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UKRAINE: Deadly new mines and cluster munitions pose a daily threat for civilians

Press Release | London, 28th April 2022, 12:00 GMT

Russian airstrikes, missile attacks, and artillery bombardment in Ukraine are killing and injuring civilians and destroying homes, hospitals, schools, bridges and other vital infrastructure. In addition to the initial destruction, these attacks leave areas heavily contaminated by explosive ordnance. These explosive remnants of war can remain dangerous for days, weeks and even years. In Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin, Kharkiv or Mariupol, the contamination caused by the intensive bombardments and the use of mines is a major threat for the populations wishing to return to their homes or for those who have remained in the cities. There is an urgent need for risk education campaigns to raise awareness on the danger of landmines and other explosive remnants of war and the safe behaviours to adopt in order to stay safe.  

Relentless artillery bombardment and aerial bombing in populated areas 

Since the beginning of the conflict, the cities of Ukraine have been subjected to relentless and indiscriminate bombing. Most of the damage is caused by the use of explosive weapons with a large destructive radius, high explosive power, inaccurate delivery systems or systems that deliver multiple munitions over a wide area (airstrikes, heavy artillery fire and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS)). A variable percentage of these weapons fails to explode as designed and can pose a threat to the population for decades.  

Contamination caused by heavy bombing requires complex, time consuming and expensive clearance operations before the population can return home safely and reconstruction can begin. These clearance operations particularly in urban or populated areas are difficult due to their complexity. Secondary hazards can include electric, gas, confined spaces, falling rubble, glass, as well as explosive hazards hidden in layers of rubble.   

Use of new form of banned landmines in eastern Ukraine  

Human Rights Watch reports that one of the types of anti-personnel mines being used by Russia are a recently developed type called the POM-3. The POM-3 uses a proximity seismic fuze with a self-destruct time of either 8 or 24hrs. On sensing a suitable seismic signature, i.e. a person, the base unit ejects a fragmentation charge into the air that contains metal fragmentation rings that detonate sending metal fragmentation out to a lethal radius of 16 metres.  

 "All landmines are inherently indiscriminate, but the POM3 is especially so, due to its ability to detect the presence of humans before it is stepped on or tripped over. Its 16 metres range and the penetrative nature of its fragments are specifically designed to target the eyes, neck and groin area." Perrine Benoist, Humanity & Inclusion Armed Violence Reduction Director. 

Banned cluster munitions being used by Russian military forces in Ukraine  

Human Rights Watch reported that cluster munitions have been used by Russian forces in Ukraine, including on February 24 when an hospital was struck by a missile carrying cluster munitions, killing at least four civilians. Russian forces fired cluster munitions into at least three residential areas in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, on February 28.  

A cluster bomb is a large container most often dropped by an aircraft. Once in the air, the container opens and scatters hundreds of small bombs called “submunitions”. Cluster bombs are not precision weapons. They can impact an area as wide as a football pitch. If you target a military depot, you inevitably hit surrounding homes. This lack of precision poses a particular threat to civilians, which is why these weapons are banned.  

Up to 40% of these submunitions, sometimes no bigger than a tennis ball, do not self-destruct or explode on impact, meaning cluster munitions also leave a deadly legacy of explosions waiting to happen. They stay on the ground and can remain active and hazardous for decades, in the same way as anti-personnel mines. They can explode if you pass close to them or pick them up. 

Since 24 February, the extent of contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war has increased in the east of Ukraine, but also in the new conflict zones, putting the lives of thousands of civilians at risk. On 30 March, Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin reported that approximately 300,000 km² of Ukrainian territory had been contaminated by explosive devices since 24 February [1].

"Land contamination also prevents humanitarian access, hampering aid to people in need. In this context, Humanity & Inclusion is calling for the protection of civilians from this contamination by raising their awareness of the risks and by starting to clear the affected areas as soon as possible", explains Perrine Benoist. 


Notes

- Interview available upon request with HI’s experts based in Ukraine ( and in the UK) 

[1] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Ukraine%20-%20Humanitarian%20Impact%20Situation%20Report%20%28As%20of%201200%20p.m.%20%28EET%29%20on%201%20April%202022%29.pdf  

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