Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees are starting to return home, determined for their country to not be overthrown by Putin’s forces.
Residents risk death due to the horror of unexploded bombs left by the Kremlin’s retreating troops.
Antony Blinken, United States Secretary of State, told the Congress on Wednesday that there are “very credible reports” that Russians have been “booby trapping things like peoples’ washing machines and toys so that when people are able to return home and go about their lives, they’re killed or injured as a result of these booby traps.”
This is not the first instance of traps being set up. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier in the month officials had uncovered booby traps in Kyiv and Mariupol.
The New York Times reported that a driver named Oleg Naumenko opened the boot of an abandoned car and it exploded, killing him instantly. The car had been booby-trapped – and such traps are a violation of the law of war.
Mr Naumenko’s wife said she “died with him” at that moment. There have even been reports of unexploded devices hidden under hospital stretchers and corpses.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed the country is now “one of the most contaminated by mines in the world.” He said that authorities were working to clear as many as possible and condemned the tactic as a war crime.
Anti-personnel mines, specifically designed to kill people, were banned by a 1997 international treaty signed by nearly every country in the world, however, Russia and the United States have not joined.
Human Rights Watch said that, since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, it has found over 54,000 explosive devices.
Kyiv regional police wrote advice on Facebook to residents and urged them not to touch objects and “things not checked by professionals in advance”.
It continued: “If suspicious objects are spotted, do not touch them, fence off the area and call the 102 hotline immediately.”
Vadym Zherdetskyi, a 51-year-old baker, told France 24 his bakery has been decimated by the war. To begin cleaning up the mess, he had to check for traps.
He said: “I used a rope with a hook on it. You have to throw it and pull it along the ground. If nothing explodes, then you can move forward another five meters. Same with the door, you use the hook to pull it open.”
Mark Hiznay, the senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times that leaving behind “little presents for the civilians when they return” is a Russian military “tradition”.
During the Syrian war, boobytraps were commonplace. Over the course of just four weeks in the summer of 2016, hospital staff in the city of Manbij alone received more than 190 people injured by blasts from explosive devices.
Mr Hiznay said that Ukraine will be dealing with the consequences of land mines “one civilian leg at a time” and that it will take decades for them all to be cleared.