Chris Garrett, 38, works with Ukraine’s police and national guard to defuse bombs and train troops
A British bomb disposal expert in Ukraine said Russian forces had stuffed hand grenades in washing machine drawers while they “randomly” booby-trapped civilian buildings.
Chris Garrett, 38, has been a volunteer with the Ukrainian police’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, disarming unexploded ordnance and training military and National Guard units.
His team has crafted surefire weapons, including artillery shells, helicopter rockets, tank shells and exploding spikes, as they venture into Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin, areas near Kyiv where hundreds of civilians have been killed and Russian troops accused of carrying out atrocities .
The units had to defuse ammunition left behind by Russian troops who had abandoned their positions, with booby traps a constant threat.
Mr Garett, originally from the Isle of Man, narrated I that his team had even found a grenade hidden in a body discarded by retreating Russian troops.
“They’re going to booby trap pretty much everything,” he said. “The problem in civilian built-up areas is that it can be anything from a booby-trapped door to a closet. We have seen grenades stuffed into washing machine soap drawers. It’s absolutely random.
“I don’t even know how to fathom it. It serves no purpose, it makes no sense, it just tries to instill fear in the population.
“When the Ukrainians first came to Bucha, one of the OED units that went in also had to check all the bodies. They found one who had been booby-trapped with a hand grenade.”
Mr Garrett traveled to Ukraine in 2014 after the Russian invasion of Crimea and helped clear mines.
He had previously helped set up a demining operation in Burma, where he learned ‘on the job’ from EOD experts, before defusing ‘ever larger munitions’ in Ukraine.
After leaving Ukraine in 2017, he returned this year three days after the outbreak of war.
“You’re dealing with pretty much everything, from as small as .50 caliber bullets, bullets with exploding tips, to artillery shells, helicopter missiles, small arms, tanks and air forces,” he said.
“We also have a capsule from a crashed helicopter that was still fully loaded, which of course also had to be destroyed.
“Abandoned ordnance that hasn’t even melted yet, meaning it contains explosives, but doesn’t have a detonation system, can be worked through fairly quickly if it’s not booby-trapped. Realistically it’s no different than picking up sacks of potatoes, only high explosive ones.”
The dangers of the job mean the team wears body armor and helmets, although he said more supplies are needed.
When defusing larger bombs like 152mm shells, there is no point in wearing protective gear as shrapnel would likely hit anyone within 150 metres.
“If you stood by or bent over them, they won’t find much of you. It makes no sense [of protection] at that distance with it,” he said.
“It won’t change anything. You can be sweaty and uncomfortable in a full suit, but you just suck it up and move on, really.
“My biggest fear is that if someone has an accident, even if it’s 20, 30 meters away from you, it’s that one bit of fragmentation that hits you in the chest or head and that’s the end.”
A favorite tactic used by Russian forces was to place a tripwire between two hand grenades and remove the safety pin, a trap that Mr Garrett said he almost walked into.
“It was towards the end of the day, it had been a long day. I found one of the grenades, I cut the wire, I made that grenade safe,” he said.
“Then what I should have done is check the other side of the wire, I didn’t and I just tugged the wire slightly to see if I could see what it was attached to and lo and behold, as I began to tug on myself I realized there was another grenade on the other end.
“It’s little things like this that can be a good reminder not to be indifferent, not to get complacent. You have to play by the rules because if you have two chances you are very lucky.”
Mr Garrett is friends with Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, the two British soldiers who were captured fighting alongside Ukrainian marines in Mariupol, and has called for their rights as prisoners of war to be respected.
He spoke to Mr Aslin the day before he surrendered to Russian forces and had heard that Mr Pinner had been injured by shrapnel from a tank shell in Mariupol, where fighting must have been “absolute hell”, Mr Garrett said.