Demining of Donbas: Is it worth talking about this while war continues?

Author : Iryna Sampan

Source : 112 Ukraine

Seven thousand square kilometers of Donbas. This is the minimum area of ​​the unoccupied part of land where you can be blown up on a mine, ammunition or some kind of explosive device. Plus 9 thousand square kilometers of the same dangerous territory on the other side of demarcation line. Since the beginning of the war in the east of Ukraine, 2,258 of Ukrainian citizens, of which 242 children, have died because of such explosions. For the same reasons, 273 Ukrainian servicemen died, about 1,000 people were wounded.
22:17, 9 April 2018

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What can our government do to prevent us from being killed by mines, and our children from bringing dangerous finds home? And what should you do if you were already injured when you just dug up your garden? These issues are discussed in the Ministries of Defense, Public Health, and the State Service for Emergency Situations, local authorities, schools, and international organizations. Actually, we will talk about what we managed to do in the four years of the conflict in our country.

What is the problem?

Globally, the problem is in that the war continues. On the territory adjacent to the front line, mines will continue to fall every day, unexploded ordnance will lie, and even the cleaned up areas can become dangerous again.

According to the Ministry of Defense, in percentage terms, contamination by mines in Donbas is much less than contamination with unexploded ordnance. "The Russian Federation supplies ammunition that has a limited shelf life or it has already been expired. The failure of these munitions to explode is very large, "the report said.

The second question is: where is the body that fully assumes the authority for humanitarian demining of the territories? By the way, about the term "humanitarian mine clearance". It is not just the discovery of a mine, for example, in the village of Luhanske, departure to the location and its neutralization. These functions are already performed by the Armed Forces. Humanitarian demining is a whole complex of measures to reduce the mine explosion hazard in the region, to survey, map, mark the territory, educate the local population, eliminate ammunition, help the victims.

According to the existing legislation, the functions of the national body on mine clearance and the implementation of international standards are vested in the Ministry of Defense. The work on the demining of territories is carried out by special brigades consisting of the Sappers of the Armed Forces and pyrotechnics of the State Service for Emergency Situations. According to the Defense Ministry, there are 246 trained specialists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions (about 118 people from the State Emergency Service and 128 from the Supreme Armed Forces). The team consists of 5 people, but the number can vary depending on the tasks.

Here the question arises: what are the Ukrainian sappers equipped with? What are they wearing? What about their transport?

"This is a very painful topic, but since 2014, the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff have been carrying out a lot of activities to acquire new modern equipment, we are attracting international partners to these events. There are several programs for this purpose. Last Friday (March 30) I was on a business trip as part of a working group in our Mine Action Center, during which the OSCE representatives transferred modern equipment for the needs of the Armed Forces for equipping one group of mine clearance: protective equipment, car, and other things, which are used during mine clearance",  says  Colonel Maxym Komisarov.

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Such point assistance will not be able to resolve the issue of full and qualitative provision of working conditions for sappers, so the ministry understands that it is necessary to approach this issue in a comprehensive manner, including by creating a legislative base.

Also, Maxym Komisarov noted that "the financing of demining activities is currently being carried out at the expense of the current maintenance of the Armed Forces." In the State Emergency Council, according to him, there is a corresponding program, which provides for separate financing. Demining process is not cheap for the state (in particular, for the budget of the Ministry of Defense). It should be understood that Ukraine will not be able to cope with humanitarian mine clearance independently, without the assistance of international organizations, donors, and non-governmental organizations.

In this issue, the Ukrainian government receives help from the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. However, this is not the whole list.

"Since 2016, the international non-governmental organizations The HALO Trust, the Danish Mine Action Group (DDG) and the Swiss Mine Action Fund (FSD) have been involved in the implementation of demining activities," notes Colonel Maxym Komisarov. "In 2017, work of the mine clearance organizations were conducted on 47 sites with a total area of 640 hectares, in particular, Donetsk region - 522 hectares, Luhansk region - 118 hectares. Of these, 131.4 hectares were cleaned, 528 explosive objects were identified. "

Last summer, France handed over 25 sets of Protecop costumes, 25 helmets with Visorv50 protective visor and 10 pairs of special Matramines shoes to the demining center of the Main Directorate of Operational Support of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Khmelnytsky region). The total amount of protective equipment was worth 3.7 million UAH. At the end of 2017, the government of Japan also gave the State Emergency Service georadars-detectors and armored cars.

Some countries send their instructors to train Ukrainian colleagues.

However, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, as a body that is involved in the war, is limited in the ability to receive funds from those donors who are worried about their neutrality. Indeed, for some international organizations to invest in the army would mean showing their loyalty to one of the parties to the conflict. Humanitarian aid to civilians – they do this, but we have nothing to do with the direct financing of the army. That is their policy. Therefore, according to the initiators of the draft laws on demining, there is a need for a separate state body that fully assumes the function of humanitarian demining in Ukraine.

