Ukrainian deminers work hard to clear liberated areas before winter | War in Ukraine

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Ukrainian deminers work hard to clear liberated areas before winter | War in Ukraine

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A sign warns of the presence of landmines in the Ukrainian town of Izium.

Hidden, small and deadly, the mines and other explosive devices left by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in the districts from which they withdrew represent an urgent challenge for deminers before winter arrives.

Without us, there is no chance of repairing services like electricity before winter, says Artem, 33, who leads a team of deminers busy around the city ​​of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian forces.

We discovered more than 30 mines and artillery shells today, mostly shells, adds Artem, whose 10-person team is tasked with clearing areas around critical infrastructure like electric cables or water and gas pipes.

Each day we start where we finished the day before, he adds, observing electricians who progress carefully behind a deminer in a field of sunflowers towards a severed cable.

Members of a Ukrainian demining unit stand near recovered and decommissioned anti-tank mines near Izium.

Other deminers stack the discovered mines, whose detonators have been safely removed, behind a truck that will remove them for destruction.

Deminers explore the edges of a debris-strewn road between Izium, which Ukrainian forces seized in early September after six months of occupation by the Russian army, and the border of the Donetsk region , not far on this path.

Artem, who does not wish to communicate his last name, does not seem to be moved by the dangerousness of the work of his team, which inspects the edges of the road and progress carefully through fields of tall grass.

“It's our job, it's what we know how to do, but now more than ever, it's our duty. »

— Artem, deminer

The damage observed in Izioum by the Ukrainian army are numerous since the departure of the Russian soldiers.

We have 35 men, divided into 7 teams, from different regions of Ukraine, says Vassyl Melnyk, 42, who commands the demining team deployed in the Izium district.

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Nobody knows how long the demining operations will take, he told AFP from the deminers' base in Izioum.

Despite the help of international organizations, we have not even finished discovering the mines abandoned since the beginning of the first phase of the conflict in 2014, he adds, referring to the clashes with the separatists from eastern Ukraine.

But if the deminers work quickly, the district of Izium can be cleared by November, this that would allow essential services to be back up and running by winter, he hopes.

Since the liberation of Izium, his teams have covered some 100 hectares in the district, he said, and discovered more than 5,000 mines around positions previously occupied by the Russians.

Ukrainian servicemen search a landfill site for landmines.

The deminers discovered both anti-tank mines, anti-personnel mines and artillery shells, as well as PFM-1 mines, known as butterfly mines, which are particularly destructive and prohibited by an international treaty to which Russia is not a party. part.

These small green-colored mines with wings, known in Ukraine as petals, are all the more dangerous because they can be picked up by children, Mr. Melnyk points out.

On the road, where only military vehicles drive towards the front, Sacha's team hammers poles on the sides of the lane, hanging signs with a skull and crossbones signaling Danger – Mines!

It's no more dangerous than crossing the road in normal times, assures Sacha, 44, cigarette in mouth, commenting on the situation with a shrug.

Now, the next mine is two meters away, he says, so here we are more or less safe, he says.

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