MP Praises Local Charity’s Life Saving Role In Ukraine

LOCAL MP David Mundell has praised the ‘brave and inspiring’ mine clearance work in Ukraine of the Dumfriesshire-based Halo Trust.


The long-established charity, famously supported by the late Princess Diana, has been clearing the deadly hidden ordinance laid by retreating Russian forces.


A former Scottish Secretary, Mr Mundell has a the sizeable community with Ukrainian heritage in his constituency and has had contact with the country’s UK diplomats before and since the conflict began.


He was invited by Halo Trust, based near Thornhill, to see first-hand their life-saving operations and has just returned from the war-torn country.


Entering Ukraine by car from Poland, Mr Mundell then travelled to the western city of Lviv before completing an 11-hour overnight train journey to the capital Kyiv where he met representatives of the charity.


The MP recalled: “You just need to venture a few miles out of Kyiv to see the devastation that the Russians have wreaked with bombed-out buildings and walls scarred by bullet holes.
“One stop we had was at the village of Zalissia where Russians booby-trapped near-by woodlands and dug trenches during their occupation. They used very thin wire or plastic thread to attach to their mines, which violently explode if disturbed. One person had already been killed in this neighbourhood while walking in the woods.
“We saw the vital work that HALO do to find the tripwires and the mines, which requires meticulous skill with great concentration and dexterity. It is a very hard and dangerous job, especially as the mines are laid in a way to cause maximum harm.” 


Mr Mundell highlighted the clearance work being carried out by HALO’s existing operatives and also their role training Ukrainians in the skills and expertise needed to carry out the hazardous work.


He said: “I was full of admiration for those whom we met taking on this difficult and skilful work. They demonstrate patience and great concentration whilst placing their lives at great risk to help others.
“HALO teams also work with local communities alerting them to areas which have been mined. This is particularly important to protect inquisitive children who can be tempted to pick objects up.”


The seasoned politician was particularly moved by what he saw on a visit to the city of Bucha, now forever associated with the murder and abuse of at least 460 Ukrainian civilians, including children, by retreating Russian forces.


He recalled: “We visited a Bucha school, which was recently re-opened and had lost teachers and pupils. There was an emotional meeting with the headteacher and we heard of efforts to get it back up and running so that pupils had valuable face-to-face learning. It was a sobering experience to see the bomb-shelters which were an inevitable requirement. 
“We witnessed pupils learning from the HALO team about how to avoid detonating mines. I was extremely impressed by the interactive discussion with the pupils and how well they engaged. Given all the turmoil and tragedy they had experienced, the resilience of these young people will be something I will never forget.”


Mr Mundell described how efforts were being made to establish some form of normality, but equally important was documenting the horrors of the Russian occupation which he saw on a visit to an exhibition arranged by the Mayor’s Office.


He said: “The pictures included civilians being shot in the streets, from where their bodies could not be removed, and accounts of cars carrying children along supposed ‘safe routes’ but coming under fierce enemy fire.
“Even the exhibition organiser relived the memory of hiding in her basement as Russians looted her home.”


Mr Mundell described how the Ukrainian people’s gratitude for UK support was repeatedly emphasised to him and the fact they were not alone in their hour of need.


He said: “What HALO, who operate worldwide, are doing is a vital part of that support by allowing people to go back safely to areas that were occupied and to help bring, to an extent, a degree of normality to their lives. 
“The very fact that they can do this is a repudiation of everything that Putin stands for and a demonstration that he cannot, and will not, win.”

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