Hrakove village, Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Viktor is 63 years old, he has lived in Hrakove village his whole life. This was a thriving local community.
It was an evening in late February when the Russians arrived. They didn’t leave for half a year. The residents experienced relentless shelling, day and night. Before the war, 750 people lived here. Today, only 47 remain. The streets are unrecognisable, homes sliced apart or reduced to rubble, roofs blown out, windows gaping holes into once ordinary lives—a snatch of pretty curtain against a wall pockmarked by bullets and shell fire. The school and community centre are destroyed, ammunition casing piled up outside.
Then there are the mines—edging the paths, to the left, to the right. A wooden bench, once a place to rest in the sun, now displays a line of PFM-1s, also known as butterfly mines. Deployed from either mortars, helicopters or aircraft in large numbers, their two ‘butterfly-like’ wings allow them to glide to the ground without exploding and later detonate on impact. Coloured brown or green for camouflage, in summer they blend into the growing grass. With 40 grams of liquid explosive in each they can cause devastating injury.
Viktor endured 100 days of shelling before fleeing on his motorcycle. He returned home on the 9th of September, just two days after the village was liberated. Nothing was the same.
“In front of my yard there were around 50-60 mines. The end of the street was mined too. It was scary to even walk around. Tripwires were in my neighbour’s yard.”
In Ukraine, the horrific and unimaginable has become a new normal—Viktor describes in devastating detail witnessing someone being blown up by a mine but says he was not scared, that people are now accustomed to this.
Like Viktor, many families are desperate to return home, but the danger is too great. At least five accidents have been reported here. HALO’s survey teams began working in the village in November 2022, assessing and marking the mines and explosives, prioritising areas for clearance which began in May 2023. Viktor believes the village can be reborn. The first step is making the land safe so families can return and begin to rebuild their shattered lives.