MAG is set to deliver explosive ordnance risk education in Ukraine in partnership with a Ukrainian mine action charity – with operations to clear landmines and other explosive ordnance to commence later this year. 

A partnership agreement has been signed between MAG and the non-profit Ukrainian Deminers Association (UDA) that will see long-term collaboration between the two organisations, with an immediate focus on educating vulnerable communities about the dangers of unexploded ordnance and landmines.

The agreement is in line with MAG’s ambitions to work closely with and complement the expertise available from Ukrainian NGOs and state institutions. 

Through the crack of a blast-damaged door a hand grenade can clearly be seen. Photos: Sean Sutton

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding follows an assessment mission to the country by a multi-disciplinary MAG team that has been gathering evidence of contamination and its impact on civilians and the wider humanitarian and relief response.

Working in partnership with the Ukrainian authorities and other humanitarian agencies, the team documented evidence of contamination caused by cluster munitions, which are widely prohibited, alongside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosive ordnance in Bucha, Irpin, Andriivka and Borodyanka, close to the capital Kyiv.

Booby traps have been widely reported.

MAG International Policy and Partnerships Director Josephine Dresner, who led the assessment mission, said: “The overall extent of contamination in Ukraine is now so extensive that it will almost certainly require several hundred million pounds and decades of difficult work to clear. 

“That is why it so important to work in close and constructive cooperation with Ukrainian organisations so that we are aiding the Ukrainians to build their own capabilities, resources and capacity to deliver a long-term, sustainable approach to the challenges ahead. At the same time, as we mobilise our operations in a context new to MAG, UDA’s extensive understanding of the explosive threat and operational challenges will be absolutely invaluable.”

Large areas of Bodoryanka were destroyed during intense and sustained bombardments.

MAG has now established a permanent base in the country and staff have been meeting with people whose lives have been affected by the conflict, many having lost their homes and, in some cases, close family members. 

At one point during the initial assessment mission, a senior technical expert for MAG had to warn family members returning not to return to their home because of a suspected IED at the property.

Many of those left behind in Ukraine’s conflict-affected areas, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, are among the most vulnerable members of society.

Children’s playground hit with cluster munitions.

MAG is liaising with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, State Emergency Services and Ministry for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories and is now progressing a range of formal registrations and accreditations. 

Data experts at MAG have also been using satellite imagery and sophisticated geographic information systems to assess which areas have been worst affected by explosive weapons. This information will help MAG and its partners assess likely risk and prioritisation. 

Initial funding for the assessments and team set-up, and to start emergency risk education activities, has been provided by Dutch charitable foundation Stitchting Vluchteling (SV), building on almost 30 years of cooperation between SV and MAG in numerous conflict-affected countries globally.

Viktor walks past unexploded projectiles in the remains of the village.

MAG will work with UDA to begin risk education work imminently, incorporating digital and traditional media channels, as well as face-to-face engagement. MAG pioneered the use of social media in explosive ordnance risk education with the support of the US State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. 

Survey and clearance work is expected to begin later in the year, when it is expected that all necessary accreditation procedures have been completed. 

In addition to the risk education programmes, MAG will work with UDA to build its capacity through training and technical development.

Surviving villagers pass unexploded ordnance alongside Andriivka's main street.

MAG has significant experience and expertise in urban survey and clearance in post-conflict countries, gained in places such as Iraq and Syria, as well as extensive explosive ordnance disposal and satellite data mapping capacities, meaning the organisation is particularly well equipped to deal with the kind of contamination occurring in Ukraine, where towns, villages and cities have been affected alongside rural areas. 

The establishment of a MAG presence in Ukraine comes amidst increasing reports of civilians being killed and injured by unexploded ordnance in the Kyiv region and across the east and south of Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin has said that about 300,000 km² of Ukrainian territory is suspected of having been contaminated by explosive ordnance since 24 February. That is an area larger than that of the UK, although good quality survey is critical to identify the exact location and extent of the problem as areas become accessible.

Shopfront in Irpin with a homemade ‘Mine’ warning sign.

An estimated 2 million people were already at risk of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the east of the country prior to the Russian incursion earlier this year, a result of the conflict in 2014.

Mine warning sign.

MAG Director of Programmes Greg Crowther said: “Our team in Ukraine comprises explosive ordnance disposal experts with decades of experience in complex conflict environments and with particular expertise in the challenges of urban contamination, gained in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. 

“Our approach, as always, will be to work very closely with the relevant national authorities and to engage with local partners to ensure we are having the most impact possible, are co-ordinating efficiently with other agencies and that efforts are not being duplicated.” 

“We anticipate being in a position to deliver support in the form of clearance operations, training and community risk education by the end of the summer but the nature and extent of those operations will depend on funding and the needs of the Ukrainian authorities.”

A father shows his son destroyed armoured vehicles in the street in Svitylna village.