The collapse of Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam has displaced landmines in the region, the head of the Red Cross Weapons Contamination Program told CNN on Thursday.
Landmines “in the water, on the surface, [and] buried under the ground” in the area flooded by water have “shifted location,” Erik Tollefsen told CNN. “Water is a force of nature,” he said. “It just basically moves everything in front of it, be that rocks, boulders, buildings. Nothing can withstand that force — that also includes the landmines.”
The marking and mapping systems used by charities and NGOs to detect and locate landmines are no longer accurate, as so many landmines have moved in the water. “This is a big problem,” Tollefsen said.
Mike Newton, head of The HALO Trust’s Ukraine demining program, told CNN that his organization will have to re-locate and re-map landmines in the area affected by the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam.
“Before the dam even burst its banks there was (a) significant humanitarian problem that we were dealing with. So now that the dam has gone, what we're looking at now is just another humanitarian catastrophe, just an ecological disaster, to throw into this bigger catastrophe that has been enveloping Ukraine for the past year and a half almost,” Newton told CNN.
“You can see ... mines exploding in the water, mines literally being pushed past shorelines, mines being washed up on shores,” Newton added. “That volume of water is enough to pick up a 10 kilo anti-vehicle mine and move it downstream. That's an incredible force that's required to move that.”
Soil is also being picked up by moving water and ending up on top of landmines, Newton said, sometimes detonating them, but also sometimes burying them. In these cases, teams have to be sent to remap and clear the buried mines.
More than 5000 landmines were detected by the HALO Trust’s demining team in Mykolaiv, Newton said, nearly 500 of which were on riverbanks in the region.
“Areas that previously didn't have any risks to the population in terms of weapon contamination, [are] now very, very dangerous,” Tollefsen told CNN.
The Red Cross is “very concerned,” he added. Ukrainians “have maybe lost their loved ones, their families have been disrupted, they can't get access to drinking water, to food, to medicine. Now they have the risk of landmines being in the area that could kill them or injure them,” he said.
Those attempting to offer assistance to civilians are also facing increased danger in the region, Tollefsen said. “We really, really call for caution.”
“You cannot rebuild a country on mine foundations,” Newton said. "Mines have got to be front and center in everyone's minds when you're talking about recovery in Ukraine when you talk about reconstruction. And of course, now with this dam, it's just another thing that Ukrainians have got to deal with.”