“We have many cows and we have to feed them. My husband saw that the villagers were working in the field and drove out in his tractor. Everything was fine for the others, but my husband went into the field and didn’t come back,” recounts Vera.
Ukraine ranks among the most severely affected places in the world for casualties as a result of landmines and other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). Vera is from the eastern part of the country and tells us the story of her late husband:
“He was … there are no such people like him in the world.”
That day, Vera’s husband, Viktor, went to cut grass for the cows on his tractor. The villagers considered the field a safe area, so there were no warnings or signage indicating the presence of mines. Viktor had wanted to take his youngest son with him to the field that day, but Vera had not allowed it.
After the sudden loss of her husband in 2015, the family was left not only without a husband and father but also without their primary provider. Left with two sons and no means of support, Vera continues to raise her boys with the help of her mother-in-law. She breeds cows and sells dairy products at the local market in Mariupol to provide for her family.
Hnutove, where the family lives, is located in Donetsk Oblast and is one of many small villages in eastern Ukraine set in close proximity to the ‘contact line’ where conflict has been ongoing since 2014. Only about 100 villagers still live here, while 600 have fled. Hnutove is known for the nearby Entry-Exit Checkpoint (EECP) between the government-controlled and non-government-controlled areas – and for the heavy shelling it has endured since the start of the conflict.
Mine victim assistance is part of the work DRC’s Humanitarian Disarmament & Peacebuilding team has been doing in Ukraine since 2018, along with humanitarian demining, mine risk education, and support to national mine action operators. As part of the Mine Victim Assistance program, DRC provided Vera and her family with a heating stove, two beds, mattresses and construction materials. Mark and Erik now attend school in the nearby village of Talakivka, so DRC also provided a desk so they can keep up with their homework.
Following the start of the conflict in spring 2014, DRC was the first international NGO to initiate a response to the acute need for humanitarian mine action. Between June 2014 and February 2020, a total of 1,044 mine/ERW accidents were recorded in available sources. Of the 1,922 casualties recorded, 632 people were killed and 1,290 were injured. Boys and men comprise the majority (85%) of all casualties.
DRC’s Humanitarian Disarmament & Peacebuilding team currently conducts humanitarian demining in Luhansk Oblast. Last year, 186,120 square metres (18.6 hectares) of agricultural land was cleared and released to local populations for their use. Non-technical surveys have identified three more hazardous areas covering 140,000 hectares in total – one of them being the field in Hnutove where Vera’s husband died. Currently, two million people living in eastern Ukraine remain exposed to mine hazards.
International Mine Awareness Day (IMAD) takes place every April 4th and is the United Nations’ dedicated day to raise awareness about the dangers of landmines and the progress toward their eradication. DRC commemorates IMAD each year with a combination of events and media coverage. Though IMAD 2021 will not be marked by a physical event due to COVID-19, DRC remains steadfast in our support for, and solidarity with, those whose everyday lives remain scarred by landmines and Explosive Remnants of War.