Putin's retreating forces rig corpses, bikes and teddy bears with explosives

There have been celebrations after Russian forces withdrew from the Black Sea port city of Kherson. But as troops fled, they reportedly damaged the city, destroying power and heating infrastructure. They even blew up part of a television broadcasting centre.

On Thursday (local time) the region’s appointed governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Telegram Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s forces had "taken away public equipment, damaged power lines and wanted to leave a trap behind them".

An adviser to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted overnight Russia’s forces want to turn Kherson into a "city of death" by mining "everything they can". "This is what 'Russian world' looks like: came, robbed, celebrated, killed "witnesses", left ruins and left."

Damaged high-voltage powerlines. Inset: Vladimir Putin with his hands clasped.
High-voltage powerlines were damaged during attacks by Vladimir Putin's forces in Kherson. Source: Reuters / Getty

Global Guardian CEO Dale Buckner has been coordinating rescues across Ukraine since the invasion began. He first began hearing stories of Russia’s tactic of leaving explosive mines behind when it fled following a failed attempt to take Kyiv in March.

"(Death rates) exploded with the number of left behind booby traps, landmines and personnel mines," he told Yahoo News Australia earlier this year. "Favourite targets are washing machines, cars, homes, hospital stretchers, bicycles, teddy bears."

A Ukrainian soldier checks for IEDs under a mattress at Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast. The light is low.
A Ukrainian soldier checks for IEDs under a mattress at Kupiansk. Source: Getty

In September, Mr Buckner correctly predicted Russia’s forces would continue to mine areas they retreated from. "I don’t think this goes away," he said. At the time, his teams on the ground estimated around a quarter of a million booby trap mines had been collected. North of Kyiv alone, more than 55,000 were discovered between mid-April until the second week of May.

Why Russians are rigging corpses with explosives

Images supplied to Yahoo News Australia from a man clearing mines in the northern city of Chernihiv, show a variety of bombs, hand grenades and bullets collected by teams working in the region.

Low on equipment, de-mining personnel across Ukraine have been forced to be creative when clearing sites. Soldiers will sometimes jab ahead of themselves with sticks and rods to search for munitions. Sometimes tyres are rolled down hills to set off unexploded mines in their paths.

Top left - a hand grenade. Bottom - an exploded bomb. Right - an unexploded bomb.
Munitions were left behind across the Chernihiv region. Source: Supplied

Mr Buckner has had personal experience exploding improvised explosive devices (IED) in the Middle East. The technique of leaving behind mines was used in Afghanistan, and also at scale in Iraq from 2006 to 2009 during the surge. But the practices date back at least as the Vietnam War.

In Iraq, soldiers would use Christmas lights as booby traps. "All you have to do is step on one Christmas light and it sets it off - the whole home would blow up," Mr Buckner said. Regular household items are often used because they are "things that people would not assume as a threat psychologically".

Soldiers searching for mines in Chernihiv in a grassy field.
Soldiers searching for mines in Chernihiv. Source: Supplied

Mr Buckner explained that corpses are often rigged up with explosives. "It's emotional. It's a visceral thing," he said. Family members who see one of their own dead will immediately throw caution to the wind. "You rush to them, you pull them over and then it explodes. It's a very easy way to create mass damage and carnage," he said.

As Ukrainians return to Kherson, they cannot assume that their homes and businesses have not been tampered with by Russia. Tactically, mining a city slows down forces trying to take back the city and works to demoralise the public.

"When you leave an IED behind, you have no idea who's going to pick it up. What you do know is you're going to inflict the casualty," Mr Buckner said.

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