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Outside a flooded Ukrainian city, specialists warily sweep the ground for hidden bombs

The scene in a low-lying field northwest of the battered and flood-soaked Ukrainian city of Kherson on Friday could almost be described as a ballet of bomb detection.

Flooding that followed the Nova Kakhovka dam's destruction scattered mines across cleared areas

People sweep metal detectors across an open field.

The scene in a low-lying field northwest of the battered and flood-soaked Ukrainian city of Kherson on Friday could almost be described as a ballet of bomb detection.

A team from the British-based HALO Trust, a humanitarian non-governmental organization, swept its mine detectors in precise, deliberate synchronization, left and right.

Every once in a while, a detector would scream, prompting the operator to pause and check the ground. There were some false alarms when CBC News visited the area on Friday.

The six person unit was going over what was, for them, familiar ground near the village of Yevhenika — a bucolic little hamlet of bored cows and gently rolling poppy, heather and sunflower fields along a river system connected to the now-destroyed Nova Kakhovka dam.

Water from the vast Kakhovka reservoir poured through the breach in the dam, swamping agricultural land and dozens of villages and towns downstream.

The floodwaters swamped many areas that had been the front lines before last fall, when Ukrainian forces drove most of the Russian troops out of nearby Kherson and back across the Dnipro River.

The flooding throughout southern Ukraine has dislodged and shifted around a variety of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines — sometimes spreading them over fields that had already been cleared and put back into agricultural use.

"These were Russian-laid mines all over here," said Jasmine Dann, a Canadian who is the regional operations manager for the HALO Trust in Ukraine, citing a giant Google Earth map of the region.

"The Russians occupied the southern side of the river here, Ukrainians were situated further to the north. So all of the minefields that he was working on right now are all Russian-laid minefields."

A woman stands in front of a map.

One nearby field had been deemed cleared before the flood and was planted with sunflowers. It remained totally underwater on Friday and will have to be swept again, Dann said.

"So as soon as that water is gone, we will be back there trying to clear those mines."

The sense of frustration came through loud and clear.

"It's the same as all of our de-mining work — it takes patience," Dann said. "It takes time and just a desire to make sure that when we give back that land, it's fully safe for communities."

Last winter, the Canadian government pledged $21 million for mine-clearing projects in Ukraine, including the HALO Trust. It plans to have 1,200 mine clearing technicians in the field by end of the year.

Banned weapons buried under farm fields

In just one area of Yevhenika, the HALO trust crews have identified more than 1,500 different types of munitions, including so-called butterfly bombs, also known as petal bombs — plastic anti-personnel mines banned under the 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

They were the type of mine most easily carried along by the floodwaters, Dann said.

Human Rights Watch has documented instances of both Russians and Ukrainians using petal bombs.

"Russian forces have used antipersonnel mines in multiple areas across Ukraine, including victim-activated booby traps, since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022," says a report by the human rights watchdog released last January.

Two people stand in an open field.

"Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in which rockets carrying PFM antipersonnel mines, also called 'butterfly mines' or 'petal mines,' were fired into Russian-occupied areas near Russian military facilities. Ukraine is a state party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits any use of antipersonnel mines."

Human Right Watch called on the Ukrainian government to investigate the allegations against its forces.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Ministry of Defence has said the mines have been used more extensively by the Russian side.

While most types of antipersonnel mines are placed by hand, butterfly bombs can be scattered by aircraft, rockets and artillery, or fired from specialized vehicles or launchers.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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