Issue 4.1 | February 2000 | Information in this issue may be outdated. Click here to link to the most recent issue.
History: Belarus has had a long and devastating history that intertwines them with several different countries. The country has always been filled with war and strife as far back as records can date. During just the 19th and 20th centuries, Belarus was plagued with the Germans and Russians fighting in World War I, and they were severely plundered during World War II by many different foreigners. In 1918, the area now known as Belarus became a part of Russia after the Russo-German treaty, which helped end World War I. Despite the tight grip that Russia held on most of its republics, it allowed Belarus to establish individual ties with the United Nations. In 1991, after the USSR dissolved, Belarus claimed its independence and the republic's Communist party (CPB) appeared to take over. For the next few years the idea of a constitution and new leadership filled the country's atmosphere. Belarus has remained the closest country to Russia in hopes of becoming a member of the international community and has, within the last year, signed a treaty with Russia, which states that each country, Russia and Belarus, will work for greater agreement politically, economically and socially.
Landmine and UXO Overview: Belarus has been plagued with war and has been cursed with landmines and UXO throughout its borders. The most predominant areas are the battlefields from World War I and II. The cities and provinces closest to these grounds are Gomel, Minsk, the capital, and the most heavily mined area, Vitebsk. Many of the officials in Belarus are trying to educate the people and show them the proper way to handle a mine if encountered and more importantly, what not to do. Two non-governmental organizations, the Belarus Support Center for Associations and Foundations, SCAF and the Belarus Campaign to Ban Landmines, BCBL, are working with the Belarussian government to help promote safety and build solid support centers for the victims of landmines. SCAF, established in 1996, strove to develop the culture and society of Belarus by supporting other NGO initiatives such as the BCBL. Founded in 1998, BCBL supports the public education of all locals on how to deal with landmines and UXO when discovered. Despite government help and education, it is speculated that Belarus may make landmines and place them within their own boundaries as well as ship them elsewhere. Against this charge, the Ministry of Defense stated that Belarus had neither produced nor ever will produce any type of landmine.
Victims and Casualties: Belarussian victims can be categorized into three groups to best assess the damage done to their culture. The three categories are:
- Civilians affected during World War II as children (Gomel 1941-1945)
- Former military personnel during the Afghanistan war in the 1980s
- Civilians affected by UXOs left after World War II
These three groups can summarize the devastation and pain that Belarus has had to face over the past century. Even though much of the country is rural, there are several hospitals that can help with the basic medical needs of the locals. There are simple hospitals to care for minor injuries, but there are also some prosthetic and rehabilitation centers that format special individual programs for individual patients. This concept helps not only the landmine victims, but their families and communities also. The overall perception of landmine victims and their assistance to try to be as helpful as possible and to protect them. The government has also established rules that allow the disabled to maintain their jobs with pay even while being absent. This attitude helps to establish a better relationship between the Belarussian government and its people.
Demining: There is no national program of destroying landmines except through the military, the Department of Engineer Forces in Main Headquarters of the Belarus Military Forces, which formed over 44 groups to separate and look carefully for mines. Once discovered, the mines are either disposed of on site or taken to a safe location and destroyed. Reports show that from 1991-1997 over 120,000 UXO and 1,000 AP mines were destroyed in the area of just 300 kilometers ($12,000 per kilometer). In 1996, over 10,700 UXO were destroyed at a cost of $100, 000. A lack of funds has left many landmines uncleared and left many more people in danger. All of the land that has been cleared have benefited the locals who use it for agricultural purposes.
War Reality Check: There have been many people maimed or killed as a result of these undiscovered landmines, and the horror stories of the victims and their familys' pain touches the hearts of many who have listened to each individual story and understood the unfairness. The story of Alexey Dralov and Alexey Toliadonok swept throughout Belarus in 1998. Two teenage girls, both age 17, were killed by a UXO while walking near a railway station in Krugleuschina, the Dokshitshi district. Vitebsk is one of the most heavily mined areas and even though most of the landmines are usually placed in rural fields, in which few travelers pass, there are always unexpected attacks. The landmines attack without warning and most likely take the life of the person who encounters them.
Belarus Campaign to Ban Landmines
Ms. Natalia Yakavets
16 Korolia Street, Suite 301
Minsk, Belarus 220004