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East Ukraine Polluted by Tens of Thousands of Mines, Over 150 Children Hurt

Before the pro-western, pro-war regime took power in Kiev, East Ukraine was a poor, but functional and safe place. Now UNICEF is organizing mine awareness programs for children.

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This article originally appeared at International Business Times

A United Nations program aimed at helping children in crisis-stricken countries announced Tuesday a new campaign around mine awareness in eastern Ukraine. Though the country has entered a ceasefire in its conflict with Russia and state officials are working to remove weapons from residential areas, many explosives remain on the ground. UNICEF wants to teach kids not to touch them.

More than 150 kids have been wounded or killed by landmines or unexploded ordnances in Donetsk and Luhansk over the past year of battle, and the number "would be significantly higher" if non-government controlled areas were counted, Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for central and eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of the Independent States, said in a news release.

The State Emergency Service of Ukraine has found more than 33,700 ordnance-related objects in its efforts to clear local villages. But some areas remained unchecked. There, children may think the mines are toys and attempt to play with them, Interfax reported.

"Until now, there has been very little community awareness and understanding of the dangers posed by mines and explosives used in the conflict," Poirier said. "That is why we are working with our partners to strengthen families’ knowledge of the hazardous munitions remaining in many communities that have seen fighting – so that children and their parents know what to watch out for and how they can stay safe."

To do so, UNICEF plans to reach out to 500,000 kids and families -- the former of which is a group experiencing a "grave and urgent need" for increased relief, director of operations John Ging said at a news conference last month. The organization will train teachers and counselors in mine-risk awareness and distribute information digitally and in print, according to the release. 

A blog post on the campaign indicated it has two phases, one of which has already finished. About 200,000 children received posters and pamphlets and watched an animated video about land mines. Next, UNICEF will focus on inspiring kids to stay safe and encouraging the government to improve its injury surveillance system. 

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