KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky says it will take years to defuse the unexploded ordnance once the Russian invasion is over.
Monastyrsky told The Associated Press in an interview on Friday that the country will need Western assistance to carry out the massive undertaking after the war.
“A huge number of shells and mines have been fired at Ukraine, and a large part haven’t exploded. They remain under the rubble and pose a real threat,” Monastyrsky said in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. “It will take years, not months, to defuse them.”
In addition to the unexploded Russian ordnance, Ukrainian troops have planted land mines at bridges, airports and other key locations to prevent the Russians from using them.
“We won’t be able to remove the mines from all that territory, so I asked our international partners and colleagues from the European Union and the United States to prepare groups of experts to demine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling,” Monastyrsky told the AP.
He noted that his ministry’s demining equipment was left in Mariupol, a besieged port city of 430,000 people that has been subjected to relentless shelling for much of the war.
“We lost 200 pieces of equipment there,” Monastyrsky said.
One of the biggest challenges the Interior Ministry faces is fighting the fires caused by the relentless Russian shelling and airstrikes, Monastyrsky said. The country’s emergency service, which the ministry oversees, is facing desperate shortages of personnel and equipment, he said.
A firefighter was killed Thursday during the Russian shelling of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, while working to extinguish a blaze at a market that was caused by a previous attack.
Monastyrsky added that the emergency service’s facilities in Kharkiv and Mariupol were completely destroyed in the Russian barrage.
Monastyrsky stressed that Ukrainian emergency responders urgently need more specialized vehicles and protective equipment.
“The coming days will exacerbate a humanitarian catastrophe in critical areas,” he said. “I must say that casualties among civilians exceed our military losses by several times.”
The interior ministry has been busy trying to counter groups of Russian saboteurs that inundated the country to target bridges, gas pipelines and other infrastructure facilities, Monastyrsky said, adding that dozens of such groups have operated in Ukraine.
“We realize that sabotage is a key tool in the war,” he said, adding that Ukrainian forces have managed to spot Russian saboteurs by tracking their Russian cellphones. “We reacted immediately … by searching locations where these phones were detected and acted against those groups.”
In occupied areas, Russian forces tried to scare Ukrainian police who remained there by visiting their homes and sometimes even planting explosives at their doors, Monastyrsky said.
“They are trying to pressure people in the occupied territories,” he said.
Massive protests that broke out in Berdyansk, Melitopol, Kherson and other occupied Ukrainian cities came as a surprise to the Russians, who expected to be welcomed by local native-Russian speakers, Monastyrsky said.
“They have faced civilians who speak Russian but stand for Ukraine,” he said. “They realize now that they made a major mistake.”
Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Lviv.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.