EU financing mine clearance in Donbas

I found a tripwire grenade at Ozerne in the Lyman Raion, near the popular beach called Varadero. Of course, working as a deminer, I have already found other unexploded ordnance as well, but that particular one has struck me. It was on the beach where I loved to spend time with my family. Next are the places where I was often fishing. And suddenly, I saw everything in a totally different light. Instead of bringing fond and pleasant memories, that place began to emanate mortal danger. That was when I came to realize that becoming a deminer paid itself off…

A certified electro-mechanician, Vladyslav Golovko spent many years working in the construction industry, and was not going to change occupation at all. But when an armed conflict broke out in Eastern Ukraine, he volunteered to help the army. In the meantime, the third child was born to his family.

And when the European Union undertook a huge task of clearing unexploded ordnance in liberated areas, Vladyslav decided to join the mission. HALO Trust (a humanitarian organization) was recruiting deminers at the time, and the electro-mechanician Vladyslav Golovko had no second thoughts. He applied, realizing that it’s his chance to help bring peace back to the East.

Vladyslav passed an interview, selection and training, and started demining. Later on, he completed a paramedical training course, reasoning that in his line of work, the ability to save human life and provide an emergency assistance would definitely be helpful.

Then, there were courses of team leaders, and today, Vladyslav is the chief supervisor of mine clearance teams or, simply put, the chief deminer among HALO Trust’s Ukrainian personnel. The deminers’ headquarters is in Kramatorsk, and they work in liberated areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Answering the request to assess the security situation in our region, Vladyslav says:

“Nobody can guarantee the absolute, one hundred percent security. And it has never been one hundred percent anyway, as people still keep finding unexploded ordnance from World War II.”

But at the same time, he disagrees with those saying that “everything’s lost, one cannot go out of town anymore…”

“Surely, one has to be careful in unfamiliar surroundings, in places that saw fighting, where there were roadblocks during the conflict, but it is wrong to take this carefulness to extremes”, Vladyslav explains. “Actually, that is what our work is about: to make areas affected by fighting as safe as possible. If we get a report that some place may contain landmines or tripwires, we will definitely find them”.

Vladyslav does not keep a count of cleared ordnance. Any specialist would consider such a counting futile.

“One cleared mine is already an achievement, and a piece of ordnance found and cleared by someone is not a personal achievement but the result of efforts of many people, starting from those who donate money to finance this work, including numerous specialists in the most diverse fields, and ending with the teams of deminers or emergency service personnel themselves, who handle that ordnance”, Vladyslav Golovko says. “Therefore, when a piece of ordnance is cleared, it’s our common achievement. And yes, we all feel satisfaction, not as much from adrenaline as from realization that it is we who “kicked its butt”, not the other way round.

It is worth noting that HALO Trust recruits personnel from among locals. This way, people get well-paid jobs and make their own land safe.

But since we mentioned “adrenaline”, there is no lack of it there, either, Vladyslav says.

“Clearing an antitank minefield is a relatively simple and quite safe thing”, he continues. “An antitank mine is designed to detonate under heavy weight, and one has to invest a lot of efforts to make it go off. As for high-explosive and anti-personnel mines, we haven’t come across any yet. But we’ll get to them, too – the areas close to the “zero” line are strewn with them.

“And the most dangerous and tricky things are tripwires. An exploding tripwire grenade or OZM-72 bouncing mine stuffed with 2.5 thousand steel balls would leave no chance to anyone within the 30-meter radius. Especially when a green-camouflaged fishing line is used instead of wire – you wouldn’t notice it at even the point-blank range. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful with them. For instance, when clearing an antitank minefield, one deminer sweeps 4000 square meters per day on average. But if it’s a forest or woodland with tripwires, he’d hardly make 40. There are tons of them in woodlands and other areas with vegetation in the places that saw action, where commando units operated and moved, etc. These things leave no room for error at all. But fortunately, the level of training, hardware and personal protective equipment we have are adequate, helping us successfully do our job in these conditions.”

There is a saying that “one year of combat requires 10 years of mine clearing”. Vladyslav does not consider it precise and universal.

“I would use another comparison. For example, a grenade worth 100 hryvnias requires 28 thousand hryvnias to clear it. As for time, one can’t tell for sure that “one year of war requires 10 years of mine clearing”. It could be anything. But 10 years are definitely not enough. The only thing I can tell for sure is that we’re only in the beginning of a long path; we’re only gaining experience, and a huge amount of work is still ahead”.

Still, Vladyslav Golovko is confident that we’ll end up as the victorious side and that HALO Trust deminers will successfully finish their mission.

“When could your mission be considered accomplished?” I asked him.

“When we’ll go to watch a soccer game at the Donbas Arena”, he answered, smiling.

By Dmytro Lukianenko

The article was originally published on Ostro.org

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