Imagery of various anti-personnel mines in the forests of the Donbas region emerge online
Recent images of anti-personnel landmines highlighted the looming dangers in the forests of the eastern Ukrainian front lines.
Mine use is prohibited by many multilateral treaties, and yet they have seen persistent use in most areas to which those agreements apply. According to the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) to Ukraine, at least 70 people — 18 of whom were children — lost their lives or sustained injuries as a result of mines and other unexploded ordinance in the past 12 months. The DFRLab previously reported on new Russian-supplied anti-tank mines being laid near the front-line settlement of Zholobok in the Luhansk oblast of Ukraine.
The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, a group consisting of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE, reached a decision on March 3, 2016, that, among other things, prohibited the laying of new mines and required the destruction of existing mines. The decision is not available to the public and had to be corroborated with a statement from a Belarusian diplomat.
As revealed in a series of recent tweets, not only do a number of different types of mines persist in the Donbas region, but the variety is also wide, as those identified have different explosive capabilities and triggers.
In a February 21, 2019, report, the OSCE SMM noted its discovery of a MON-90 directional anti-personnel mine. Similar types of mines have been reported more recently, and, as this analysis shows, local deminers have published their findings in photos posted to social media.
The above tweet showed an OZM-72 anti-personnel mine sitting inconspicuously among fallen foliage in a nondescript forest. The DFRLab was unable to geolocate the image due to a lack of identifying details in the scene. The OZM-72 is what is referred to as a bouncing mine, which is launched into the air prior to detonation in order to target the center mass of the victim. Unlike its earlier cousins, the OZM-72 consists of premanufactured shrapnel components, as opposed to a less effective homogeneously cast alternative.
The OZM-72 is compatible with a number of fuses, which determine a mine’s mode of detonation such as remote control and tripwire, but it was unclear which type exactly the mine in the picture was using. The metal protrusion from the top of the mine, did, however, indicate that a tripwire fuse was used, although the wire itself was not clearly visible in the imagery.
A subsequent tweet featured an image that supposedly showed the tripwire retrieved from the pictured OZM-72, thus suggesting that the mine had been disarmed.
Subsequent tweets showed the remarkable resilience of mines and other unexploded ordinance against other types of abuse, as well as that ordinance that may appear to be out of commission may still pose a threat to passerby.
In the above tweet, a MON-50 directional anti-personnel mine appears to have been heavily damaged by fire. Fire will at times cause mines to detonate. In this instance, however, much of the plastic exterior of this mine had melted, yet the explosives inside remained intact. According to the tweet, only the detonator had to be replaced. It appeared that this mine would have been remotely detonated and, thus, was less of a threat to civilians, save for cases of mistaken identity. In 2016, Ukraine presented evidence that MON-50 mines were supplied to separatist forces by Russia.
Another tweet showed a MON-100, another directional anti-personnel mine, but one with a much larger charge than the MON-50. The mine had supposedly received two gunshots, with the side facing the camera showing the exit holes. Although the mine had been fired on, it was still functional, as the bullets appeared to have missed any vital components for detonation, having instead perforated the large explosive charge, failing to detonate it — bullet impacts do not necessarily detonate explosives, a common misperception. This mine also appeared to be possible to detonate remotely, although it is compatible with multiple fuse types, as is the MON-50.
Michael Sheldon is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).