What are the dangers posed by explosive weapons in Ukraine?
Kaitlin Hodge: According to the United Nations, more than 20,000 people have been injured or killed by explosive weapons used in Ukraine since February 2022, including 800 civilians.
Since February 2022, the violence has escalated continuously and today almost all of Ukraine’s regions have suffered air strikes. The weapons used in these air strikes are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so the explosive remnants left behind will be more difficult to clear. In addition to these explosive remnants, in the disputed regions, there are a lot of mines and other types of explosive ordnance such as shells and rockets dating back to the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014.
In total, about 62,000 square miles of territory have seen fighting – the equivalent of half of Germany. If all this territory is contaminated, Ukraine will be the most contaminated country in the world in terms of surface area.
What support is needed to protect people from explosive weapons in Ukraine?
Kaitlin Hodge: HI's assistance is focused on prevention to prepare civilians for armed violence and explain the dangers of explosive remnants: how to recognize dangerous areas and the behavior to adopt in these areas; the useful items to carry in a purse; how to evacuate a building; how to help people with disabilities who are unable to reach safety on their own, and so on.
Olga Savchenko: We work with adults and children who are victims of the conflict, displaced people and returnees. It can be particularly dangerous for returnees. They weren’t around during the fighting and so don't know where the armed forces were stationed and which areas should be avoided because of the presence of explosive devices.
Kaitlin Hodge: The Ukrainian population will need help for decades to come. Cambodia, for example, which saw civil war in the 1970s and 1980s, is still contaminated by explosive remnants today.
Civilians have to learn to live differently when their land is contaminated. For farmers, for example, how can they cultivate their land safely and ensure their livelihood?
What are the main challenges for a humanitarian organization operating in Ukraine?
Olga Savchenko: One of our main challenges is raising awareness among as many people as possible, including those in areas where fighting is still underway and inaccessible for security reasons. For people living too close to the combat zones for us to reach, we have put online awareness raising in place, because it is obviously especially important in these areas.
As the conflict is still ongoing, we have to be very flexible when planning our activities and constantly adapt our training.
What is everyday life like for Ukrainians as they enter the second year of war?
Olga Savchenko: They try to lead a normal life, although the war affects every aspect of their daily existence. Many children can't go to school because there is no basement that can serve as an air raid shelter. As attacks can happen at any time and there are often power outages afterward, people can't use elevators.
Traveling anywhere takes much longer. Before the war, you could reach Polish cities by plane in two hours, whereas today it takes 20 hours by train just to reach the Polish border.
Finally, a lot of families are still in complicated situations. Many women and children have fled abroad. The men and fathers, most of whom had other jobs, are now in the army. Once the war is over, it will be very difficult to reunite families and rebuild houses, but also to learn to live together again as a family and community.
Kaitlin Hodge: The Ukrainians are resilient people, but they have been living with relentless stress for over a year. The psychological impact of the war has been huge. This is why HI is also providing individual and group psychosocial support. The needs are exponential.