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A young girl wearing a colorful coat and pink beanie rides a pink bicycle past buildings destroyed by explosive weapons in Ukraine
Ukraine

Returning civilians threatened by explosive ordnance

Some people displaced by the war in Ukraine are beginning to return home to cities contaminated by explosive ordnance. Humanity & Inclusion will prepare communities to identify hazards and adopt safe behaviors.

Bombing and shelling have been confirmed in cities across Ukraine, including Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Luhansk, Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Sumy, Zhytomyr and Vinnytsia.

“In addition to the initial destruction, these attacks can leave areas heavily contaminated with explosive ordnance, as a varying percentage of them fail to function as intended or are deliberately deployed to kill or injure people,” says Perrine Benoist, technical director of armed violence reduction at Humanity & Inclusion.

“These explosive ordnance can remain dangerous for days, weeks, or even years," Benoist adds.

Humanity & Inclusion will be working with displaced people in eastern and western Ukraine to better prepare them for dealing with the threats posed by conflict and explosive remnants of war.

Teaching safe behaviors

“As a lot of people start returning home, they will inevitably find booby traps and explosive ordnance,” explains Celine Cheng, Humanity & Inclusion’s explosive ordnance risk education specialist. “We want to teach them how to recognize, react to and report these threats.”

To spot signs of booby traps, risk education teaches individuals to look for irregularities in the soil such as color changes, raised or flattened areas, and wrappings or wires. Signs of forced entry into buildings or cars could also signal explosives inside. People are encouraged to only use high-traffic roads when traveling, instead of shortcuts or unused roads. They should never drive over unknown objects on the road, and they should not wander into areas with rubble or debris. Communities are also encouraged to remain in frequent contact with trusted neighbors, friends and family to report any devices or suspicions between them.

“There has been an explosive ordnance problem in Ukraine for a long time,” Cheng says. “There are remnants from the first and second World Wars, the conflict in 2014, and now there is this war. Our target population is likely to have some familiarity with explosive ordnance already. So, it is key to focus more on safety messages, highlight unsafe behaviors and identify the new kinds of contamination in Ukraine.”

Cheng explains that teams have already noticed unsafe behaviors in social media posts.

“One thing that has really struck me is that people are taking videos of the damage caused by explosive ordnance on their mobile phones,” she says. “To get them on film, they are stepping and approaching quite closely, which is pretty dangerous behavior.

"I’ve even seen videos of civilians removing mines from the road and putting them into the forest," Cheng continues. "While the intention is good, it is actually high-risk behavior that we want to discourage.”

On May 8, in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine, a 12-year-old boy was reportedly killed after bringing home and accidentally detonating ammunition he had found in a cluster pile.

Preparing at-risk communities

Humanity & Inclusion’s plans to implement risk education, conflict preparedness and protection initiatives in Ukraine include:

  • Deployment of risk education teams in Chernivtsi and Dnipro
  • Providing community-level risk education sessions in schools, community centers, etc.
  • Distributing printed education materials such as brochures, posters and pamphlets on hazard identification, safe behaviors and conflict preparation tips
  • Providing risk education trainings to humanitarian actors and community focal points, including first responders, volunteers and metro workers
  • Launching media and remote campaigns to share information digitally to isolated and insecure areas

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