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Farmers in Ukraine are forced to dig up land mines by hand to save their livelihoods: ‘I don’t have any other choice’

A farmer ploughs a field in Ukraine on January 10, 2023.A farmer ploughs a field in Ukraine on January 10, 2023.

Pierre Crom/Getty Images

  • Ukrainian farmers face a hard choice: another year without income or clearing land mines themselves.
  • CNN spoke to one farmer who has been removing unexploded munitions by hand.
  • Around a third of Ukraine is contaminated by land mines. It could take years to clear them all.

Farmers in Ukraine face a difficult choice: going another year without income, or take the matter of clearing land mines into their own hands — quite literally.

Around a third of Ukraine is currently contaminated by unexploded munitions, CNN reported, including vast stretches of farmland.

While operations to remove mines are underway, it’s a challenging and lengthy process, leading to some desperate solutions.

Oleksandr Havriluk, a 69-year-old farmer, returned to his farm in eastern Ukraine after it had been occupied and wrecked by Russian troops.

Last year’s wheat harvest was ruined by the war, denying him an income, and Havriluk faced another year without a livelihood because of the land mines contaminating his fields.

As a result, Havriluk told CNN that he started digging up land mines by hand, so that he can prepare the fields for planting season, which starts in early April, in the hope that he can resume business.

“I was afraid, but I have to sow,” he said.

So far Havriluk has removed around 20 mines, using a metal detector he purchased, per CNN.

The process involves taking a stick, tapping it in the ground to determine the size of the munition, and then gently digging it up and lifting it out.

Havriluk knows the work is dangerous, but he’s continuing regardless.

He told CNN: “I don’t have any other choice.”

The risk is very real. In recent months, several farm workers have been injured or killed working in their fields, with one 65-year-old man dying in southern Ukraine after stepping on a land mine, CNN reported, citing local officials.

Mairi Cunningham, who runs the HALO Trust demining task force in Ukraine, told CNN that the organization — the world’s largest in mine clearance operations — has employed 700 staff in the country and plans to double that number by the end of the year.

But because one day of war generally equals several months of clearance work, it could take years to clear the country of unexploded munitions.

The situation is further complicated by how spread out across Ukraine the land mines are, the wide variety of unexploded munitions, and the fact that clearance operations cannot take place on the front lines of the conflict, per CNN.

“The scale of the problem, it’s not for one organization, it’s a national effort,” Cunningham said, per CNN.

Even so, Cunningham said that non-professionals, such as farmers, removing anti-tank mines themselves is extremely dangerous.

“There’s often anti-lift devices designed specifically to kill and injure people who try to do that,” she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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