KOROVII YAR, Ukraine (Reuters) - Outside the village of Korovii Yar in eastern Ukraine, a team of engineers has to wait for several hours before it can carry out repair work on power lines damaged in fighting across territory that was, until last autumn, occupied by Russian forces.
The delay is caused by the risk of unexploded ordnance in an area which saw heavy fighting and remains littered with anti-personnel and anti-tank mines left by retreating Russian troops.
Clearing the whole of eastern Ukraine of such threats will take years, but as the country tries to restore power, water and heating to towns and villages cut off because of damage caused by the war, de-mining teams have to prioritise.
"First of all, it concerns critical infrastructure objects," Kostyantyn Apalkov, head of the de-mining unit under the State Emergency Service in Donetsk region, told Reuters on Monday.
"These are objects such as power lines, gas pipelines, water pipes, and the like, as well as settlements where people live."
As he spoke, eight de-miners in protective clothing and armed with metal detectors moved slowly along a track that passed beneath damaged power cables, searching for anything that could harm repair workers or their equipment.
Such painstaking work is carried out across a region where some of the fiercest fighting of the war is raging; artillery fire from distant frontlines rumbled almost constantly.
De-mining is vital, but it is also slowing the restoration of key services, underlining the challenge Ukraine faces in getting back to some kind of normality in areas that have been de-occupied.
In Donetsk alone, emergency services have answered more than 4,000 calls to clear the threat of unexploded ordnance since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February last year.
On the drive from the town of Sloviansk, some 30 km (18.64 miles) to the south, the toll of war is visible everywhere. Burned out tanks litter ditches, villages lie in ruins, unexploded missiles protrude from fields and muddy roads provide the only access.
After around an hour of mine sweeping, Apalkov's team locates three anti-personnel mines on the ground close to an abandoned car. They are blown up remotely, and the electricity repair team can finally begin its to work.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)