SOUTHERN UKRAINE – International humanitarian law bans the use of antipersonnel mines and booby traps, even in war. But although Russia is bound by these treaties as a member of the United Nations, thousands of Russian mines now litter the landscape across Ukraine. And one American Green Beret has dedicated himself to doing something about that.
Thousands of villages across eastern Ukraine have been turned into ghost towns as most of the residents have either fled or been killed in the fighting. But once they are liberated from Russian occupation, people start to come back to their homes. Unfortunately, many times the Russian left behind some deadly surprises. Land mines, booby traps, and IEDs litter the landscape. And no one is safe until every square foot of land has been cleared.
Ukrainian firefighter Vlad Sokolov tells CBN News, “It can be village, can be field, can be critical infrastructure, whatever. The most dangerous for now is clusters, if you touch it you can make it blow up. In the yards, roads, fields, everywhere. Hundreds, I think maybe thousands. But we don’t have a choice. All of my guys need to be on the dangerous area.”
Military historian Preston Stewart, host of the “War Stories” podcast, says, “The challenge is there is no battlefield that is exclusively soldiers. The U.S. has gone away from scatterable ammunitions, scatterable anti-personal, anti-armor munitions that do not self detonate over a period of time.”
These nasty surprises can last for decades, and nobody is keeping track of where they are being placed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says, “This is yet another kind of Russian terror that will have to be dealt with for years to come. These terrorists deliberately leave behind as many death traps as possible. Buried land mines, tripwire mines, mined buildings, cars and infrastructure… It’s even more cruel and meaner than firing a missile, because there is no anti-mine system that could destroy at least part of the threat, as our air defense does.”
Many people know the joy of taking a walk in the woods and here in Ukraine that’s a common pastime. But not anymore. Now with almost 2 million acres of land contaminated by land mines, it’s going to be generations before people will be able to do that again, and that means that what was once an enjoyable pastime now could be a matter of life and death.
“Even when it’s not in an active combat zone the mines can be unstable. You don’t know how long they have been there,” Preston tells us. “By the time you get on top of that thing you can do everything right and it can still detonate.”
***Please sign up for CBN Newsletters and download the CBN News app to ensure you keep receiving the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***
“These are things that will kill children, down the road. Some of these mines you are seeing in Ukraine will kill children that they won’t be found. They have for decades all around the world,” says Ryan Hendrickson with Tip of the Spear Mine Removal.
Ryan has found many land mines and IEDs in his career as a U.S. Green Beret.
“I stepped on a land mine in 2010, it nearly took my life,” he recalls. But that mine couldn’t destroy his resolve. “I did seven more trips back to Afghanistan as a Green Beret.”
Once he left the military, he wondered what God’s plan was for the rest of his life.
“Everybody, especially veterans, you battle with your purpose. What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do? What mark am I going to leave when I’m gone? Will I be remembered? And I was searching for that purpose after Afghanistan closed the way it did, and I found it on the 24th of February after Russia escalated the war over here in Ukraine,” he explains.
Ryan retired from the military and headed to Ukraine, not exactly sure what help he could offer. He just knew he had to do something.
“Americans, we don’t have to live in fear of our next step. But a lot of the world does. And Ukraine, when this conflict is over Ukraine is going to end up being the most land-mined country in the world,” he says.
Now, Ryan works tirelessly on the front lines, doing the very dangerous work of disarming dozens or even hundreds of land mines in a day.
“There’s one, and then you’ve got two, three and four,” he points out.
Vlad, the Ukrainian firefighter, tells us, “I feel first of all, is respect. It’s a very difficult job, going to another country in war. He can’t be with his wife, his family. It’s very important and I appreciate it.”
President Zelenskyy says, “I am grateful to all our partners who help Ukraine with de-mining. (They) understand how important it is that Ukraine is not left to cope with this problem alone.”
But for this old soldier, it’s not about the accolades. It’s about having faith that something positive can come out of his own tragedy.
“When I’m born and when I die, that’s out of my hands. So what I do in the middle, that’s… life is extremely short. So why not help people while you are here,” Ryan says.