Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Warship ‘Seriously Damaged’; E.U. Weighs Ban on Moscow’s Oil Exports

In the days after the Russian withdrawal from the outskirts of kyiv, a driver named Oleg Naumenko opened the trunk of an abandoned car and it exploded, killing him instantly.

The car was booby-trapped and his family and local authorities blamed Russian soldiers. “I died with him at that moment,” Naumenko’s wife, Valeria, said between sobs.

As ordinary Ukrainians emerge from cellars and bunkers into the ruins of their hometowns, many face a new horror: thousands of mines and unexploded bombs left behind by retreating Russian troops.

Residents and authorities say departing Russian soldiers have littered large swathes of the country with buried landmines and improvised bombs, some hidden as booby traps inside homes. Explosives must now be found and neutralized before residents can resume a semblance of normal life.

Some of the explosives were planted in washing machines, doors, car windows and other places where they can kill or injure civilians returning home, according to Ukrainian residents and officials. Some were even hidden under hospital beds and dead bodies.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine this week called his country “one of the most heavily mine-contaminated in the world” and said authorities were working to clear thousands in areas from which Russian armies had recently withdrawn. weeks. He accused Russian soldiers of leaving explosives in their wake “in order to kill or maim as many of our people as possible.”

He said the tactic was a war crime and that the Russian soldiers must have acted on instructions from senior officials, adding: “Without proper orders, they would not have done it.”

Human Rights Watch and The New York Times reported that Russian forces in Ukraine appear to be using advanced landmines in the eastern city of Kharkiv. Several local officials have also said that bomb squads in their districts have found explosive devices left in houses.

Antipersonnel mines, which are designed to kill people, are prohibited by an international treaty signed by almost every country in the world, including Ukraine; Russia and the United States have refused to join.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Ukraine’s emergency services agency has deployed a small army of some 550 mine specialists to clear areas recently occupied by Russian forces. The teams have been working to remove around 6,000 explosives a day, and since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 they have found more than 54,000 explosive devices, the agency reported on Tuesday.

“Wherever the occupants spent the night, they would install tripwires,” Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said during a televised interview on Sunday. “Explosives have been found under helmets, attached to doors, in the washing machine and in cars.”

The placement of explosives in Ukrainian homes could not be independently verified.

Mr. Naumenko, who was killed on April 4, worked as a driver in the town of Hoholiv, about 40 miles from Kyiv. But his talent lay in auto repair. After Russian forces withdrew from a nearby town, neighbors found an abandoned vehicle and handed it over to them.

His wife learned of his death the next day in Poland, where he had fled with his 7-year-old son and his mother at the start of the war. She returned to her village as soon as she got the news. “What was left was the car, with the door still open and a pool of blood,” said Naumenko, 28, “and a big void.”

His account was confirmed through photos and by the kyiv regional police, who posted a report on the incident on their Facebook page, warning returning residents “not to touch objects or things that have not been previously tested by experts.” ”.

Other local officials are urging residents to call emergency services before entering their homes.

Retreating armies often bury landmines to slow the advance of enemy armies. But experts say Russian forces have a well-earned reputation for booby-trapping areas they have abandoned to kill and maim returning civilians.

Human Rights Watch has documented Russia’s use of antipersonnel mines in more than 30 countries where Moscow’s forces were involved, including conflicts in Syria and Libya. In Palmyra, during the Syrian war, booby traps were set up after the Russians abandoned the city.

“Leaving small gifts for civilians when they return, like hand grenades, tripwires, unexploded shells, pressure plates, it is a Russian military tradition to do so,” said Mark Hiznay, senior weapons researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“We have seen it before and we will see it again,” he said.

Mr. Hiznay said that “putting a landmine in someone’s freezer” was a tactic that had no use other than to terrorize civilians. Ukraine will deal with the consequences of landmines “one civilian leg at a time,” he added, explaining that it can often take years, and possibly decades, to remove all the munitions.

“The presence of these devices denies civilians their land and forces them to make difficult decisions: put sheep out to graze or risk stepping on a landmine in the grass,” he said.

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