational activities for children. Mine contamination also puts in danger people collecting firewood for heating. In addition, survivors of landmine/ERW-related accidents continue to suffer as a result of limited availability of rehabilitation services and a lack of understanding of their needs.
The story of Olga is so powerful that she was invited to speak at the launch of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine in January 2020. “I am so grateful to the donor community for the support provided to people like me.”
*- All names have been changed for protection reasons.
We are grateful for the editing of the story made by the UNV online volunteer Sarah Vallee.