Mereti village, Shida Kartli region: Zurab Zaridze
During the Russian/Georgian conflict of 2008, a Georgian military convoy driving close to the Georgian/Russian Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) was attached by a Russian helicopter. As all the vehicles were loaded with ammunition, the attack caused some of the cargo to explode. As ammunition was scattered over the countryside, some pieces went into a state of 'kickout', a term used to describe what happens when previously safely stored ammunition becomes armed or volatile due to violent force and extreme heat.
In spring 2014, the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) asked HALO to conduct a survey of the area. HALO's survey confirmed that there was contamination with a variety of ammunition types. Villagers also reported removing some ammunition from their fields and thehn continued to cultivate the land. In May-June 2014 HALO conducted detector assisted surface clearance, clearing 144,716m2 of agricultural land and finding 76 items of UXO (VOG 17 grenade launcher rounds, F-1 grenades and mortars), 19 items of Stray Ammunition (SA) and 42 rounds of Small Arms Ammunition (SAA). In 2015, HALO conducted additional subsurface clearance of the area after receiving reports of local people burying items in ditches after the conflict. Subsurface clearance using manual teams and armored excavators (seen above) found 212 items of UXO.
Zurab Zaridze and his family had not been present during the attack. Like many families in the area they had fled to Tbilisi, leaving their house and farm behind. When they returned to the village after the war, the village had been bombed and their house looted.
Zurab knew that the land had been contaminated with unexploded ordnance from the helicopter attack on the convoy. But faced with no other option, he continued to cultivate his land. He came face to face with the war's deadly legacy when his tractor struck a piece of ordnance and exploded, covering the farmer in shrapnel wounds.
Barely conscious and bleeding profusely, Zurab was evacuated to hospital, where he stayed for three weeks. His medical bills cost the family more than 2000 Lari ($1000 USD), in addition to lost income from not working and the cost of repairing the tractor. Yet despite this heavy toll, today Zurab is grateful that the HALO Trusut was able to clear the area after his accident.
Zurab and his family.