Chkalovske village, located in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, tells a tale of resilience and hope amidst adversity. At first glance, it appears as any other village, with a vibrant children's playground adorned with brightly colored slides and swings. A young mother sits on a bench, watching her daughter play in a pink coat. Yet, just a stone's throw away, a skull and crossbones sign serves as a stark reminder – a minefield lies just a few hundred meters from this serene scene.
Chkalovske bore witness to occupation by Russian forces from March to mid-September of last year, leaving behind the scars of conflict. Rows of apartment buildings overlook a forested recreation area, bordered by homes and allotments. In the midst of this, a soccer field, once bustling with local children, now remains eerily empty. It has become a minefield. Today, it is not children who frolic here but men and women clad in protective body armor and visors. They meticulously scan the perilous terrain with detectors.
“I am doing my job to help people, to keep locals safe, and, most importantly, to create a brighter future for our children.”
Yuri, a supervisor from HALO Ukraine, explains that the main threat here is posed by scatterable PFM-1 mines, aptly named butterfly mines. These insidious devices are deployed from mortars, helicopters, or aircraft in significant numbers. Their two 'butterfly-like' wings allow them to glide to the ground without detonating, only to explode upon impact. Camouflaged in shades of brown or green, they seamlessly blend into the spring grass or the forest leaves, rendering them nearly undetectable. "Butterfly mines are elusive due to their color and small size. They are activated by pressure and often lead to devastating injuries to limbs, including arms, legs, and feet," he explains.
Regrettably, three accidents have already been reported among local residents, each one resulting in catastrophic injuries, due to the 40 grams of explosive liquid within each mine. However, with invaluable support from the United States Department of State, HALO began working this Spring to make the land safe, so that it can become a playfield once again.
JJ Chalmers, host of The HALO Trust podcast series, Beyond Bombs, visited the Ukraine program this year and saw for himself the work being done to clear this minefield. Hear his insights from the trip in our mini-series, Ukraine: Kharkiv on the Ground.
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Join JJ Chalmers in a special two-part series as he sets foot on the ground in Ukraine. Along with HALO’s Mike Newton, Mohammad “Qaissy” Abufarda, and Sophia Badalian, JJ and the team visit demining and survey operations in the eastern region of Kharkiv. In this episode, Senior Supervisor Bohdan Hreshko leads the team to the town of Chkalovkse, where a football pitch now lays ridden with anti-personnel mines, and an agricultural field in Mykolaivka that is sown with anti-tank mines instead of crops. JJ speaks to farmers Natalia and Vyacheslav, whose fields are contaminated with mines and tripwires, and whose home was destroyed by an ammunition explosion.