Geneva (ICRC)-As the winter freeze sets in and attacks on infrastructure leave people without heat or electricity, civilians face an increased risk of being injured or killed by landmines and unexploded munitions. Snow and ice make these weapons harder to detect while the lack of heating is forcing more people to venture into potentially weapon-laden forests in search of firewood.
“Mines and unexploded ordnance lurk in farmland and neighborhoods, each holding the potential to destroy lives,” said Ariane Bauer, the regional director for Eurasia at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “Mines must not be used, and we appeal to the parties to the conflict to mark and clear the contaminated areas as soon as possible and inform civilians of the dangers.”
While mines and unexploded ordnances have been a long-standing danger in this region, the risk they pose has increased exponentially since February.
Swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were already heavily contaminated with unexploded ordnance following eight years of conflict. The winter season now compounds the long-term dangers that civilians are facing.
The misery and destruction inflicted by such hidden threats is immense. Blasts can be fatal or cause injuries such as blindness, burns, damaged limbs, and deep shrapnel wounds. In addition to the loss of life and injury, unexploded ordnance frequently hinders or prevents access to essential services like hospitals or they make repairs to water and power facilities unsafe or prolonged.
Even before February, Ukraine was home to ICRC’s largest weapons contamination team. Today 18 ICRC weapons contamination specialists are helping mark and clear areas with unexploded ordnance and are sharing mine safety information with communities and municipal workers. The ICRC is also helping repair damaged homes and essential infrastructure like water and electricity systems and supporting over one million people with heating.
The 25th anniversary of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention is Sunday (4 December). Since it came into force, civilian causalities caused by anti-personnel mines declined by 90 percent globally. The risks these weapons still pose to civilians underscore there is still a long way to go to reach the Convention’s goal of a mine-free world by 2025.