Chief Medic, HALO Ukraine
9.00am 3rd March 2022
On Thursday 24th February, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the world has witnessed the indiscriminate use of weapons of war raining down on civilians, cities, and streets. Families here have already endured eight years of conflict, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsular in 2014 and the 2014-2015 war in the Donbass. These families now find themselves on the frontline again, surrounded by advancing Russian forces and under bombardment from the air.
HALO has worked in eastern Ukraine since 2016, clearing the deadly explosives left behind following the 2014-2015 conflict. We have 427 Ukrainian staff and their safety, and that of their families, remains our priority.
The situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly. Reports include; dozens of people killed as Kharkiv comes under heavy bombardment; the city of Kherson on the Black Sea is under Russian control and Mariupol on the Azov Sea is surrounded; a deadly strike on Kyiv’s TV tower; cluster bombs hitting a hospital in Vuhledar in Government-controlled Donetsk and a nursery school in Okhtyrka in the north east. An estimated one million Ukrainians have fled over the border into neighboring countries including Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova and at least 160,000 are internally displaced. For families sheltering in basements and cellars, the dangers are mounting. As cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol come under siege, thousands of unexploded items left by bombardments litter roofs, streets, and gardens.
In response we are providing emergency risk education— using social media to reach Ukrainian families with vital messaging about the dangers of unexploded bombs and what to avoid. The messaging has been seen by over 14.2 million people in Ukraine so far. We are also working with local media outlets in Ukraine in order to reach more people.
Our teams are also helping to shelter civilians and provide assistance and supplies to local hospitals.
The devastating events unfolding in Ukraine are a stark reminder of why conflict remains one of the world’s most significant challenges. While Europe is shocked to find war on its borders once again, warfare is a day-to-day reality for millions of people across the world. Conflict is complex, but cannot be ignored in foreign policy or international aid.
Having faced setbacks in the first few days, Russia is employing more indiscriminate tactics. These kill more civilians and will damage even more of the country. In 1999, Grozny, Chechnya was left looking like Berlin in 1945 by such long-distance rocket attacks. The Russians also employed aerial and rocket bombardments in Syria. The use of cluster bombs in Ukraine has also been confirmed —they scatter small munitions over wide area, which, combined with their high failure rate, makes them a lethal threat to local people, especially curious children.
In Afghanistan in 2021 and Nagorno Karabakh in 2020, HALO was able to deploy rapidly to clear the tide of explosives left behind by the fighting. A month of fighting in Nagorno Karabakh left five years of clearance work. Likewise, in Ukraine we are working to meet the unfolding humanitarian emergency and, as conditions allow, clear the unexploded munitions that threaten lives and prevent vital aid reaching those in need.