Russian forces in Ukraine appear to be using a new type of weapon as they step up attacks on civilian targets: an advanced land mine equipped with sensors that can detect when people walk nearby.
Ukrainian bomb technicians discovered the device, called the POM-3, last week near the eastern city of Kharkiv, according to Human Rights Watch, a leading human rights group, which has reviewed photos provided by Ukraine’s military.
Older types of land mines typically explode when victims accidentally step on them or disturb attached tripwires. But the POM-3’s seismic sensor picks up on approaching footsteps and can effectively distinguish between humans and animals.
Humanitarian de-miners and groups that campaign against the use of land mines said the POM-3 would make future efforts to locate and destroy unexploded munitions in Ukraine vastly more complicated and deadlier.
“These create a threat that we don’t have a response for,” said James Cowan, who leads the HALO Trust, a British American charity that clears land mines and other explosive remnants of war to help countries recover after conflicts.
The group began removing unexploded munitions from the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2016 after Russian-backed separatists started fighting the Ukrainian government.
“We’ll need to find some donors to procure robotics that can allow us to deal with these threats at some distance,” Cowan added.
The POM-3 is typically launched by a rocket and falls back to earth by parachute before sticking into the ground — where it waits, according to CAT-UXO, an online resource for military and civilian bomb technicians. When the mine senses a person, it launches a small explosive warhead that detonates midair, producing fragments that are lethal up to about 50 feet away.
Cowan, a retired British army major general, said his staff of 430 Ukrainians clearing unexploded munitions in Donbas had been unable to continue working since Russia launched a full invasion of the country in late February, with many staff members temporarily relocating in Ukraine. He anticipates that in the future, HALO’s operation across the country will require about 2,500 workers, given that many areas outside Donbas are now contaminated with unexploded munitions as well.