EU helps to demine Ukraine’s east

The beginning of spring is not only about flowering trees and the start of fieldwork in gardens across the country. Spring also heralds the start of demining work in the Donbas. Ukrinform asked Danish Demining Group (DDG), a nongovernmental organization and one of the key participants in demining effort, about technical aspects of this process and whether Ukrainian legislation governing this area is sophisticated enough.

It is worth noting that the imposition of quarantine has somewhat affected the preparation of this article, and therefore, this interview with Almedina Musić, Danish Demining Group Head of Program, was held over Skype.

Almedina, let’s find out a bit more about what your organization does. What exactly is organization of demining about?

– I wouldn’t talk here about demining only, because it is only one of the components of a wider picture of demining effort. Of the five components of this activity according to the world’s generally accepted standards, we carry out four in Ukraine.

The first one is what you’ve actually asked about: the process of humanitarian demining. The second is informing about landmine danger, the third is helping victims of landmines, and the fourth is advocacy. These are the four components we are presently implementing in Ukraine.

The fifth component is disposal of ordnance. Presently, we cannot do that in Ukraine.

All these components are very interrelated and mutually supplementing. Landmine neutralization activity is aimed to prevent accidents and protect the civilian population and infrastructure.

If we are talking about humanitarian demining, there are various methods of doing it, and it is very important to gather information about the dimension and degree of contamination.

In 2015, we started our work with providing information about landmine danger, and two years later, in 2017, we launched humanitarian demining as such.

To date, we have demined the area of 600 thousand sq.m, and were able to release approximately the same area thanks to nontechnical survey.

– How this process takes place from technical point of view?

– We work closely with the Defense Ministry of Ukraine as the institution responsible for coordination of landmine clearance efforts today. We are talking about planning, task setting and verification of demining quality.

Also, the Defense Ministry takes active part in meetings with all stakeholders involved in demining efforts. They include, in particular, our regular coordination meetings, meetings of demining sub-cluster coordinated by UNDP, and round tables organized by OSCE.

Danish Demining Group has nontechnical survey teams. After completing a nontechnical survey, we report data gathered in the surveyed area to the Defense Ministry.

In particular, based on information provided by local communities and on the available evidence, we map three types of areas: suspected dangerous area, confirmed dangerous area, and excluded (safe) area.

This data is filed in the Defense Ministry’s database to create the grounds for further work. After that, we place an inquiry with the Ministry for them to let us know which of these grounds to demine next. And only then we are able to deploy our team.

Presently, we have two fully staffed and equipped teams on standby, and another three new teams will be established if everything will be well after the coronavirus epidemic ends. All five teams will be deployed for humanitarian demining. 

– Who are the members of these teams?

– Each of these five teams is comprised of nine persons on average: five or six deminers, team leader, deputy team leader who can act both as the leader and, if necessary, as a deminer, and another two are a paramedic and an ambulance driver.

This team organization is conformant with international standards. To be sure, all demining operators must have a structure like that.

In addition to international standards, national standards on demining must be in place as well. Presently, Ukraine has no permanent standards of this kind, and therefore, we follow DDG’s internal standards developed specifically for Ukraine.

In Ukraine, our teams are staffed and equipped to do technical surveys, manual demining and clearance of the combat area. 

Each of these methods envisages different techniques and different levels of training which deminers have to undergo. It also has bearing on different daily productivity – I mean the number of square meters a team can clear in one day.

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– Who helps Ukraine financially in its demining efforts?

– First of all, these are funds provided by international donors – various departments of the European Commission, and governments or foreign ministries of European countries. Besides EU institutions, the countries providing financial support to demining efforts of our organization include Sweden, France and Germany.

And of course, there is a strong support from the U.S. government as, by the way, one of the biggest financial donors supporting humanitarian demining worldwide.

– Certain specialists emphasize that there is a certain standard on demining: one year of war means ten years of demining. Is that true? How much time would actually be needed, according to your estimates, to completely demine the Donbas?

Nobody can tell for sure how many years it would take to demine the Donbas

– Unfortunately, nobody in Ukraine can give an exact and exhaustive answer to your question today. I can answer it only partially.

So, in order to give a clear answer to this question, Ukraine must establish and launch a national demining authority.

There also must be an overarching base to which all organizations and everyone involved in demining efforts would have to report and submit information.

I have to emphasize that the duration of demining process depends not only on the size of the landmine contaminated area. It is a well-known fact that Ukraine has a huge problem. Ukraine is a country whose territory is one of the most contaminated by landmines not just in Europe but in the entire world.

Therefore, the question is not just about the size – one also has to take into account how many demining operators are engaged in landmine clearing efforts in that territory.

Presently, there are only two international organizations operating in Ukraine: Danish Demining Group (DDG) and Halo Trust. We join our efforts in humanitarian demining, and also, provide support to the State Emergency Service as the national demining operator which also does humanitarian demining.

Comparing the number of these operators with other countries, Ukraine has very little of them. For example, certain other countries had as many as twenty of these operators.

Therefore, the duration of demining would also depend on the number of teams and people who would actually do the demining. And of course, on funding.

– What else can affect the demining process?

It is hard to find financing, if the same area would probably have to be demined several times in a row

– We have to bear in mind that the conflict continues, and we can talk about political involvement of the Ukrainian government in the planning of humanitarian demining. However, the fighting continues; we hear every day about the clashes which also leave unexploded ordnance.

Demining is a very expensive process, and therefore, it’s hard to find donor funding if there is a probability that the same area would have to be demined several times in a row. It is not the best way of resolving this situation.

We can expect more operators to arrive after the fighting ends. In that case, an area could be cleared of landmines and immediately returned to the community living in that area.

– Am I right to understand that demining takes place in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government?

– Yes, you are right. In addition, I have to tell that we do not work closer than 5 km from the confrontation line for the reasons of safety and the possibility that landmines can be placed there again.

Our team operates in the Luhansk Oblast, and Halo Trust in the Donetsk Oblast. However, we communicate information about the dangers of landmines, provide help to victims of landmines and engage in advocacy in the entire territory of Eastern Ukraine. 

– Judging by the experience in demining efforts in other countries, what is the distinguishable feature of this process in Ukraine, besides the fact that our country has, as you have already mentioned, one of the largest territories in the world contaminated by landmines?

– Speaking about the difference with other countries, the absence of a national demining authority and a center for demining operations surely plays its role here.

Even though the Verkhovna Rada had passed the demining law back in December 2018, its provisions have, unfortunately, not been implemented yet.

The country also lacks national standards which all demining operators would have to observe. Again, the existing legislation has a lot of requirements concerning registration, accreditation, import of various products which we need for humanitarian demining.

The Ukrainian government and public authorities must be more engaged in the demining process with a centralized national demining authority. 

Cooperation must also be established with other ministries involved, directly or indirectly, in demining effort. In particular, these are the ministry of education, health ministry and ministry of social policy.

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– From what you are saying, I have an impression that the work being done in Ukraine is fragmentary and the situation needs to be addressed urgently.

– Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. I can also add that Ukraine lacks a strategy and a general understanding of this process.

But despite all these obstacles, we see a good will on part of the Ukrainian government, international community and the national operator.

What is needed from the Ukrainian government is the engagement and focus on demining effort, as well as the understanding of “how it works”.

What is presently available is good. However, it is not enough.

We have to take more efforts, based, of course, on the existing capabilities. Good examples of other countries must be taken into account. The Danish Demining Group team has this experience, and we will be happy to share it in Ukraine.

By Oleksandra Zharkova

Source: Ukrinform