I walked into the treacherous landmines of Ukraine where an area larger than Britain is filled with deadly bombs disguised as pizza boxes

Nothing prepares you for the sound of air raid sirens.

When I was in Kiev last month, three short, loud explosions encouraged panic-stricken people to run into the subway.


Dylan Jones, pictured in a blue vest, clearing landmines in Ukrainecredit: hello
Dylan, right, and James Cowan, CEO of Hello Trust


Dylan, right, and James Cowan, CEO of Hello Trustcredit: hello

This meant that almost everyone stayed on the road, regardless of their lives. Ukrainians are so fanatical, and so used to bombing their city, that they turn everything in their favor.

They also know that the city is so well protected these days that there is little chance that a long-range missile could hit them anyway.

Of course it is possible (30 percent of Russian missiles will pass through), but disappearing underground would be an admission of defeat, an embarrassment.

And this is something that Ukrainians do not care about.

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no retreat

Mines can come in all shapes and sizes – and are often disguised


Mines can come in all shapes and sizes – and are often disguisedcredit: hello
Princess Diana highlights Halo's work during her visit to Angola, Africa in 1997


Princess Diana highlights Halo’s work during her visit to Angola, Africa in 1997credit: Rex Features

His dismissal was correct on this occasion, as 30 minutes later the app on his phone chimed in, telling everyone that the red (in this case a false alarm) was over.

As tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to rise, one thing is abundantly clear: The Ukrainians are not backing down.

Despite facing threats from their abusive neighbor, Ukrainians have shown remarkable bravery and determination in defending their sovereignty and independence.

And they won’t let a bloated-faced psychopath get in their way.

battle scars

Life in Kiev is tough enough as it is, and there’s no need to interrupt the work day unless there’s a good reason to do so.

Walking around town, you see why.

The Russians were only here last spring for a few weeks before they were forced out. And while the city they abandoned still bears the burnt marks of their brief occupation—Kiev is littered with iron tank nets—there has been a concerted effort to clear the city of blown-up buildings. have been razed, destroyed pavements rebuilt, and – mainly – the bombs, missiles and artillery ammunition that scattered Kiev like toxic confetti.

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In some respects, the city still resembles a no-go war zone. On one side of the motorway coming into town you will see a bombed out petrol station which is completely destroyed.

And on the other side you will find a petrol station which looks no different from the one seen on the M4.

Kiev still bears traces of Russian occupation, with streets and even petrol stations bombed


Kiev still bears traces of Russian occupation, with streets and even petrol stations bombedcredit: supplied

This is a city that carries on almost as if nothing happened. While thousands and thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, and many more have been injured or displaced.

While schools and hospitals have been destroyed, and people have been forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting, as a nation they stand firm.

Since the start of hostilities a year ago, the country has become a dumping ground for unexploded bombs and missiles, deadly booby traps (often involving nothing more sophisticated than trip wires and hand grenades) and, of course, landmines .

All of these have been gifted to Ukraine by the Russians, who have covered the country with dangerous explosives with the sole intention of killing and crippling the military and civilian population, ignoring the rigors and rules of the Geneva Convention.

Chilling signs warn of the dangers innocent civilians face


Chilling signs warn of the dangers innocent civilians facecredit: supplied

Men, women, children, animals – the murderous gestures of Russians know no bounds.

The size of the problem is huge: the Ukrainian government estimates that some 40 percent of Ukraine – some 250,000 square kilometers – may need to be discovered and cleared of Russian mines and explosives. This is equivalent to an area larger than the United Kingdom.

“There is contamination everywhere in Ukraine,” says former Army Major-General James Cowan, chief executive of HELLO.

HELLO Trust (Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization) is a humanitarian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), a post-disaster charity that protects lives and restores livelihoods of people affected by conflict.

Halo primarily works to clear landmines and other explosive devices left behind by conflict, as well as promoting stability and prosperity.

With more than 13,000 employees worldwide – most of whom are recruited where they’re from – Helo has operations in 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Somalia and Cambodia.

dangerous job

This is seriously dangerous work, as I found out when I spent two days learning to detect landmines without blowing myself up, successfully use metal detectors, and search the undergrowth for tripwires and boobytraps , which are so refined that they are almost invisible.

