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Ukrainian EOD experts clear a recaptured site near Kyiv last year. Alamy Stock Photo

Irish experts hear 'sobering' accounts from frontline as they train Ukrainian troops in Cyprus

An Irish team has returned from a mission training Ukrainian soldiers in specialist search techniques for bomb disposal.

AN IRISH ARMY mine clearance and search expert has told of the “humbling” experience of training Ukrainian soldiers in clearance of mines and booby trapped towns.

The Irish Defence Forces captain, who has requested not to be identified for security reasons, has returned in recent days from Cyprus where he was teaching members of Ukraine’s military in how to deal with mines, booby traps and unexploded ordnance at the frontline of the country’s war with Russia. 

The officer is an expert in search techniques associated with landmines and unexploded ordnance and had traveled to the Mediterranean Island where specialist training was taking place as part of the European Union Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM)

He told The Journal what it was like to work with the Ukrainian troops and about the horrors the soldiers are being confronted with as the war approaches the two-year mark. 

While there have been missile and drone attacks elsewhere in the country much of the active fighting is in the east, where the frontline is moving back and forth as the warring sides take and lose ground. 

The captain said that he and his colleagues were told that the Russians are placing mines and booby traps in towns and villages the problem of unexploded ordnance is so great due to the massive quantities of artillery being used by both sides – a lot of which fails to explode.   

The Irish troops have been asked by the Ukrainians to give them lessons in how to deal with the traps left by Russians as they flee seized villages.

The Defence Forces personnel have been told by the soldiers that villages and towns across the east of the country are covered with hundreds of explosive traps left in doorways and other locations as the Russians make localised retreats.

The Irish officer said the method is designed to kill troops as they inspect buildings – but also to kill civilians as they move back to their homes and businesses.   

Unexploded artillery shells and rockets have also been left behind but the biggest threat is from vast minefields. The Irish officer said he had also been told of a new phenomenon whereby the Russians lay mines in a tactic that specifically targets those who come to defuse them.

Normally soldiers probe the ground around a mine but the Russian fighters are now laying smaller anti-personnel mines in a circle around bigger mines to kill the bomb disposal expert. 

“It’s nasty, it’s ugly, because it is so indiscriminate and they are going to hit civilians as well. It has been a very interesting opportunity to talk to them about what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced and it is quite sobering really.

“These guys come from all walks of life and they have huge pride in what they are doing you could see it in them,” he said.

The Irish officers are part of a broader team training in various locations across Europe including in battlefield first aid and in soldiering drills. 

“You can see that they’re still not defeated. It was humbling working with them.

“What we encounter is very different than what their experience at the minute is but they have a lot of appreciation for our knowledge and they are constantly asking very good questions which was great to see.”

ed603dc3-2076-4519-8a7a-c6c3ea1366b2 (1) The Irish Army Officer teaching a Ukrainian soldier methods of dealing with an artillery round. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces


The officer and his team were the second Irish detachment to travel to Cyprus and they are drawn from the Corps of Engineers and the Ordnance Corps.

While they are unable to provide specific numbers of those trained, the group of Ukrainians were from across all ranks and numbered in the dozens. 

The captain said that many of those who have been trained by the Irish have been injured on the front and that some of those were specialist ordnance disposal operators. 

The Irish soldiers involved in the training mission include experts in search and clearance for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and experts trained to defuse and dispose of devices, bombs and other unexploded ordnance. They were supported on this recent mission by Cypriot and Greek military colleagues.

“The premise was around Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) search and ordnance identification and then basically to give them skills of how to deal with this for the reoccupation of villages and towns that had been Russian held.

“It was also done over various different types of terrain, urban, roads, open farms, forests, the whole lot. The idea is that when they move back in to re-occupy an area they can do the searches and make it safe.”

While the first course was generally made up of inexperienced new soldiers the latest batch were mainly battle-hardened fighters from the front line – some of whom were recovering from injuries.

The captain said the Irish skillset was drawn from a history of dealing with IEDs during the Troubles era and also operations abroad in places such as Lebanon and Syria. 

“Most of them actually had quite a bit of experience so, after a couple of days working with them, you could see these guys knew what they were about. We could then make the training scenarios more complicated.”

Booby traps

The captain said there had also been key learning for Irish soldiers – particularly around some of the new and more dangerous techniques for booby trapping areas to kill soldiers.

One particularly nefarious tactic is in how the Russian forces are slowing advances through forests by hanging fishing lines with small hooks from the trees. 

As a soldier passes through the line is caught on antennas for radios or by backpacks – which detonate a tripwire explosive killing the soldier. 

eod-experts-of-the-state-emergency-service-carry-out-a-mine-clearance-mission-near-bervytsia-a-village-liberated-from-russian-occupiers-kyiv-region-northern-ukraine-april-21-2022-photo-by-yehven Ukrainian bomb disposal experts dealing with unexploded ordnance near Kyiv last year. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The captain said that even though the Irish were acting as instructors in this case they also learned valuable lessons from the Ukrainians around the methods used, which they will bring back to courses here in Ireland.

“There are things that they were showing us that were definitely something that we’ll be bringing back to the Engineering School that we will teach on future combat and search courses.

“Even some of the search techniques that they had are definitely something that we’d be bringing back to our guys.”

Ireland is set to donate, in the coming months, specialist robotic mine clearance machines to the Ukrainian military.