New Mexican travels to Ukraine to help save lives

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – More than 8,000 civilians have reportedly been killed, and another 14,000 injured since the fighting began. But there are new efforts to save innocent lives.

A former New Mexico sheriff is joining those efforts, and he’s no stranger to danger.

Darren White was an Albuquerque police officer before he was elected Bernalillo County sheriff. He went on to lead the state’s Public Safety Department for a short while.

Now, he’s tackling a new type of threat in war torn Ukraine, one hiding just feet beneath the ground.

“These people just want, they just want to, they want peace, that’s all they want. They just want this to stop,” said Darren White. 

While thousands of Ukrainians are still fleeing their home country, 14 months after Russia first invaded, New Mexico’s Darren White is traveling further into the war zone.

“We made it to Kyiv finally on Sunday night,” said White. “Everywhere you look, you’re reminded that this is a target that the Russians target this city regularly.” 

But the former Bernalillo County sheriff is not planning to join the fight, rather he’s joining efforts to protect civilians from thousands, and thousands, and thousands of land mines installed by Russian troops.

“There’s over a million land mines that have been deployed. 40% of the country is contaminated with landmine,” said White.  

Ukraine’s prime minister says Russia has created the largest minefield in the world, covering an area roughly the size of Wyoming.

“There are, unfortunately, casualties almost every day, because people are stepping on these. They’re landmines, you know, they’re antipersonnel mines. There’s booby traps, and then there’s unexploded ordnance, and so there’s a lot of work to do here,” White said.  

That work is partially being accomplished by the “Tip Of The Spear” project. Coordinated teams are using metal detectors and other gear to locate, and safely remove explosives before tragedies unfold.

Much of the work is focused in Ukraine’s extensive farm land.

“Ukraine provides the majority of the wheat for the world, and so it’s important that these, you know, if you’re a farmer, you’re not going to go in and start planting crops, if you know, that Russian vehicles were going through there, and it looked like they were digging up the soil,” said White.  

White described the process as searching for a grain of sand in the ocean. It’s not clear how long he’ll be in Ukraine, but he noted the bravery of the locals who’ve faced these dangers for more than a year.

“They recognize that they’re at war, they’re the targets of the aggression. And so, but I you gotta, you gotta tip your hat to these people. They have our admiration and respect because they’re trying to live their lives as normal as they can,” said White.

This is not the first time White has ventured far beyond New Mexico to help people in need. He traveled to Louisiana in 2005 to help rescue victims of hurricane Katrina.