Ukraine dam explosion has dislodged thousands of landmines, aid workers warn

Houses are seen underwater in the flooded village of Dnipryany, in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, after the collapse of Kakhovka Dam. (AP Photo)
By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

The explosion of the Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine has resulted in thousands of undetonated landmines and unexploded ordnances flooding into residential areas from the battlefield, the Red Cross has warned.

More than 40,000 people have already been evacuated from towns and cities surrounding the dam on the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast. However, as crisis teams tackle the flooding, there are questions about how inhabitable the environment will be should residents one day return.

Humanitarian workers talk of the potentially deadly landscape that may await them as landmines deployed by the Russian military to both defend their positions and slow any Ukrainian counteroffensive have been washed downstream into the heart of the Ukrainian-controlled city of Kherson.

“Until now, we have roughly guessed where the mines might be and where we shouldn’t go. Now we have no idea,” Erik Tollefsen, head of the Red Cross’s weapon contamination unit, told AFP.

“They can be anywhere in the floodplain,” he added.

Locals have spoken of “floating landmines,” each filled with 7 kg of explosives, and the unexploded devices are now proving to be life-threatening not just to the military, but also civilians and aid workers leading the humanitarian effort in the region.

The Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance charity, has been attempting to mark areas where landmines have been located; however, the dramatically fluctuating water levels are causing the devices to move further inland.

In a statement, the charity warned that landmines were now “a fatal risk to civilians who live in the area or use the fertile banks to graze their animals, cultivate crops, and fish.

“Our demining teams regularly cross the river to access minefields, but three of these minefields are now underwater and we’ve had to suspend work on others nearby.”

Nataliya Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s military South Command, told Ukrainian TV: “Many anti-infantry mines have been dislodged, becoming floating mines. They pose a great danger.”

The explosion of the dam, which both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of initiating, has resulted in a widespread humanitarian crisis in the region with thousands of residents losing their homes and without clean drinking water or electricity.

Environmentalists have also revealed at least 150 tons of engine oil have leaked into the river, with the increased toxicity proving to be lethal for animals and causing untold damage to bio-systems.

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