Valeriï Onoul lost his right leg after walking on a mine. A handicap which did not prevent this explosives expert to return to his work as a deminer.
“Someone has to do it,” says the 52-year-old, as Ukraine faces an immense task: clearing mines from areas that have been under Russian occupation.
In their northern retreat -Eastern Ukraine in September 2022, Moscow's forces left behind a large number of mines, many of which are booby-trapped in such a way as to kill deminers.
Wearing a bulletproof vest, helmet and gloves, Valeriï Onoul uses a pole with a pointed end to probe the ground, then carefully removes the earth covering the top of an anti-tank mine.
This police officer specializing in explosives works to clear mines on agricultural land in the Kharkiv region.
He pulls up the bottom of his camouflage pants to show off his prosthesis.
He was injured in the southern Kherson region in November 2022, while preparing to defuse TM-62 anti-tank mines.
“During this preparation, I stepped on a PMN-2 mine “, an anti-personnel device, explains the sapper.
A Ukrainian police deminer uses a metal detector to locate mines in a field in Izium, in the Kharkiv region, on October 24, 2023 © AFP – SERGEY BOBOK
He had not noticed its presence, because it lay hidden on a ground strewn with gravel and shrapnel.
“There are a lot of traps here under the mines. Some of our people died defusing mines, especially at the beginning” of the war, explains Valeriï Onoul.
– “I like that” –
“Now, of course, our techniques are a little different,” he adds. “We know that, for example, in a row of mines, at least a few will be booby traps.”
Andriï Ilkiv, a police officer expert in explosives, who lost his left leg in a mine explosion, searches for mines in a field in Izyum, October 24, 2023 in Ukraine © AFP – SERGEY BOBOK
The sappers first use metal detectors to locate the devices.
Valeriï Onoul resumed her activity despite the explosion which removed the bottom of her right leg up to the knee.
“I have done this work all my life. I love it,” he says, smiling.
At his side, Andriï Ilkiv, police officer in the city of Lviv (northwest), expert in explosives, also had his lower left leg amputated.
He was injured in September 2022 during mine clearance in the village of Dementiïvka, in the Kharkiv region.
< p>Despite some mobility issues, nothing really sets the two men apart from the rest of the bomb squad until they reveal their prosthetics.
The group works in a cabbage field on the edge of which the discovered anti-tank mines have been grouped.
Ukrainian police deminers detonate a mine found in a field in Izioum, in the Kharkiv region, October 24, 2023 © AFP – SERGEY BOBOK
Crouching on the ground, two sappers prepare to detonate one of the devices with a remote ignition device.
One of them raises his arm and shouts “Explosion!”, before pressing a detonator.
A loud detonation rings out and a plume of black smoke rises above the destroyed machine.
“Sasha, well done! It worked,” says a sapper in patting his comrade's back.
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