Many senior citizens in eastern Ukraine have to embark on an arduous and dangerous journey every 60 days as they have to cross the contact line of the conflict in order to collect their pensions. They live in territories that the Ukrainian Government lost to the rebels. The conflict has left its mark in the region and the area around the contact line is mined. Anyone who crosses the line, and also those who work in the fields in the conflict region, is exposed to this invisible danger.
Just seven years ago, the region was an almost daily fixture in news headlines. However, the conflict between Russian‑backed separatists in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on one side and the Ukrainian Government on the other has long since lost that level of public attention. The humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict persists, however, with many people living in semi‑destroyed homes, an inadequate and unreliable supply of electricity, gas, and water, major shortfalls in medical care and access to healthcare services, and mined territory all around them.
Landmines: an enduring and almost imperceptible threat
Landmines are insidious weapons that, once buried in the ground, pose an enduring, life‑threatening and almost imperceptible threat. Since 1996, the international community has therefore sought to put an end to the use of anti‑personnel mines with the Ottawa Convention. Although 164 states have already ratified the treaty, such mines continue to be deployed.
Eliminating this threat to life is a long and difficult task and one to which the non‑governmental organisation HALO Trust is dedicating its efforts. Since April 2020, the Federal Foreign Office has supported the organisation in this endeavour with one million euro for 2020 and 2021 respectively.
Scanning the ground inch by inch
This process is complex because parties to the conflict often scatter mines indiscriminately and rarely record their positions. It is unclear how many mines have actually been laid and how large the area is in which they were deployed. As a result, HALO staff have to use metal detectors to scan the earth inch by inch for the explosive devices. As soon as they detect a mine, it must be defused so that it can be safely removed and destroyed.
720 deaths caused by unexploded mines and ordnance
A sad statistic shows how important this task is. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, 720 people have died in the region as a result of mines and other unexploded ordnance while a further 1350 people have sustained injuries. Mines accounted for more than half of all civilian casualties in the conflict in 2018 and 2019.
With every single mine HALO is able to remove, however, the risk of even more people losing their lives to this insidious weapon decreases. This is, at the end of the day, a prerequisite for people to be able to cultivate their fields again, to travel to work once again without fear – or indeed to be able to collect their pension payments every two months.