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On the day that Joe Biden visited Ukraine, I spent four hours in a vast field on the outskirts of Brovary, not far from Kiev.

Here, I learned to tell the difference between AP and AV mines, between AXO, OXO and OZM — the mines that look like a film canister, pizza, or that piece of plastic that fell out of your Ikea box that you don’t use. For can.

What Halo teaches you is that a landmine can look like anything, so be careful.

In 1997 the issue of landmines came into the international spotlight when Princess Diana walked through a mine in Halo in Angola.

Photos of Diana walking through minefields wearing a transparent hat, a bulletproof vest and a pair of chinos are circulating around the world, confirming her as some sort of modern-day saint.

the city is littered with the wounds of war


the city is littered with the wounds of warcredit: supplied
Prince Harry followed in his mother's footsteps in 2019


Prince Harry followed in his mother’s footsteps in 2019Credit: PA: Press Association

Why? Because she was smiling, that’s why. Most others will be wearing a face of grim recognition, the kind of look that says, “When will this end?”

Diana just looked like she was going for a walk on the beach.

And people loved him for it. In the six months she had been on Earth, she was suddenly thrust into a state she had never known.

Shortly after his visit, the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty was signed, calling on all nations to unite to rid the world of landmines.

Prince Harry followed in his mother’s footsteps. Harry was an ardent supporter of Halo before he became involved in a global soap opera of his own making.

He joined the call for Landmine Free 2025 and in June 2019 attended an event at Chatham House announcing a major conservation project in Angola to clear the Okavango headwaters of landmines.

In September 2019, Harry also visited HELLO’s Angola program during his visit to Africa.

Ukraine is probably the organization’s most important program at the moment, which is why it was so encouraging to see it in action.

While many operatives were in the field, there was also a refresher course taking place, where long-standing Deminers had to go back to school and re-learn their skills.

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no mistakes allowed

As one of the Halo trainers said, “You can never be too careful.” “The people we employ are some of the best in the world at identifying, clearing and safely detonating landmines, but it is of the utmost importance to ensure they maintain their own standards. This no – It’s a risky job. No one is allowed to make mistakes. Ever.”

Halo’s job isn’t just important because it makes it safe for people to move around or maybe even go back to their homes.

This is important because it allows farmers to plant crops.

And that’s important because their success will spur the kind of investment the country needs to get back on its feet.

If the international community is convinced that Ukraine is a viable and sophisticated country, it will flourish.

Their success also proves that Britain is at the forefront of international reconstruction. The British dominate the humanitarian field, and we are better at it than anyone else in the world.

James Cowan says, “We have to win the peace as well as win the war.” “Ukraine already has more unexploded bombs and landmines than any other country in the world, and we need to find each and every one.

“Only then can we make Ukraine secure. Only then can the country’s development begin.”

‘We will destroy Putin’

There currently seem to be two Ukrainian narratives that weave around each in military circles.

The first focuses on total victory by President Zelensky and his army. And the other, more subtle possibility is some kind of compromise.

Many close to the Ukrainian government think that peace talks of some form will eventually be required, including a forced relinquishment of territory.

But as Zelensky has spent the best part of a year promising he will not leave until the borders are back in their pre-2022 positions, such an agreement is clearly problematic.

“We’re getting ready to destroy Putin, and as soon as we’re done we’re going to rebuild our country,” said a young Ukrainian woman when I asked her how she was thinking.

“I can’t wait to properly party with the British. They have brought Halo to our country and in many ways it has given us the confidence to fight back.

“We like the British because you were the first to help us,” said another Halo bomb disposal expert, as he taught me how to use the metal detector.

“You were the first there and you will probably be the last there. We appreciate it. The Russians will eventually retreat, like a bear going back to its cave to lick its wounds.

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“And if it dares to come out again, we will wait. Along with the British.”

And then the sound of another air raid siren drowned out his voice.

A building was bombed in Kiev


A building was bombed in Kievcredit: hello

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