Deadly Mines Infest Odesa Coast

Explosive devices that can be triggered “by a strong wave” continue to endanger both civilian lives and shipping.

Deadly Mines Infest Odesa Coast

Explosive devices that can be triggered “by a strong wave” continue to endanger both civilian lives and shipping.

A sign warns against the danger of mines in the Black Sea. Russian forces have laid mines in the sea, while some parts of the seashore in Odesa were mined by Ukraine's Armed Forces to prevent Russian landing.
A sign warns against the danger of mines in the Black Sea. Russian forces have laid mines in the sea, while some parts of the seashore in Odesa were mined by Ukraine's Armed Forces to prevent Russian landing. © Micheal Shtekel
Odesa's military administration has closed all Black Sea shores, but there are no legal consequences for those who head to the beach or venture into the sea. The police can only issue verbal advice.
Odesa's military administration has closed all Black Sea shores, but there are no legal consequences for those who head to the beach or venture into the sea. The police can only issue verbal advice. © Micheal Shtekel
Monday, 18 July, 2022

Dmytro died on the day of his 30th birthday. On a sunny afternoon on July 15, at about 2pm, he went swimming in the sea off the coast of Odessa and never came back.

According to local police, he was decapitated after triggering an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Russian forces.

Such sea mines have already claimed three lives in recent weeks. On July 2, one person was killed and another injured when a mine exploded off the coast. On June 11, a man died amid a beach outing with his family.

Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman of the Ukrainian defense forces in the country’s south, explained that all these deaths were officially categorised as IED explosions as it had been impossible to conduct proper forensic examination of the debris.

She said that a dozen mines had been discovered by Ukrainian navy special engineers since the full-scale invasion began. Of these, ten had been defused while another two had spontaneously exploded.

“One of these explosions happened quite near to the beach – fortunately there were no people there at that moment. We found debris spanning a 100-metre radius, people could have been seriously injured,” Humeniuk said, adding that sea mines were extremely sensitive.

“The prongs of such mines can be triggered even by jellyfish tentacles, so those who died didn’t even touch them – a strong wave could be enough.”

All Black Sea shores have been closed to the public by order of the military administration, with signs posted near the water alerting citizens about the danger of mines. However, there are no legal consequences for breaking this prohibition. Since no amendments were made to the criminal code, the police cannot arrest or fine those who break the rules and can only issue verbal advice.

"What can we do? Should we stop living?”

So despite the information campaign and police visits, people continue to sunbathe on the beach or swim in the sea.

Some – like Olga, who was born in Odesa and states that she cannot live without sea - argue that they need to swim due to their health issues.

Enjoying a trip to the beach with her friend Inna, the 38-year-old said that they understood the risk but assumed the danger was low due to the breakwaters built on at least half of all the city’s beaches.

“Outside Odesa its more dangerous, there is no such breakwater, so the risk is higher,” Olga said. “Anyway, I can't say I'm not afraid, the whole situation is disturbing. But what can we do? Should we stop living?”

Another woman at the beach, Natalia, said that while she was not going to swim, she did not see why she should miss out on sunbathing.

“The police were here a quarter of an hour ago, checked everything, explained the risks,” she said. “I`m not going into the water, it’s too dangerous.”

Some parts of the seashore in the Odesa region were mined by Ukrainian army to prevent Russian troops landing. On March 29 two locals ignored the warning signs stating that the area had been mined and drove to the beach in their car. One was killed and the other wounded.

But the Ukrainian forces prefer to use a range of other methods to ensure Russian warships do not approach the shore, such as Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), artillery or missiles.

Humeniuk said that there were now fears that some of the Russian mines could drift to Uthe krainian Bystroye canal in the Danube delta.

This route from the Black Sea to the Danube ports became accessible for trade vessels again after the strategic Zmiinyi island - also known as Snake Island - was liberated from Russian troops. Before that, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion Ukrainian and international trade vessels could only use the Romanian Sulina canal.

Sea mines could thus pose a serious security risk to civilian vessels too.

Ivan Niyaky, 35, is director of the Transship group, which owns a Danube terminal well as its own chartered fleet and other facilities.

One of its companies, Craneship LTD, was offered the chance to take the first, risky trip through the newly re-opened Bystroye canal.

“As I understood it, other ship owners weren’t eager to try the new route – it could be insecure. But we agreed,” Niyaky said, adding that the Bystroye canal would increase export volumes through Danube ports by up to 30 per cent.

The only way to bring much-needed Ukrainian grain to the world market would be to unblock the Black Sea ports, but Niyaky said that the likelihood of this was unclear.

“We use all the possible routes and transport to export about two million tonnes of grain a month, and we need to export about seven to eight million tonnes,” he said. “Now we export only a quarter of what we are capable of doing.

This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

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