Aforeign minister Annalena Bärbock trudges down the dirt road in the drizzle, surrounded by her bodyguard, German police officers, and Ukrainian soldiers. An orchard on the right, then an open field: the security forces let their gaze wander. But the deadliest danger lurks here on the left, in a narrow, long, windbreak grove. Wooden stakes with glowing red heads mark the line behind which the mines lie. Anti-tank mines, vehicle mines, grenades connected to tripwires. Fragmentation mines were also found here, says the head of the clearance squad, Michael Newton.
The flat country stretches out near the village of Welyka Dymerka, perhaps twenty kilometers north-east of Kyiv. Shortly after the start of Putin's attack on the Ukraine Russian troops advanced as far as here, some houses in the village are shot to pieces and empty. Behind the town exit, the tall grass grows into the burned-out car wrecks that have been cleared out of the way there. The fields then begin behind them – and the mine strip.
The Halo Trust is the largest non-profit demining organization in the world. He started his work in Afghanistan in 1988 and is now active in more than 20 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, since 2014 also in Ukraine. Germany has supported Halo's deminers with almost 90 million euros for more than a decade. Now the German government has given six million to eliminate the consequences of Putin's attack in Ukraine. It will be tedious, time-consuming and dangerous work.
First housewife, then deminer
The Green Minister accompanies the regional Halo leader Newton on the path at the edge of the grove. "What I see here is beyond terrifying," she says. It is clear that "not only anti-tank mines were deliberately laid here, but also anti-personnel mines, i.e. mines were used by the Russian army in a targeted manner to kill civilians".
The deminers are armed primarily with grass shears on this wet morning to cut clear the markers separating the safe path from the dangerous terrain. Many of them come from eastern Ukraine, where they have years of experience on the front line to the separatist areas.
She is from Mariupol, says a woman, from the city on the Sea of Azov that was besieged by the Russians for a long time and was badly destroyed; and she was actually a post clerk. Another reports that she was a housewife before being trained by Halo in demining. According to the organization, it now has around 40 clearing teams, each consisting of seven to nine people. An ambulance with a driver is always included, as well as at least two employees with thorough first aid training.
Baerbock is handed a clearing device. It is similar to the metal detectors that hobby beach seekers occasionally use on sandy shores in search of old coins or other treasures. With the sensor plate close to the ground, the clearing crews systematically search the area; a beep indicates metal in the ground.