Noe who is working for DSGU is something as exotic as an Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) and Non-Technical Survey (NTS) consultant. This, of course, doesn't mean much to most people, but these are the first two steps in the process of mine and unexploded ordnance clearance. By spreading information about the danger of unexploded ordnance, it is possible to reach out to the affected population who can provide information about the locations of these objects.
This enables NTS to deploy to the site, perform identification, photograph, and report on the object or the area itself. If the objects are not reported, they will not be removed and will remain a threat to the local population for years to come. For example, grenades and other explosives still emerge from the soil of France and Belgium after World War I.
I (Noe) was asked by the Danish Support Group Ukraine (DSGU) in November of this year to take a trip to Ukraine to check and control the three EORE teams, as well as an NTS team, funded by DGSU and implemented by DGSU's national partner in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Demining Association (UDA).
The intention was to quality-assure UDA's activities and gather material to assist DGSU and UDA in seeking more funds to continue and, if possible, increase activities in Ukraine.
My journey to Ukraine took the easy route from Oslo through Warsaw, where, due to administrative reasons, I was on the verge of losing the connection to Rzeszow (a city in southern Poland) as my luggage had been denied the luxury of flying all the way to Rzeszow. A not entirely graceful sprint through Warsaw resulted in me catching my flight and subsequently finding myself well-placed but slightly sweaty on the plane, which without major surprises brought me to Rzeszow.
Noe's first part of the journey
Upon arrival, snow was already falling heavily over the eastern Polish landscape, which only worsened over time. I transported myself to Rzeszow Glowny (main station), bought a ticket to Przemysl where the border crossing to Ukraine is located. The train was, in the spirit of the journey, 45 minutes late. When it finally arrived, it only traveled at normal speed for 15 minutes before coming to a halt.
Two trains had given up the ghost on the track ahead, so my train waited on the track for about three hours, after which the authorities decided to provide buses. 120 people, mainly women and children, tumbled out of the train into the snow, dragging heavy suitcases and crying children behind them. First, we passed the first incoming bus, which was already stuck in the snow. A few hundred meters down the road, everyone tried to get into the same bus, but after about half an hour of absolute chaos, the trainless passengers had boarded four buses, three of which were heading towards Przemysl.
The bus to Przemysl
It turned into two hours of relative comfort, although the more knowledgeable Ukrainian fellow passengers were busy booking new train tickets since, based on their experience, they expected the initially booked train departing at 20:28 to have left several hours ago. They clearly expected that the arrival in Przemysl would entail more troubles.
The Polish authorities had arranged for the queue for passport control to take place outside, exposed to wind and snow, and since the train staff still hadn't emptied the 20:28 train of passengers at 22:00, winter weather could be enjoyed for two stiff hours before boarding.
The train journey went surprisingly smoothly, considering the chaotic circumstances regarding my arrival in Przemysl. After boarding, my sustenance consisted of a Twix and half a liter of water during the 12-hour journey. I was a bit hungry when I staggered out of the train at Kyiv's main station on Sunday morning.
Kyiv on a December morning is not particularly charming, as everything seemed gray. However, I didn't see much of the war on my walk to the hotel, apart from the many uniformed men in the cityscape.
A recruitment poster where soldiers face zombies caught my attention, though. An air raid siren went off while I was walking, but it didn't seem to have a significant effect on the people around me - people must have gotten used to it.
Recruitment poster where soldiers face zombies.
Monday morning, my colleague and I had a meeting in Kyiv with UDA leader (Tymur) and project manager (Iryna). Here, there was an opportunity to discuss both activities and the possibility of future collaboration. It was also possible to get an insight into the significant efforts DSGU & UDA jointly provide.
After the meeting, the journey went south. My colleague and I drove in his van, in a sort of convoy behind Iryna. There is a curfew at night, so we made a much-needed stop at a hotel in Pervomaisk. The war had not visibly affected the cityscape, and it was mainly endless fields we drove past. Ukraine is not called Europe's Breadbasket for nothing. Pervomaisk is a small unassuming town on the main road from Kyiv to Mykolaiv. An aged park, the unnaturally numerous pharmacies, and a couple of supermarkets dominated the city center. An air raid siren went off, but, generally, like in Kyiv, it was ignored. Throughout the night, I could hear the rumbling of long freight trains, which acted as a form of meditation in the late-night hours.
The next morning, we went to a school where the DSGU-funded EORE team 1 was to conduct a session. The school seemed old and not particularly charming, but the session was carried out, and the 13-14 year olds could leave the room with increased awareness of their surroundings.
After the session, we continued towards Voznesensk, where team 2 conducted sessions. Upon arrival around 1:00 pm, the air raid siren went off, so the session was conducted in the shelter under the school's adjacent buildings.
EORE Session in a shelter in Voznesensk
EORE Session in a shelter in Voznesensk
The session was interactive and practical, as Voznesensk was a high-water mark for the Russian advance in the form of scout units. Therefore, the students had a vivid memory of the enemy and were much more involved in the session.
The session was a success, and when it was over, we got into the cars and drove further south towards Mykolaiv.
EORE Session with DSGU brochures
EORE Session with DSGU brochures
The landscape still consisted of vast fields with few dusty villages in between. In almost every village, the local residents had erected plaques/signs for young men from the village who had died in the fight against the Russians. In many cases, these memorial walls were side by side with memorials from World War II, ranging from T-34 on pedestals to the very Russian hand grenade-throwing, advancing, cape-wearing infantryman, a reminder of another bloody time in Ukraine's turbulent history.
Mykolaiv itself lies along the Bug River not far from its mouth, where it flows into the Black Sea. A few houses had been hit, but old sandbag positions at the city's northern bridge were the only signs we saw of the war. The hotel was not overly comfortable, but the restaurant we chose had a fantastic solyanka soup.
The next morning (Wednesday), we set off early to attend a session of the third DGSU-funded EORE team in the town of Velikolexandrivka, about a three-hour drive northeast of Mykolaiv. The last 50 km of the road were extremely potholed, so the speed dropped considerably. We still passed countless monuments to fallen soldiers in World War II before turning off to Velikolexandrivka.
The session took place in a well-kept and well-managed school, though in the shelter, as the air raid siren routinely went off every day, and here, they took the air raid seriously. Children aged 6 to 7 sat obediently, listened to the session, enthusiastically participated in questions and answers, and contributed with practical examples of safe behavior. Ukraine's wildly popular explosive detection dog (Patron) conveyed through a PowerPoint presentation what the children should do if they come into contact with detonators, landmines, and other ammunition. The session was popular, and the children seemed very interested.
After the session, we had a quick tour of the school before heading further north to Kryivyi, which stretches 20 km along the banks of the Saksahan River.
Here, in the shadow of yet another World War II monument, we had lunch at the local Georgian restaurant, where the table mats depicted Ukrainian resistance against Russian planes, tanks, and ships.
As I sit in the hotel writing this, the air raid siren has just gone off, but it will likely stop soon.
About Team DSGU
Team DSGU writes the content for the DSGU website