Farmers in Ukraine are risking their lives for the planting season by clearing landmines by hand

Valika Komyshuvaha, Ukraine (CNN) When Oleksandr Havriluk first returned to his farm after it was stormed and occupied by Russian troops, tears streamed down his face when he noticed what that they had left behind.

Its farm buildings had been nearly fully destroyed, tens of millions of {dollars}’ price of heavy equipment lay in shambles, and final yr’s wheat crop had been burned.

However probably the most urgent drawback for Havriluk was the land mines buried in its 12 sq. miles of surrounding fields.

Now the 69-year-old is digging them up by hand in a determined try and clear a few of his fields earlier than planting season begins in early April.

“I used to be scared,” Havriluk mentioned. “However I have to sow.”

Oleksandr Havriluk with a few of the Russian anti-tank mines he dug up in his fields with a steel detector.

Havriluk says he has to this point eliminated round 20 mines from his fields in Valika Komyshuvaha, close to the city of Izium, utilizing solely a steel detector he purchased himself.

“You go, you discover it, take a stick, faucet it to find out the scale, and then you definitely dig it up,” he mentioned. “After which rigorously choose it up and take it out.”

The work is harmful, he admits, however provides: “I’ve no different selection.”

Farmers throughout Ukraine face a tough selection: clear the fields of explosives to arrange for the planting season, or face one other yr with out an revenue.

The Russian invasion has already strangled grain exports from Ukraine — one of many world’s nice breadbaskets — and contributed to hovering costs for staples like bread and grains, even with a United Nations-brokered deal that has allowed Ukrainian ships to move by means of the black Sea.

Ukraine’s navy estimates that round a 3rd of the nation is presently contaminated by unexploded ordnance, threatening this yr’s harvest as huge tracts of fertile land lie fallow from the lethal remnants of a conflict nonetheless being waged.

In latest months, a number of farm staff have been injured or killed working of their fields, together with a 65-year-old man who native officers mentioned died immediately when he stepped on explosives close to the village of Chervone in southern Ukraine.

Considered one of Havriluk’s destroyed farm buildings.

Demining work is already being executed to clear the fields, however it’s sluggish and costly work.

Engineers from the Ukrainian Armed Forces have defused 45,000 explosive gadgets over the yr, the navy’s official media heart mentioned.

The HALO Belief, the world’s largest demining group, presently employs 700 individuals in Ukraine, a quantity they plan to just about double by the top of the yr.

“The extent of contamination is big and unfold throughout the nation,” Mairi Cunningham, who heads Ukraine’s HALO Belief demining job drive, informed CNN.

“The dimensions of the issue isn’t for one group, it’s a nationwide effort.”

Destroyed buildings and machines of farmer Oleksandr Havriluk.

Along with holding individuals protected, farmland is being made a precedence to “guarantee Ukraine can get again on its ft,” Cunningham mentioned.

The “greatest problem” is the shortage of a sample, Cunningham mentioned, with differing types and densities of munitions unfold throughout the huge geographic space of ​​Ukraine – Europe’s second largest nation after Russia.

“We see anti-vehicle mines, each steel and plastic. We’re seeing anti-personnel mines,” Cunningham mentioned. “We’re seeing anti-personnel and fragmentation munitions on tripwires, grenades on tripwires, and we’re additionally seeing cluster munitions.”

He mentioned there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy to demining that requires “tailored strategies,” so it’s about “with the ability to prepare workers appropriately.”

Eradicating all of them will take years, Cunningham mentioned, as they usually assume that sooner or later of conflict is the equal of a number of months of clearance work.

And with lively battle nonetheless raging, operations can solely happen exterior the entrance strains of conflict to guard the protection of engineers and different personnel.

However specialists are urging farmers to not take issues into their very own arms.

A destroyed constructing of farmer Oleksandr Havriluk.

“Lifting anti-tank mines is extraordinarily harmful,” Cunningham mentioned. “There are sometimes anti-lift gadgets particularly designed to kill and injure individuals who try this.”

Nevertheless, safety warnings is not going to deter Oleksandr Havriluk from his mission.

He says he has constructed his farm from the bottom up over the previous 25 years and can construct it once more to make sure his household’s future.

“A very powerful factor is to clear my fields,” he mentioned.

Victoria Butenko and Svitlana Vlasova contributed to this report