Aleksey: Wounded for life by weapons of war

Eastern Ukraine is now one of the most mine-contaminated places on earth

Melanie Sharpe
Aleksey washes his face and his missing fingers are highlighted.
UNICEF/UN0150855/Gilbertson VII Photo

09 January 2018

Fourteen year old Aleksey and his family live in the town of Vozdvyzhenka, just down the road from eastern Ukraine’s contact line – the line that divides government and non-government controlled areas and where fighting is most severe.

The sounds of military weapons exchanging fire can be heard in the family’s small yard.
 

I wasn’t sure what that thing was, it looked like it could be a pen. I picked it up and touched it when it exploded in my hands.

"It was in summer, I was going to the pond with my friends to swim there. As we were walking there was a convoy of military passing and something fell off one of the cars. I wasn’t sure what that thing was, it looked like it could be a pen.” Aleksey says. “I picked it up and touched it when it exploded in my hands. My first feeling was shock and pain. I looked down and saw the fingers were hanging from my hand.” 

After nearly four years of conflict, eastern Ukraine is now one of the most mine-contaminated places on earth, endangering 220,000 children – children like Aleksey – who live, play and go to and from school in areas littered with landmines, unexploded ordnance and other deadly explosive remnants of war.

I can’t do everything I could do before without my fingers, but I’m getting used to it. It’s still hard to do some things. Sometimes I’m getting upset up until the moment when I break into tears.

Even before the conflict, Aleksey’s family were struggling to get by. Both of his parents are unemployed. His father worked in a coal mine until a ceiling collapsed on him in 1996, breaking his back and leaving him permanently injured.

The conflict has made life even worse.

For the past two years there has been no water, electricity or gas at the family’s home. The family heat their home using firewood they chop outside, sometimes in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius.

Not long ago, Aleksey was gravely injured - losing two fingers and his thumb when a grenade exploded in his hand.

“My whole life has changed," says Aleksey, “I can’t do everything I could do before without my fingers, but I’m getting used to it. It’s still hard to do some things. Sometimes I’m getting upset up until the moment when I break into tears."
 

An unexploded mortar shell in the backyard of a home in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0150849/Gilbertson VII Photo
An unexploded mortar shell in the backyard of a home in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine.
Unexploded grenades in the yard of a home in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0150853/Gilbertson VII Photo
Unexploded grenades in the yard of a home in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine.

Available data from January to November 2017 show landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and unexploded ordinance (UXO) were the leading cause of conflict related child casualties in eastern Ukraine, accounting for approximately two-thirds of child injuries and deaths. The majority of these casualties were due to children picking-up explosives such as hand grenades and fuses. Leaving many children with lifelong disabilities.

Across eastern Ukraine, UNICEF and partners have reached 500,000 children with Mine Risk Education. These sessions teach children how to protect themselves from mines, UXO and ERW. UNICEF has also provided psycho social support to 270,000 children affected by the conflict.