When explosive weapons are used in populated areas like towns and cities, civilians suffer the most. Nine in ten people killed or injured are civilians. Even when the fighting has ended, unexploded bombs remain — causing death, injury, and suffering for decades to come.
People who survive bombing and shelling in their towns and cities experience long-term psychological trauma.
Here are three survivors who share their stories of the horrors of when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.
Adnan was just nine when a huge bomb landed on his neighbourhood and left him fighting for his life. But now, an 18-year-old, he thinks he is lucky to be alive.
"I suffered very difficult fragmentation injuries but l lived and am here today. I am one of the lucky ones. The missile landed in the street near our house. I had gone to get some drinking water. There was no warning.
"All I remember is the change in air pressure - the rest is just blackness because I was knocked unconscious.
"I am still affected by the experience of the injury - I feel pain when it is cold and I have scars across my abdomen.
"And we are affected by the bombardments. They came constantly so we never felt safe. My memory of my childhood is just a memory of fear."
Raisa and Sergiy are Ukrainian. They have a son, Jura and a dog, Masha.
Their village, Ozera, on the outskirts of Kyiv, has been destroyed in the war.
They escaped from their village on 25th February 2022. Looking back, they said they were extremely lucky. “We made a quick decision and put what we could into the car and fled,” explained Raisa. “It was very frightening, there was fighting and bombing everywhere. We almost ran out of petrol. The car stopped just next to the first petrol station we came to.”
The quick decision they made probably saved their lives. Sergiy’s sister’s family tried to escape later. Her husband was shot and died and then the car was hit by a rocket and their mother and father were killed.
The family went back to their village a few months later, only to find that their house had been further destroyed. The remains of a Ukrainian army truck was there, along with lots of explosive ordnance spread out from the explosions that hit the village. The truck had been full of ammunition, and the army blew it all up. The explosion has left a huge hole in the ground. “Before, the house was destroyed but the foundations and basement were salvageable. Now there is nothing.”
Raisa holds on to a small ornamental vase. “This is the only thing that survived from our house.”
Mayor Aboud’s town in north east Syria was on the front line of conflict in 2013/14 and then again, between 2016 and 2018.
Home to some 12,000 people, it was strategically important because of its water pumping station, situated on a hill overlooking the town and a critical asset for providing water to hundreds of thousands of people, including residents in the city of Hasakeh.
The town was heavily mined during the conflict with about a dozen minefields surrounding the water station hill. It also suffered repeated aerial bombardments, which destroyed hundreds of homes, a school, the town hall and the market.
MAG has been working in the town since 2018, delivering risk education and conducting survey and clearance work. Since 2016, at least 23 residents have been killed by landmines, according to town mayor Aboud.
He says: “When we returned after the fighting ended it was so unsafe. We could not graze our sheep or let our children play outside. Everywhere you went, you felt like something terrible was going to happen.
“I have been working with MAG since 2018 to help to keep our community safe, making sure people understand the risks. But there have been many tragedies in our community and many dear friends have been lost.”
Village resident Rafiq has paid a higher price than most. Like Mohamed, his house was destroyed in the conflict and his fields left littered with landmines. On November 10 2020, one of those landmines cost him his leg and almost his life.
“I had been grazing the sheep and was coming back to the house when I stood on a landmine. It blew me 20 feet into the air and when I landed I just missed a second mine. My brother Wasim came running to my rescue as I lay there. All the flesh had been taken from my leg below the knee and I was bleeding heavily.”
Rafiq was rushed him to the hospital, and they amputated his leg above the knee.
He now uses a prosthetic limb and walks with difficulty using crutches. “I feel like I cannot fulfil my role and do my duty in my community and in my family. I used to be the leader of this community. Now, if my crutch is just two metres away, then I am helpless.”
Rafiq expects to get a new prosthetic limb in a couple of months’ time and hopes that will give him more independence. But the effects of the accident will live with him forever.
“My psychological health has suffered and I will not walk near where the accident happened.”
Today the village is almost safe again, thanks to MAG, which has cleared 90% of the known and suspected hazardous areas, finding improvised landmines and unexploded ordnance amidst the ruins.