Olena Chyzh is demonstrating demining at a public event.

The demining heroes of Ukraine

Many children and adults are killed or seriusly injured by mines and unexploded ordnances in Ukraine. The TV channel ARTE has made a documentary about some of our deminers, who remove the lethal mines.

At 8 a.m. every morning, Olena Chyzh together with other deminer colleagues gets ready to go to work. It is not the typical job in the legal sector she was once used to. This is a similar story for most of her colleagues. Together with 22 others, she works in East Ukraine for the demining unit of Danish Refugee Council, DDG.

The TV channel ARTE has followed the work of Olena and her colleagues. The documentary can be watched by clicking these links:

German language: https://www.arte.tv/de/videos/086138-055-A/re-beruf-minenraeumer/

French language: https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/086138-055-A/arte-regards-le-grand-nettoyage-apres-la-guerre-en-ukraine/

Many mines in East Ukraine

So far 13,000 lives have been lost in the Ukraine conflict. In the East Ukraine alone, about 2000 people were killed or seriously injured by mines or unexploded ordnances.

mines jpeg

The black dots on the map represent areas where people had accidents with mines.

Every day on their way to work, Olena and the other deminers pass check points.

Once they arrive at the field, the head of the team checks that nothing has changed since last time. This is their every day standard operating procedure before they begin clearance. This land they are clearing was once used for farming.

Examining the land meter by meter

Olena starts humanitarian demining by examining meter by meter. She uses metal detectors to detect any metallic device buried under the land. She then clears the scrubs once it is verified that all is clear. 

If the detector detects anything, she marks the area. The deminers take a break every 50 minutes to help them clear their minds and so that they can focus more.

They have been working in this area which is estimated to be as big as 130 football fields for two years now. DDG works in the Lyssytschansk area.

At the end of the day the deminers head back to their apartment where they get involved in different activities which are mostly to distract them from the dangerous work they do. Olena talks with her son who now lives with her mother. She explains to him that she does that kind of work so that he can be free to run around again.

Teaching children about the dangers

Just like Olena, Tatjana Welschina was a banker before the conflict in Ukraine. After her town was occupied, she had to leave.

Right now, she has dedicated her life to educate the people about this invisible danger. What is even better, she works with the elementary school children where she teaches them on how to detect weapon residues.

About 200,000 children in the East Ukraine pass through an area with unexploded ordnances. On this day she also goes to one of the check points where people wait in line to cross. She sensitizes and educates them on mine risks.

She starts by serving them a cup of tea/coffee and then briefs them on the presence explosives remnants of war in area they all live in. Many of them have been impacted by war and are internally displaced people in Ukraine.

It may take 40 years to clear all mines

Oleksii Yaresko is the project coordinator. Before he started clearing, he worked in a psychology center for victims affected by war. As a result, there was an influx of refugees in his town which inspired him to do something about it. He had no previous experience with mine clearing.

On this day, the deminers find a crate in the field. If the deminers find anything, they must inform Oleksii. He them comes and verifies.

“It could be a trap. Maybe, there might be a mine or an explosive under the crate.”

They take precautionary measures before doing anything about it. While the rest of the team waits about 50 meters from the crate, Oleksii attaches a cable and pulls it to see what may happen. He does so from a distance. The rest of the team must lay low to minimize any danger to them.

The team is relieved when there is no explosion from the crate. However, they must wait at least 5 minutes before they can get up to have a closer look on what is in the crate. They find a grenade which are common in this area. The standard operating procedures are very important in this line of work to minimize any danger. After this intense activity, they take their lunch break to cool off the nerves. During his free time, he takes to physical exercise to help him refocus.

The weather patterns affect the demining activities in Ukraine. Due to the nature of the activities, the deminers cannot work in rainy or cold weather as it may affect their vision. For this reason, it is estimated that to clear all the landmines in the East Ukraine, it might take up to 40 years.