UNICEF launches Ukraine mine awareness campaign amid ongoing civil conflict

In a press release issued just days before the UN system marks the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, observed annually on 4 April, UNICEF warned that casualty figures of children residing in Ukraine’s conflict-affected Donetsk and Luhansk regions could actually be greater than initially thought.“The number of children killed and maimed by mines and unexploded ordnance would be significantly higher if we include non-government controlled areas,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of the Independent States, who recently returned from visiting the eastern regions of Ukraine. “Lack of access to these areas is a real challenge for humanitarian actors on the ground.”In late February 2014, the situation in Ukraine transcended what was initially seen as an internal Ukrainian political crisis into violent clashes in parts of the country, later reaching full-scale conflict in the east. Despite a September 2014 cease-fire agreed in Minsk, the situation in Ukraine has since continuously deteriorated, with serious consequences for the country’s unity, territorial integrity and stability. Recent media reports have suggested a potential worsening of the situation amid claims of a massive recruitment campaign by anti-Government groups.According to a recent human rights report released by the UN Office for the High Commissioner (OHCHR), the surge in fatalities in Ukraine has continued despite successive ceasefires as Government and rebel forces have escalated their fighting in recent weeks, particularly near the airport in Donetsk and in the area around the town of Debaltseve. The clashes have resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military, and “an untenable situation” for those trapped in the strife-torn areas.The casualty figures are further exacerbated, however, by the remnants of the hostilities – such as landmines and unexploded ordinance – which litter battlefields and become easy prey for children once the fighting has subsided due to their bright colouring and small size. Children may be drawn to them mistaking them for toys or objects of value resulting in injury or death.As a result, the UN agency has launched a mine-risk education campaign in Ukraine’s crisis-affected areas targeting some 500,000 children and their families with information about the risks posed by landmines and explosives.“Until now, there has been very little community awareness and understanding of the dangers posed by mines and explosives used in the conflict,” Ms. Poirier continued. “That is why we are working with our partners to strengthen families’ knowledge of the hazardous munitions remaining in many communities that have seen fighting – so that children and their parents know what to watch out for and how they can stay safe.”The UN notes that at least 5 million people in Ukraine have been affected by the crisis, including 1.7 million children, while more than 1.1 million people have also been in have been internally displaced in-country because of the violence.

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