Undermining Ukraine

   Above - the BBC's James Waterhouse reports from Balakliya:
 "It’s hard to describe this as anything other than.. random. This is a patch of land, in the middle of Balakliya, it’s not a place - unlike other areas - that was once contested, where there was heavy fighting."
  "- but what these minesweepers are looking for, are so-called Butterfly mines. They’re banned by international law, they don’t look much, but the damage they can cause, is severe.
 They’re scattered from a flying rocket. They’re illegal because of the indiscriminate way they kill and injure civilians. In the area around Izyum, Russia and Ukraine have both been accused of using Butterfly mines; the latter denies it."
Protest rally against Kiev’s cluster mines, Donetsk August 2022
  Before presenting the BBC's article and video about this incredible exercise, where Ukrainian soldiers are doing the job that they should be performing as part of a punishment for the crime they committed six months earlier, it is important to add some more context to the situation. At the time the AFU made a move in the North East, Russian forces were pre-occupied with protecting the Zaporyzhe Nuclear power plant from Ukrainian incursions and shelling, as well as trying to prevent the forced evacuation of Kherson. 
 With reported help from MI6 and other NATO special forces, Ukraine launched a surprise offensive towards Lugansk oblast, forcing a strategic retreat by Russia from Izyum. Many of the locals accompanied them, to avoid retribution and torture as "Russian collaborators" from the invading Nationalist army. As soon as the town was "liberated" by Kiev, work began to frame Russia for supposed war crimes, including a grotesque exhumation of hundreds of bodies from a wood near the town. 
  Those buried were mostly civilians killed by either side when Russian forces took over the town, as well as those killed by Ukrainian shelling since. While they may have lacked coffins, all the graves were identified, at least by a number, with the inventory of burials available at the local mortuary. 
 In some cases where local people had fled East or North to Russia, they had no say in the exhumation and examination of their dead relatives.  Human Rights Watch and other International bodies were closely involved in this fraud, and the claims that Russia was responsible for burying soldiers in "mass graves" in Izyum rapidly assumed a prominent status in Western media, aided by a visit from Mr Zelensky. Fittingly, as indicated in this photo, one of his guards wore a Totenkopf skull symbol on his backpack. 
Zelensky in Izyum with media and guards, September 2022
Russia has laid down mines to defend positions and slow Ukraine’s counter attacks
By James Waterhouse 
BBC Ukraine correspondent

 Across Ukraine's vast expanse, there are thought to be 174,000 square kilometres which are contaminated by landmines.  It is an area of land larger than England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. In the war-scarred Kharkiv region, warning signs occasionally appear next to brown, barren fields which were once front lines.  Even more infrequent is the sight of demining teams sweeping their metal detectors across small, taped-off areas. A literal scratching of the surface. More landmines have been found in the Kharkiv region than anywhere else in Ukraine.  

This part of north-eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border has been both occupied and liberated over the past year.  On 24 February 2022, Russia launched its full scale invasion and seized swathes of territory in the Kharkiv region, while also trying to capture Kharkiv city itself.  By May they would lose the battle for Ukraine's second biggest city. By September, they'd be blindsided by a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians deployed landmines to both defend their positions and slow the Ukrainians. After leaving in a rush, a lethal footprint was left behind. 

  In the small town of Balakliya, on a patch of land next to an apartment block, Oleksandr Remenets' team have already found six anti-personnel mines. They'd earlier uncovered around 200 nearby. More than 55,000 explosives have been found in the area. 
De-miners like Oleksandr are called "heroes" by the regional authorities, yet there's a deep frustration with their efforts being dwarfed by the scale of the problem. Their desired catch are so-called butterfly mines, the most common in the area. They're only three to four inches wide, propeller shaped, and are scattered from a rocket. They're banned by international law because of the indiscriminate way they can injure and kill civilians. 
That hasn't stopped them from being used in this war. 
Ukrainian Butterfly mines collected in a pit for disposal by Ukrainian forces.

Serhiy is under the care of Yuriy Kuznetsov, an experienced trauma surgeon. A big, framed man with a tired, yet purposeful expression. He kept working throughout Russia’s occupation last year, and was the only doctor left in the Izyum hospital. He says he treats landmine casualties every week.

Doctor Kuznetsov in Izyum hospital with cluster mine victim
  (Note that numbers of Dr Kuznetsov's patients would have been victims of Kiev's Petal mines while Izyum was under Russian control. But the long suffering and dedicated surgeon would not risk admitting this, even privately. Just being reported looking at Russian media on your phone leads to dreadful retribution from Ukrainian forces, police and civilians.)

 Ukraine says 724 people have been blown up by Russian mines since the  invasion began last year. Izyum and its surrounding area is one of the most heavily mined places, yet the picture in the city is murky. Human Rights Watch has accused Ukraine of using illegal antipersonnel mines here. Kyiv responded by saying it followed international law while defending itself. The organisation has previously accused Russia of using similar devices across Ukraine during its full-scale invasion. 

(the bias towards Ukraine in this description is more evident in the video report, where Ukraine's mendacious denials are accepted and so Russia is accused by default. The final appeal for the world to help clean up the mess left by Ukraine's delinquent use of banned cluster munitions really sums it up!)

According to the World Bank - which provides low interest loans to countries who need cash - de-mining Ukraine is going to cost $37.4bn (£30bn). Kyiv is trying to convince as many countries as possible to help so, in its words, "it doesn't take decades". Given how it's spent the last 70 years clearing mines from World War Two, it's an approach which will require optimism. 

Additional reporting by Hanna Chornous and Siobhan Leahy.  
BBC 6 O’clock news April 11th 2023. Report on Mine clearing in Izyum area

The BBC are ill-advised to draw attention to this de-mining by the AFU, given the obvious criminality of those who fired cluster mine rockets into ‘enemy’ territory. Recent claims that 40% of agricultural land in Ukraine is contaminated by land-mines, and the massive quote for the clean-up above, suggest an intention to use this issue as yet another implement to hit Russia, while disguising the identity of those responsible.

DM 15th April 2023