The corridor of life: Mine Risk Education in Ukraine
Since April 2014, Ukraine has experienced violent armed conflict in which more than 7,880 people have been killed, over 17,600 injured, and over 1.4 million people have been internally displaced. Fighting that was restricted to areas in the East of the country, raged for months until Ukraine and the anti-government pro-Russian separatists signed the Minsk II ceasefire agreement on 15 February 2015 and started to withdraw heavy weapons from either side of the conflict line. Despite the ceasefire agreement the conflict continued and intensified in some areas with Ukraine’s population increasingly exposed to the dangers of war resulting in the loss of life on both sides and the destruction of homes and schools. Landmines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have severely affected communities since with movement of displaced people and communities being severely affected. The fighting has seen the, sometimes indiscriminate, use of modern weapons and heavy artillery, tanks, mortars and “Grad” rockets have rained down across the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
While the security situation has improved somewhat since September 2015, it is difficult to forecast when the cleanup of the explosive remnants of war will begin and how long it will take. In the mean time it is important that children and adults can practice safe behavior around hazards such as landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) and how to react when encountering explosive remnants of war (ERW) whether at home, in the community or at work. To meet this challenge, FSD implements a Mine Risk Education (MRE) project as the initial part of a longer-term mine action intervention in eastern Ukraine which reduces the threat from explosive ordnance to all the population and communities.
In August 2015, FSD conducted Train-the-Trainer (TTT) courses to train mine risk education focal persons from the cities of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk. MRE teams were recruited directly from conflict affected communities in order to better represent the local population and to build trust while ensuring the delivery of life-saving safety messages to protect civilians from the threat of explosive hazards.
The practice of providing mine risk education (MRE) is not as technical or process oriented as actual mine clearance or explosive ordnance disposal. MRE providers need to find the best possible methods to keep women, girls, boys and men informed about the danger of mines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and improvised explosive devices (IED) and how to encourage the local population to report UXO sightings to the State Emergency Service for timely and safe removal or demolition.
In close coordination with local authorities, MRE teams travel from village to village with their equipment to conduct MRE presentations (musicals, role play, dance, leaflets, drama) to help disseminate MRE messages, particularly in the most at-risk communities. These breaks in the normal schedule help rural community members relax from the labor and stress of a long day’s work. The mobile presentations not only provide entertainment but also create a comfortable environment for learning safety messages. They also allow the community to share their stories about unsafe behaviour. The stories they share have a powerful impact on individuals who might otherwise pay less attention to UXO threats and the teams develop an understanding of how to improve their MRE message. The presentations encourage local residents to avoid touching suspicious items, be very cautious while at work and to report UXO sightings.
Children are particularly vulnerable to explosive hazards and FSD teams use different strategies to teach kindergarten, primary, secondary and high school children to convey the mine awareness messages and promote behavioral changes to instill safe practices among children and youths. Each team has its own unique presentations for children, youth and adults about the existence of explosive devices in their area, how to recognize and avoid the explosives, and other important mine safety messages.
Igor Mikhailov, a team leader from Sloviansk, says that his team incorporates a story of a friendly wolf who teaches safe behavior for little children and Olena Rozvadovska says that her team shows a rabbit who represents the “unaware” at-risk group and demonstrates risky behavior and getting injured. The children observe the drama carefully and learn the safe behavior. A team leader from Sievierodonetsk, Kateryna Opanasuk, shares integration of a monkey character to teach mine risk education for kindergarten and primary grade children. The teams find it practical and bring a positive impact to teach mine risk education for children through interesting animals, puppet shows, fairy tales and cartoon characters.
The project manages to reach nearly 2800 beneficiaries on a weekly basis. This is a work in progress and FSD is in the process of developing a MRE tool kit for children and adults. The persistent threat of landmines and other ERW remains a danger to the populations. As these unpredictable weapons continue killing and maiming dozens of people worldwide, MRE efforts are critical to reducing their devastating impact.