Two months into Ukraine’s counteroffensive against the Russian invasion, some progress has been made, but not as quickly as Ukraine and its allies had hoped. Millions of obstacles are standing in the way of progress — in the form of extensive fortifications Russia has put in place across vast terrain laced with landmines.
Clearing these hazardous landmines planted across Ukraine is not a job restricted to “sappers” — military personnel assigned to clearing the hidden explosives. Instead, brave civilians step up and put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Ukrainians.
I met one of these volunteers-turned-clearance professionals, Yana, on my most recent visit to Ukraine earlier this summer. A Ukrainian herself, Yana works with HALO Trust to sweep contaminated areas. A refugee of Russia’s February 2022 invasion, she decided to pass on a comfortable desk job in Poland and instead return to Ukraine after watching the attacks on her home country unfold from afar.
She’s seen that because of the dangerous conditions Ukrainians are required to navigate each day, efforts to demine the country need to be scaled up rapidly. And further, organizations that oversee these efforts need to be provided resources to keep up with demands.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 174,000 square kilometers of land are contaminated by mines and unexploded bombs. This makes Ukraine the most mined country in the world. Many explosives do not work as intended and remain a threat to civilians in areas where the fighting has stopped.
Contrary to how landmines are portrayed in films, they can explode instantly on contact — standing motionless will not stop the landmine from exploding. Despite the looming danger, Yana decided to become a deminer because she feels it is her duty to save the life of even one child or keep him or her from being maimed for life. Yana says everyone fights in their own way, and this is what she and her fellow deminers must do.
It is essential that Ukraine continues to offer and build more programs to properly train citizens for this important demining work. As Western Allies, we can do our part by helping fund mine clearance programs to reduce the threat of injuries and fatalities for these unsung heroes.
Yana says, “Every occupation has its hazards, whether a bus driver or an electrician. With a mine clearance, and if I follow the procedures, I know my chances of being injured are very small.”
A major danger to civilians occurs when the fighting moves on and people are desperate to return to their homes. Organizations like The HALO Trust are on the ground proactively mapping explosives in areas where Russia’s forces have pulled out. Without resources and support, these areas in danger will be left unmonitored – risking the lives of innocent Ukrainians, young and old.
Additionally, the United States should continue to provide the equipment requested in Ukraine’s counteroffensive. This includes systems and charges needed to detonate long rows of mines. Ukraine is also seeking special remote mine-clearance equipment, which Russia continues to target and destroy.
Finding and detonating landmines will play an essential role in helping Ukraine recover from the war. But for the country to do so, Western Allies need to provide the resources they need to achieve victory and the peace and freedom they long for.
Harvard graduate Mitzi Perdue is a writer, speaker, and author of the award-winning biography of Relentless, the story of Mark Victor Hansen, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series co-author. All royalties for this book will go to supporting humanitarian relief for Ukraine.