Despite losing limbs, Ukrainian sappers return to work clearing land mines
Despite losing limbs, Ukrainian sappers return to work clearing land mines
Despite losing limbs, Ukrainian sappers return to work clearing land mines
by DZRH News26 October 2023
Oleksii Poliakov, member of the National police special demining unit works with mine fuses during a demining operation near Izum town, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

By Vitalii Hnidyi

KHARKIV REGION, Ukraine (Reuters) - Andrii Ilkiv, a Ukrainian police sapper, had his leg amputated below the knee after a land mine blew up beneath him in September 2022.

By May the following year he was back at work, standing on a prosthetic limb, sweeping for and defusing mines.

The 37-year-old father of four is one of 14 sappers who have returned to their demining jobs in a national police unit of some 100 people, despite being wounded in blasts while clearing mines during Russia's invasion.


"Of course, obviously there's fear when you return, when you stand next to a minefield there's fear, but on the other hand you know that with the help of a metal detector, a sapper spade and special equipment, you can move, and conduct demining work," said Ilkiv.

Ukraine, locked in a raging 20-month war with Russia, estimates that 174,000 sq km of its territory - about a third of the country - is potentially strewn with mines or dangerous war detritus.

Kyiv fears it could take decades to clear the area.

Ilkiv's unit was created during the war and is focused on humanitarian mine clearance away from the fighting. They are now operating in the regions of Kherson and Kharkiv, parts of which were recaptured from Russia last year.


Four of their sappers have been killed in blasts so far, and 16 wounded.

Ilkiv, wounded when an anti-personnel mine exploded in the village of Dementiivka in the Kharkiv region, said he decided to return because of the large volume of mine-clearance work still to be done, an argument that he presented to his wife.

"She was a bit surprised, shocked. But she has accepted it," he told Reuters while working in the Kharkiv region this week.

The area they were clearing when the mine exploded, wounding him, was particularly tricky, he said. "The mines were buried beneath the ground, impossible to uncover with visual cues."


"At first you don't feel pain, and you can use this moment of numbness to perform first aid – put on the tourniquet, before the state of shock comes over you."

Valeri Onul, another sapper, also returned to work in the unit despite losing a leg in a blast in November.

"I lifted myself up, looked down, one of my legs was gone... they started pulling me out, I tried to help with my good leg, moved bit by bit and managed to get myself out without triggering two mines that were there," he said.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the blast, he said he was sure he would return to mine-clearance work when he had made a recovery.


"Many thoughts crowded my mind, I do not know how many per second, but there was one crazy wish, after I was brought to hospital and I regained my senses, already then, I wanted to get back to work."

(Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios)

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