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Decades of demining in perspective

It will undoubtedly take decades to neutralize the thousands of still-active explosive devices that have been dropped on almost half of Ukraine’s territory, specialists warn two months after the start of the Russian invasion. “It will take fifty years for us to clear everything,” said Perrine Benoist, director of armed violence reduction for the NGO Handicap International, with the France-Presse Agency, recalling that “we are still demining in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, 50 at sixty. years later ’.

A member of the demining team of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service carries an unexploded projectile while clearing a field near the city of Brovary, northeast of Kiev, on April 21, 2022. ALEKSEY FILIPPOV / AFP

“The killings and mutilation will continue long after the war,” complains Steve Goose, director of weapons at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “It will be a matter of years, if not decades, to clean it up. »

More than 300,000 square kilometers of Ukraine, almost half of the country’s territory, is contaminated with explosive devices, says Oleh Bondar, head of demining services of Ukrainian civil security. It concerns “almost half of the territory of Ukraine, including the territory of the Donetsk region, the Luhansk region [est] and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea [sud], as well as the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov, ”says Bondar. He states that his demining service has removed more than 72,000 ammunition since the beginning of the war, including more than 2,000 bombs of various calibers, on a total of 130 square kilometers. Efforts are currently focused on the Kiev region.

Before the war, which began on Russia on February 24, only 8% of Ukrainian territory was considered contaminated, according to the Observatory of Mines and Cluster Munitions. “The country is facing historical contamination,” notes Perrine Benoist. According to her, explosive devices are aimed primarily at urban areas. They are therefore close to the high density of civilians who will be victims in the coming years. “We have complex fractures, amputations or even burns due to inhalation due to the toxicity of the fumes emitted by the explosions,” and the humanitarian approach is more complicated due to all the contamination, he adds.

According to HRW, Russian anti-personnel mines POM-3, also known as “Medaillon”, are used in this conflict. The mines, first seen by Ukrainian deminers on March 28, “can indiscriminately kill and maim anyone within a 10-foot radius,” the NGO explained in a report. For Steve Goos of HRW, mines and other explosive devices are “a huge socio-economic burden because they can prevent people from returning to their homes, returning to their fields for harvest, etc.”

The Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, signed in 1997, prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of these weapons. Unlike Ukraine, Russia is not one of the 164 signatory countries.