“Two of my friends are lying there, dead”: Life-saving education in Ukraine as mines take more children’s lives

Maksim
Two of Maksim’s friends were killed while playing with a bomb. Maksim and several other boys were severely injured. ©UNICEF/Ukraine/2014/I.Shtukharin

It started as just another day of boys’ play. ‘I was with my friends at a quarry that is used as a shooting range; it was seven of us. We’ve played there many times before’, recalls Maksim* somberly, lying in a hospital bed in his native Donetsk city.

‘We spotted a cluster bomb that was just lying around. Two of my friends picked it up and started taking photos with it. The rest of us stepped back, because we were scared. Then my friends threw the bomb into a hole in the ground.’

What happened next is vivid in Maksim’s memory, and it will stay with him for the rest of his life.

‘At first, nothing happened. But then, about ten seconds later, it exploded. I look, my leg is broken, and my arm… And two of my friends are lying there, dead.’

The other boys in the group were also injured, some of them severely.

Rising risk

The risk of death and injury from landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) is high and rising in the conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine. Incidents are recorded almost on a daily basis.

At least 109 children are reported to have been injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since March 2014. The real number of victims is likely to be higher if including non-government controlled areas, where humanitarian access is limited.

The clearing of mines and UXO is ongoing in government-controlled areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, carried out by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. Over 33,000 items of ordnance have so far been found and removed.

A lack of information is adding to the risk posed by explosives to those living in conflict-affected territories.

Awareness campaign

In response to this dire situation, UNICEF and its partners have launched a mine/UXO risk awareness campaign that will reach 1,700 schools, 500,000 children, caregivers and teachers in Donetsk and Luhansk regions by the end of 2015. As part of the campaign, risk education messages are disseminated in print, video and digital formats, and teachers and school psychologists are trained on mine-risk awareness.

The first phase of the campaign, targeting children aged 6-18 years, has already been completed. This campaign – developed by UNICEF in cooperation with the State Emergency Service and the Ministry of Education and Science – has reached 200,000 children with information materials, including posters, leaflets, and an animated information video.

The second phase, which is now in progress, has been developed by UNICEF in cooperation with the Danish Refugee Council-Danish Demining Group. This phase aims to strengthen government capacity in the injury surveillance system for mine/UXO incidents, and increase children’s safety by enhancing their knowledge of risks and by motivating safe behavior.

[*] Name has been changed to protect identity.