“It can get ugly out there”: Ukrainian deminers trained as first aid responders

Photo story: Ukrainian deminers working for DCA are developing skills as first aid responders.

© Rasmus Emil Gravesen

Ukraine is one of the countries in the world with the most areas contaminated with mine- and explosive remnants of war. In 2022, Ukraine had the second highest number of people killed and injured by mines and unexploded ordnance, second only to Syria, according to OHCHR.

DanChurchAid (DCA) works in Ukraine to search areas and register finds of unexploded ordnance, after which the munitions are removed or demolished. To that end, teams of trained deminers, funded by the European Union, are working in Mykolaiv.

As part of their training to become deminers or educational experts on the hazards of mines to civilians, 29 newly employed DCA staff have been trained in First Aid in November 2023. Their work in areas with risks of explosive ordnance will minimise the number of accidents, injuries and deaths caused by improper behavior around explosives.

However, the job is not without perils. Inherently, when working with mines or explosive remnants of war, there is a risk of life-threating situations occurring. Therefore, it is vital for all the employees to have a thorough understanding of first aid.

Over five days, all the future deminers and Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) specialists participate in in-depth first aid training carried out by DCA medical staff. During the training, the 29 participants tried real-life first aid simulations, got familiar with the full content of their individual first aid kit (IFAK), and were taught about a wide range of injuries as well as the correct treatment for each.

“The knowledge and skills are critical for them to have. Unfortunately, it can get ugly out there. All these skills are also applicable in their private lives should they ever be involved in a car accident or other life-threatening situations. These skills will stay with them for life,” says Gerhard Pretorius, medical coordinator at DCA Ukraine.

The training is required for deminers, who are deployed to the field under a project funded by the European Union with 2.1 million EUR to reduce the risk of unexploded ordnance harming civilians in Ukraine. This is done by identifying hazardous areas while also referring vulnerable population for legal and psychological assistance.

Every part of the individual first aid kit (IFAK) is thoroughly explained by DCA medical staff and studied by the participants during the training. The aim is to get truly familiar with one’s kit to avoid any hesitation in a life-or-death situation.
It is important to make sure that all components in the IFAK are in the right place. Every second counts when performing basic life support. In Ukraine, the number of civilian casualties from mines or explosive remnants of war have increased ten-fold from 2021 to 2022. The total number of casualties in 2022 in Ukraine was 608.
The course covers everything from mild bruises to heavy internal and external bleeding. The deminers will not only be able to use their skills in the field but also in their private life – i.e. should they be involved in a car accident or similar situations.
“If a limb is maimed or severely injured with blood spurting from the wound, the right thing to do is to apply a tourniquet. Depending on how long the torniquet stays on and cuts of blood to the limp, the patient might lose their limb, but it will save their life,” says Gerhard Pretorius, medical coordinator at DCA Ukraine, to the participants at the training.
”If the wound is not serious enough to require a tourniquet, then you should apply pressure and use an emergency bandage,” says Gerhard Pretorius.
The participants will get their hands dirty during the course as they simulate real-life situations.
A central part of basic life support is CPR (short for cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This technique is used if someone is having trouble breathing or if their heart has stopped. Here, the medical coordinator for DCA, Gerhard Pretorius, is demonstrating the correct way to respond with CPR. Checking for vital signs is the key before initiating CPR.
Give 30 chest compressions with two hands centered on the chest at a depth of at least 2 inches. The rate should be 100 to 120 compressions per minute. That is the instruction given to the future deminers.

How is DCA expanding activities in Mykolaiv?

The European Union has supported DCA Ukraine with funds to reach over 150,000 Ukrainians in the Mykolaiv region.

DCA Ukraine will identify and survey hazardous areas, map protection needs and risks, conduct tailored explosive ordnance risk education (EORE), and identify cases for legal aid, and social support services.

The target group for the project includes war-affected civilians in the Mykolaiv region, specifically those with damaged homes, former hostages, torture victims, and people living with injuries caused by the war. The project also extends assistance through DCA’s Ukrainian partner organisation Right to Protection to the families of deceased or missing individuals, as well as supporting the elderly, internally displaced persons, and first-line responders.

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