By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, Dec 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The lives of 220,000 children in conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine are at constant risk from landmines littering areas where kids play and go to school, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) urged parties to the conflict to stop deploying mines and other explosives along the frontline, which has become one of the world's most mine-contaminated regions since violence broke out in 2014.
"It is unacceptable that places where children could safely play less than four years ago are now riddled with deadly explosives," UNICEF's Ukraine representative Giovanna Barberis said in a statement.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since 2014 when pro-Russian separatists in the neighbouring regions of Luhansk and Donetsk rebelled against Kiev's pro-western government.
In the first nine months of 2017, 103 civilians in Ukraine, including women and children, were killed or injured by mines and explosive devices, according to U.N. data.
Children often suffer severe injuries that leave them with lifelong disabilities when they pick up hand grenades, fuses and other leftover explosives, UNICEF said.
"I picked it up and I think I pressed something, and it just exploded," the agency quoted a 14-year-old boy named Aleksey as saying. "There was a lot of blood and the fingers were hanging. I was so scared that I started shaking. I almost collapsed."
Nearly 500 children were killed and more than 1,000 injured by landmines last year, the highest figure recorded by the annual Landmine Monitor report since it was started in 1999.
The spike was fuelled by violence in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen and Libya.
On Tuesday, Britain's Prince Harry repeated calls for greater global efforts to rid the world of landmines by 2025, two decades after his mother, Princess Diana, walked through a minefield in Angola to highlight the plight of victims.
"We must stiffen our resolve and redouble our efforts if we are to stand any chance of achieving this goal," he said in a video message at the conference in Vienna.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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