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Ukraine Works To De-Mine Region As Some Refugees Return Home


Some Ukraine refugees have been returning to their homes to the eastern part of that country following a tenuous cease-fire. But another danger awaits them there - land mines, an unexploded ordnance that are left over from the ongoing conflict between separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces that began in 2014. UNICEF says that 42 children have been killed and at least 109 have been injured in the past year. Mine clearing operations are underway, but it could take years. Reporter Jack Losh recently reported on the situation in Ukraine for The Guardian. He joins us now from London. Thanks very much for being with us.

JACK LOSH: Thanks very much for having me.

SIMON: Can you give us some idea of the extent of the problem?

LOSH: Well, the sad fact is no one really knows the exact extent. According to official figures, Ukrainians say they've destroyed around 49,000 explosives, but this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg and many hundreds of thousands of land mines, unexploded ordnance, booby traps, are likely to remain. According to the latest U.N. report, they say that mines are strewn across at least 74,000 acres of land in the war zone.

SIMON: And the casualties are often children because they think it's some kind of toy.

LOSH: Well, yeah. In terms of who's getting hurt, it's not just combatants fighting on both sides. It's civilians. About 600 soldiers and civilians in total have been killed and, yes, the death toll does include dozens of children. This is because the device is maybe brightly colored. Often they're small enough to pick up or kick around. And they're actually causing around 80 percent of all of Ukraine's civilian casualties in the war zone.

SIMON: I wonder, what are some of the personal stories that stay in your mind after this reporting trip?

LOSH: I managed to arrange an interview with a civilian casualty who just a few months earlier had been injured by a land mine. His name was Gregory Voyevoda. He was 65. He was a neurosurgeon but because doctors in Ukraine are paid such pitiful amounts, he had had - actually had to resort to farming wheat to supplement his meager salary. He had the opportunity to go back and harvest a small patch of land. And he was driving his tractor and it went over an anti-tank mine. He heard a click. He said he knew something was wrong immediately. He tried to open the door to jump out, but it was too late. There was a very powerful explosion. Among the injuries which he received were second and third-degree burns down his lower body. It shredded the muscles in his forearm. His legs were pumped full of shrapnel. And it was - it was horrific. But one thing which he said to me - I asked him if you think these weapons should be banned, and he said, no. He said, you can destroy all of our factories. You can kill all of our men and women will give birth again. But the one thing that you can't replace is our land, and you must use anything to protect it.

SIMON: I've been in a couple of countries where demining's going on, and I think it's safe to say what happens typically is that peace, however uneasy, is declared and then international demining troops with some of the latest equipment and a lot of experience go in and work on that demining. That doesn't seem to be the case here yet, does it?

LOSH: Not yet, it's quite low level. The depressing irony is that while we're seeing this intensified mine clearance program happen in some corners, elsewhere along the front line soldiers are still continuing to plant these devices. So on the one hand, they're trying to solve the problem. On the other hand, they're only adding to it.

SIMON: Reporter Jack Losh speaking to us from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

LOSH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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