Landmines continue to injure thousands in Chechnya

Years of armed conflict in Russia's Republic of Chechnya has left a deadly legacy that threatens the lives of people living there today. The region has one of the highest concentrations of landmines in the world.

Although the Emergencies Ministry has been working to clear the area, little progress has been made, prompting thousands of Chechens to call for more to be done.

More than 3,000 people were injured or killed by landmines following the two anti-terror campaigns in Chechnya – around 500 of whom are women.

Fatima cannot walk. Like many other women injured by landmines, she lost both legs while collecting berries in the woods. Now she says her entire life is ruined.

Nevertheless, a clinic which makes artificial limbs offers her hope.

Rasul Khadzhimuradov, the specialist making artificial legs for Fatima says the number of landmine accidents in Chechnya has fallen over the last couple of years. Mine victims are still his chief clients, however.

Showing off his recent work, he says, “Out of these four artificial limbs – three have been made for people injured by mines.”

The orthopedic centre also helps people with diabetes whose limbs have been surgically amputated, but doctors say mine injures are the most difficult to deal with.

“When someone treads on a mine, the first thing doctors try to do is save their life. The stump the victim is left with may not allow them to wear an artificial limb. In most cases, the feet are ripped off. After all, mines are designed to maim rather than kill,” Rasul Khadzhimuradov explains.

An Emergencies Ministry team has been helping de-mine Chechnya for nearly four years. So far, less than two percent of the republic’s fields have been cleared, let alone the forests and mountains.

“It’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s all the aid which the Emergencies Ministry can give to the republic today,” says Yury Lebedev, a deputy from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations for the Chechen Republic. “Huge resources are needed to clear such a vast area from mines. Besides, we're short of specialists who can do this job.”

The Emergencies Ministry says a new team of specialists will be trained specifically to work in Chechnya, as de-mining is an urgent priority in the republic.

For now, however, it has been suspended. It is only possible to conduct the operations twice a year – in early spring or late autumn, when there is no greenery or snow.

With so much unexploded ordnance, engineers say locals are likely to be treading on minefields for centuries to come.