I would have never thought that my skills would be needed in Ukraine – humanitarian demining expert

Oleksandr Lobov, the national coordinator on mine action with the Danish Demining Group, is experienced with humanitarian work in Africa and the Middle East. In recent years, however, he was unable to ignore the troubling developments in his native Ukraine, and he began working in the country in 2014, informing civilians about mine risk.

“I would have never thought that my skills would be needed in Ukraine,” says Lobov. In an interview, he described his work on mine risk education (MRE) and humanitarian demining in the Donbas.

The Danish Demining Group, a subunit of the Danish Refugee Council, started operating in Ukraine in 2014, informing civilians about mine risk.

In 2015, the group initiated information campaign on risks from mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) and opened its first office in Severodonetsk.

How many civilians have been affected by mines and unexploded ordnance since the military operations in Ukraine?

Based on open data sources, the current number of victims of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) is over one thousand people since 2014.

Who suffers most from landmines?

«Most victims of mines and ERW are teenage boys because of their curiosity»

Because of their curiosity, teenage boys fall victim to mines and ERW more often than other demographics. Another heavily impacted category is adult men over 20 years old. They tend to disregard warnings and go into potentially dangerous areas in the hopes of earning money by collecting mushrooms or berries, fishing, or scavenging scrap metal. We tell the locals how to take safety measures, and try to convince them that money is not worth risking their lives for.

How long does it take to fully clear an area contaminated with mines and ERW?

It is impossible to answer this for Ukraine right now. Some say it will take about three years, others say 10-20 years. Realistically, clearing the area will take decades, but the government has the power to reduce the risks to life by responding effectively to the problem: quickly adopting legislation, forming specialised state bodies, and learning from international experience.

Currently, there is an urgent need to start humanitarian demining in the Donbas. Our organisation has a wealth of experience clearing explosive devices in many countries [note: Danish Group operates in 18 countries, where armed conflict occurred].

DDG/DRC Operations Around Mariupol & Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

What is stopping you from doing clearance in Ukraine?

This is an issue of amendments to the national legislation. A new draft law has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada to allow non-governmental organisations to perform mine clearance, and a National Mine Action Authority is expected to be designated to serve as an accrediting body for demining organisations and to coordinate their work. This authority already exists under the Ministry of Defence, but its powers have not yet been enshrined in law.

The new law will clearly define the national authority, set standards for humanitarian demining, create a database, and establish procedures for accreditation.

Can locals get involved in demining efforts, or only special organisations?

Demining does not necessarily have to be led by a state body. In many countries, civilians are engaged in demining initiatives, but they must complete special training on how to identify explosives and how to neutralise them. This approach is used in Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Unfortunately, the current Ukrainian legislation does not allow for this kind of method.

What is the difference between humanitarian demining and mine action?

Mine action refers to many different strategic activities, such as educating people about mine risk, humanitarian demining, utilising stockpiles of explosive items, providing support to affected people, and advocating about non-use of anti-personnel mines.

Humanitarian demining also includes a number of different measures. Before the physical clearance, we perform a non-technical survey, collect information about dangerous areas, and forward this data to the authorities. This step has been completed in Ukraine for the government-controlled areas. The next step is technical survey, where specialists with equipment check the territory based on the data we collected. After that, we start clearing explosive devices and finally hand the cleared land over to local residents.

So what has the Danish Group done so far in Ukraine?

«We have identified over 6 million square metres of suspected hazardous areas (SHA) in the Donbas»

We have already taken the first steps toward demining by conducting non-technical survey.

With the support of the European Union, we conducted training sessions on mine risk and provided the Ukrainian State Emergency Service with modern demining equipment.

Also, with the help of an EU grant, our teams conducted non-technical survey of areas. Based on this survey we made recommendations to the government for priority areas for clearing.

DDG/DRC Operations Around Mariupol & Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

What results have you achieved in cooperation with the EU?

Currently, we have identified over 6 million square metres of suspected hazardous areas of responsibility the Danish Demining Group. We tagged their coordinates on the map and identified the type of danger. All this data has been given to the national body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence’s Department of Environmental Safety and Mine Action.

Does the Danish Group do work in territories outside of Ukrainian government control?

Currently we are working only in the government controlled areas. But we are considering the possibility of expanding our activities to the non-government controlled areas (NGCA). By the summer of 2015, we had an office in Donetsk, which we were forced to close. We hope to resume our work in the NGCA. There are lots of work to be done: Raising awareness of population about risks from mines and ERW and humanitarian demining.

What should people do when they see a mine?

«The first task of mine action is to teach people how to live in areas contaminated with mines »

There are three basic rules that we teach: First, when you see an suspicious object, do not touch it under any circumstances. Second, do not approach it. Third, call 101.

Where can people learn more about mine risk?

Thanks to the European Union and our cooperation with the TV channel ICTV, we created website with news and briefings on mine risk education and other useful information.

To shoot video tutorials on safety measures, we invited experts from the State Emergency Service, Danish Demining Group, and TV host Kostyantyn Stogniy. The tutorials are available not only on TV and in the Internet, but also in the Intercity trains, which shuttle to Donbas.

Together with partner organisations, we have created a website: www.stopmina.com. On this site, you can find detailed information about mine risk and how to prevent getting injured.

How do you explain to children what a mine is?

Of course, children do not understand the Wikipedia description of what is mine is. Our educational programme is adapted for different age groups. We try to use very plain language to explain to children about these dangerous items that can maim or kill them. For example, thanks to the EU, we published short cartoons  geared toward children. These tell children how to behave when they come across a  mine or ERW. We also conducted a drawing competition for school children. Interactive activities are helpful in explaining what mine risk is to children.

What do you mean by mine risk?

The first task of mine action is to teach people how to live in contaminated areas, however sad it may sound.

Together with our partners, we conduct an information campaign geared toward local people aimed at  teaching them how to behave in suspected hazardous areas. Our goal is not only to convey knowledge, but also to change people’s behaviour .

We organise trainings for teachers and psychologists who teach children in local schools about mine risk, and we also distribute posters and prepare informational materials for media.

Background information:

The European Union supports demining work in Ukraine. In 2016, the EU provided modern demining equipment to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service – a value of €320,000. The European Union also supports amendments to Ukrainian legislation to allow international non-governmental organisations to conduct clearance in the Donbas.

The Danish Refugee Council / Danish Demining Group implements humanitarian programmes in conflict zones and areas with displaced persons. Its main activities include social and legal protection, legal advice, recovery of destroyed housing, employment and support to small business, anti-mine activities, and capacity building in local communities. The offices of the Danish Refugee Council / Danish Demining Group are located in Kyiv, Severodonetsk, Slovyansk, Mariupol, Berdyansk, and Dnipro.

About the organisation:

http://danishdemininggroup.dk/danish-demining-group/where-we-work/ukraine

https://www.facebook.com/drcddgua/

About mine risk education:

www.ictv.ua/ua/rozminuvannya_donbasu

www.youtube.com/channel/UCv3Ltz5vbdPipbuLliq342w

http://stopmina.com/ru

The full version of the interview will be published on the Platforma website.