After five years of conflict, Ukraine is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. More anti-vehicle mine accidents have happened in Ukraine than in any other country for three years in a row. The majority of fighting has taken place near settlements, leaving mines and other ERW a direct threat to the safety of communities across the eastern part of the country, in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. HALO and other demining operators have mapped over 15 million square metres of mined land so far, with well over half a million civilians affected in government-controlled areas alone. The full extent of the contamination is not yet known, however, and the survey process is still ongoing. The amount of hazardous land identified as requiring clearance is steadily increasing as survey teams assess new settlements, particularly near the frontline where the most prolonged and intense fighting has taken place, leaving the area densely contaminated.
Mines pose a serious threat to people’s safety in eastern Ukraine - HALO has recorded over 1,900 mine and explosive remnants of war related casualties since 2014, affecting men, women, boys and girls. Each of these has had life-changing or life-ending consequences - in March 2018, a family of four was killed when their car hit an anti-vehicle mine in Luhansk region.
In addition to the direct human toll, mines and other explosive remnants of war are slowing the recovery of areas which are no longer near the frontline. Most of the mined areas that HALO has assessed so far are agricultural land or woodland. Both fields and forests are used for economic activity, whether crop cultivation, animal grazing, timber production or mushroom picking. Eastern Ukraine relies heavily on these sectors, particularly since the loss of access to the two main industrial cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, and HALO’s clearance goes a long way to helping mined communities recover by making their land safe to use again, enabling humanitarian access and facilitating the repair of damaged infrastructure.
The HALO Trust survey and clearance teams have been working in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2016, in coordination with the Ukrainian government and international organisations. So far HALO’s clearance teams have made over 2.5 million square metres of land safe from explosive remnants of war, removing over 800 explosive items, including anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicle mines, cluster munitions and items of unexploded ordnance. HALO Ukraine employs a staff of over 250 people, 98% of whom are Ukrainian. Many of our staff come from mine-contaminated villages themselves and are working to improve the safety and economic future of their own communities.
All of this is made possible through the generous support of our donors: Germany, the United Kingdom, the US State Department, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
HALO hopes to grow its workforce to 400 staff by 2020, to meet the scale of the problem and the urgent need for clearance. In mid-2018 the programme received its first mechanical demining machines, enabling clearance of former battlefields, damaged buildings and other complex tasks.