Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageNew skull and crossbones signs warn of mines in Ukraine

By Yulia Silina (AFP)     Apr 3, 2016 in World

"Danger! Mines! Do not leave the road!", warns a billboard painted with an ominous skull and crossbones on a blood-red background that stands on a roadside in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Though fighting between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian rebels has dwindled after nearly two years, mines scattered across the vital industrial region that is home to some three million people continue claiming lives at an alarming rate.

A March report prepared by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said explosive devices had killed 21 people and injured 57 in the preceding three months.

In the absence of massive artillery shelling, landmines remain the main cause of civilian casualties, the report said.

Ukraine's emergency services report clearing the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces that are partially run by the rebels of more than 44,000 mines and booby traps by the start of December.

But the warring sides and foreign monitors struggle to estimate how many such devices remain.

To reduce the number of victims  the International Committee of the Red Cross began installing huge ...
To reduce the number of victims, the International Committee of the Red Cross began installing huge billboards along a seven-kilometre (four-mile) stretch of a road juts through no-man's land
Aleksey Filippov, AFP

To reduce the number of victims, the International Committee of the Red Cross began installing huge billboards along a seven-kilometre (four-mile) stretch of a road that juts through the no-man's land splitting the two sides' fighters and their respective checkpoints.

It has only put up 15 of them for the moment, but locals appear grateful nonetheless. Until now, the only visible warnings appeared on small handmade boards set up mostly by soldiers.

"These signs are needed," says Olga, a 28-year-old nurse who refused to give her last name for security reasons.

"They will make this area safer", she said while watching the first billboard being put up in Berezove, a so-called "grey zone" village about 10 kilometres south of the separatists' de facto capital of Donetsk.

- Invisible danger -

Once a month, Olga picks up a heavy suitcase and crosses the demarcation line to visit relatives who live in a pro-Western government controlled part of the impoverished east European state.

On each journey, says Olga, she fears being maimed or worse by the invisible threat.

The Red Cross installed its first sign at the end of March in Berezove  where the global humanitaria...
The Red Cross installed its first sign at the end of March in Berezove, where the global humanitarian organisation pinpointed 15 mine blasts in six months, killing one civilian
Aleksey Filippov, AFP

"It can happen at any moment: a bus can hit a mine or some pedestrian will try to walk along the side of the road" in a field where most of mines are scattered, she says.

"I live in (rebel-run) Olenivka, near the checkpoint, and it also happens that people hit booby traps and mines. They are completely invisible, and there are absolutely no warnings," the young woman says.

Nearly 9,200 people have been killed and more than 21,000 injured since fighting that Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of instigating erupted in April 2014.

Moscow denies sponsoring the war in reprisal for Ukraine's February 2014 ousting of its Russian-backed president and subsequent decision to forge an alliance with the European Union and possibly even seek NATO membership.

One of Europe's bloodiest and most diplomatically-damaging crises since the Balkans wars of the 1990s prompted Germany and France to help Russia and Ukraine sign up to a truce and political reconciliation agreement in February 2015.

That deal has calmed the worst violence but has done little to settle the political future of rebel-controlled lands that run near the Russian border, which militias control.

Ukraine says it must deploy its forces along the porous frontier before any political resolution is reached -- a seemingly distant goal.

In this latest in a series of conflicts to plague other contested regions of the former Soviet Union, groups like the Red Cross do what they can to help stranded civilians survive.

- Lacking de-mining efforts -

The Red Cross installed its first sign at the end of March in Berezove, where the global humanitarian organisation pinpointed 15 mine blasts in the past six months, killing one civilian.

"This is very dangerous territory," Red Cross member Anna Cheptunova says.

Cheptunova explains that most casualties occur when buses packed with civilians veer off roads to avoid checkpoints at which vehicles are sometimes forced to wait for hours, forming kilometres (miles)-long queues.

The most recent such reported incident killed three people when their minibus tried to get past the checkpoint by driving off into a mine-studded field on February 10.

The Red Cross intends to put up more billboards in the future south of Donetsk. But some residents say the effort was insufficient and that the two foes should focus on de-mining efforts to make the region safer.

"These preventive billboards are a necessity," says 55-year-old Georgy, waiting for his bus near a checkpoint.

"But what is even more necessary is for the guys with the guns on both side to start clearing" the war zone, he says.

More about Ukraine, Russia, Conflict, Mines
More news from
Latest News
Top News