When you lose a loved one to a landmine

Mark and Erik were only four and six years old when they lost their father to a landmine. Today, five years later, they still remember the hot summer day in 2015 when their father left for the field in his tractor and never returned. He was 40 years old. Mark and Erik, who are now 10 and 12, attend school in the nearby village Talakivka.

“We have many cows and we have to feed them. My husband saw that the villagers were working in the field and drove out in his tractor. Everything was fine for the others, but my husband went into the field and didn’t come back…” recounts Vera.

Ukraine ranks among the most severely affected places in the world for casualties as a result of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Vera is from the eastern part of the country and recounts the story of her late husband:

“He was… there’s no such people like him in the world.”

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That day, Vera’s husband, Viktor, went to cut grass for the cows on his tractor. It was considered a safe area by the villagers, and thus had no signage warning of the presence of mines. Viktor had wanted to take his youngest son with him to the field that day, but Vera had not allowed it.

After the sudden loss of her husband in 2015, the family was left not only without a husband and father, but also a primary provider. Left with two sons and no means of support, Vera continues to raise her boys with the help of her mother-in-law. She breeds cows and sells dairy products at the local market in Mariupol to provide for her family.

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Hnutove, where the family lives, is located in Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine and is one of many small villages located in close proximity to the ‘contact line’ where conflict has been ongoing for nearly six years.

Only about 100 villagers still live here, 600 fled.

The village is known for the nearby entry-exit checkpoint between the government-controlled and non-government-controlled areas and for the heavy shelling it has endured since 2014.

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Mine victim assistance is part of the work DRC does in Ukraine since 2018 along with humanitarian demining, mine risk education and support to national mine action operators.

As part of the Mine Victim Assistance program, DRC provided a heating stove, two beds and mattresses, and construction materials to Vera and her family and a desk for the boys to do their homework.

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Following the start of the conflict in spring 2014, the DRC was the first international NGO to initiate a response to the acute need for humanitarian mine action.

The DRC team is currently conducting humanitarian demining in Luhansk Oblast. In 2019, 186,120 m2 agricultural land was released and handed over to the local population for their use.

Non-technical surveys have identified three more hazardous areas with 140,000 hectares in total – one of them being the field in Hnutove, where Vera’s husband died.

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Landmines in Ukraine

  • Ukraine ranks as one of the areas in the world with most mine accidents.

  • Between June 2014 and February 2020, a total of 1,044 mine accidents were recorded.

  • Of the 1,922 casualties 632 people were killed and 1,290 were injured.

  • Boys and men comprise 85% of all casualties.

  • I 2017 mine accidents was the cause of 2 out of 3 deaths and injuries among children. Many of the them were left with life long handicaps.
  • 2 million people living in eastern Ukraine are exposed to mine hazards.

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