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Eastern Ukraine's Children Fall Prey to War

FILE- A Feb. 20, 2015 photo shows eigt-year-old Maxim walking inside the damaged apartment building where his family live, in Debaltseve, Ukraine.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than 150 children have been killed and maimed by landmines and unexploded ordnance during the past year in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

According to the United Nations, the number of people killed in eastern Ukraine since fighting broke out last April now tops 6,000. This figure includes at least 109 children who reportedly were injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

UNICEF noted however, these only represent government-reported figures and do not include reports by Russian-backed rebels of injuries and deaths.

“The number of children killed and maimed by mines and unexploded ordnance would be significantly higher if we include non-government-controlled areas," said spokesman Christophe Boulierac.

"After a year of conflict," he added, "many communities in eastern Ukraine have been exposed to extreme levels of violence, including through the use of heavy weapons — the remnants of these weapons have been left behind in devastated towns and villages.”

After fighting has ended, killings go on in battle zones where landmines and unexploded ordnance are left behind. UNICEF noted that the State Emergency Service of Ukraine has located and removed more than 33,700 items of ordnance in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

UNICEF said children are at particular risk from unexploded ordnance and landmines because they are small and brightly colored. Children who play with them often mistak them for toys.

Boulierac said UNICEF and its partners have launched an educational campaign for 500,000 children and their families in affected areas.

“The campaign includes risk educational messages in print, video and digital formats as well as the training of 100 teachers and school psychologists on mine risk awareness," he explained.

With the April 4 International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action just days away, Boulierac said "the situation in Ukraine is a grave reminder that despite global progress in de-mining, children and communities continue to fall victim to mines and explosive remnants of war.”

In its latest report, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines recorded 3,308 casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war in 2013, including 1,112 children, of whom 333 died.