And the last about the military sappers. The losses of the Army personnel during demining are qualified as combat operations. As Maxym Komisarov explained, demining sappers, even in peacetime, were given the status of a participant in hostilities, regardless of whether there is a war in the country or not. That is, they or any of their families should receive some further monetary or social security. Unlike civil people.

What about victims?

According to the Ministry of Defense, 10 stabilization points have been established and operate on the basis of central regional hospitals and 4 mobile hospitals in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk districts. The total number of beds for patients covers about 4,500 people. If a local resident has been blown up on a mine, yes, doctors will write a "mine-explosive trauma" in the hospital documents. And that's all. There is no relevant legislation where the term "person affected by mines and explosive items" has been defined. Accordingly, he or she is cured of his own money.

"The draft law on demining was drafted by the Ministry of Defense, it was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada, in one of the sections the concept of "affected person" was determined, but the bill was rejected when it was considered in the committee and it did not go any further. The Ministry of Defense, taking into account the comments, has drafted another bill on the same topic, now it passes external coordination between the central executive authorities, and this concept is also envisaged, " the Defense Ministry said.

In addition, it is unclear what should the person do if he has blown up on a site that has already been previously cleaned of explosive objects and mines. Who is to blame for this? Who to contact due to negligence or poor-quality clearance? These questions should be answered by legislation, which is not currently available.

"Regarding the explosions on the already cleared territory, unfortunately, to date, this legislative process is not fully regulated, therefore we are working towards the creation of legislation, our national standards on demining issues that will regulate the procedure for cleaning the area, quality control and order of this territory, and then it will be possible to clearly determine at what stage the mistake occurred and find the guilty official," says Colonel Maxym Komisarov.

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Two months ago, with the support of UNICEF international organization, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense launched a pilot project to collect data on civilians affected by mines or explosive items both during hostilities and in other circumstances. We decided to cover four regions - Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkiv.

"We have developed a questionnaire on data collection, it concerns both the medical aspect and the social as well regarding the awareness of the population about mine explosive safety. For the Ministry of Health, this is important, because having received data on the localization of these injuries, the place where this trauma was received, the consequences - they will be able to adequately adjust the programs for training. Ministry of Health is working in this direction to train the population and the so-called "first responders" (police, firefighters) in the first aid regulations. We will also know a certain aspect of the problems that these victims may later face: disability, the need for rehabilitation, the need for governmental or non-governmental programs, "said Pavlo Khochai, chief specialist of the Emergency Medicine and Disaster Medicine Department of the Ministry of Health.

According to him, the project is planned for 3-4 months (it lasts 2 months already). The data is filled out by authorized persons of the medical institution, which the patient with a mine-explosive trauma entered. After that, the information should go to the Health Departments of each region, where the questionnaires are processed and converted into specific statistics. And, probably, this database is useful to the injured persons when authorities adopt the relevant law.

Relevant law

Bills on demining were introduced as early as 2016, but they were stuck in committees. There is no point in describing them because they are all withdrawn, but the authors note that it is necessary to create a National Demining Authority that would take on the implementation of such policy. In particular, project No. 5189 provided for the creation of a central body of executive power, similar to a separate ministry, with a head, deputies, a budget, councils, control, and so on. Later, a much simpler version appeared bill No. 5189-1. As we wrote above, the bill from the Defense Ministry "was rejected when it was considered by the committee and it did not go any further. The Ministry of Defense, taking into account the comments, developed the next draft law on demining; now it passes external coordination between the central executive authorities."

Time and money

It is impossible to calculate how much it will cost Ukraine to clean up the area, contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance. Both in years and in money. Some compare the situation with Croatia, others - with the Balkans. Recently, the Minister for Temporary Occupied Territories Vadym Chernysh suggested that the cost of demining the entire Donbas could exceed 800 million dollars (compared with Croatia). Since the beginning of hostilities in the east of Ukraine, about 26 thousand hectares of territory have been checked and more than 340 thousand explosive items destroyed.

Maxym Komisarov, the head of the department for environmental security and demining in the Ministry of Defense, said the popular phrase that "one year of the war is ten years of mine clearance," but the officer suggested that, having accumulated strength and resources, Ukraine will not need 40 years to clean the Donbas of shells.

It is also not possible to say how much it will cost to comb, for example, one hectare of land, because it depends on the terrain, the availability of water bodies, waste pits, etc. It is not known how many thousands or millions will cost the affected ecology, infrastructure objects which suffered losses. Without the adoption of the law, all this work is not effective. So for now ... bypass the marked territory and do not touch suspicious objects.

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