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Latest news from the Ukraine-Russia war: Live updates

In the days following Russia’s withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv, a driver named Oleg Naumenko opened the trunk of an abandoned car and it exploded, killing him instantly.

The car was locked and his family and local authorities blamed the Russian soldiers. “I died with him at that moment,” said Mr. Naumenko’s wife, Valeria, between sobs.

As ordinary Ukrainians emerge from basements and bunkers in the ruins of their hometowns, many face a new horror: thousands of mines and unexploded bombs left by retreating Russian troops.

Residents and authorities say departing Russian troops have covered large parts of the country with buried antipersonnel mines and bombs – some hidden as mine traps in homes. The explosives must now be found and neutralized before residents can resume a semblance of normal life.

Some of the explosives were attached to washing machines, doors, car windows and other places where they could kill or injure civilians returning to their homes, according to residents and Ukrainian authorities. Some were even hidden under hospital stretchers and corpses.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky this week called his country “one of the most mine-contaminated in the world” and said authorities were working to clear thousands of areas from which Russian armies had withdrawn in recent weeks. He accused Russian soldiers of leaving explosives behind “to kill or maim as many of our people as possible.”

He said the tactics were a war crime and that Russian soldiers must have acted on instructions from senior officials, adding: “Without the relevant orders, they would not have done so.”

Human Rights Watch and The New York Times reported that Russian forces in Ukraine appear to be using advanced anti-personnel mines in the eastern city of Kharkiv. Several local officials also said bombings in their areas had found explosive devices left in homes.

Anti-personnel mines designed to kill people are banned by an international treaty signed by almost every country in the world, including Ukraine; Russia and the United States have refused to join.

Spray-painted gate warning of mines to an abandoned Russian position in the Kiev suburb of Bucha earlier this month. Credit … Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times An overturned truck on the side of the road in Bucha warned passers-by mines near it. Credit … Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Ukraine’s Emergency Aid Agency has deployed a small army of about 550 mine specialists to clear areas recently occupied by Russian forces. The teams are working to remove about 6,000 explosives a day and have found more than 54,000 explosive devices since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the agency said on Tuesday.

“Wherever the occupiers spent the night, they would lay cables,” Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky said in a televised interview Sunday. “Explosives were found under helmets attached to doors, in the washing machine and in cars.

The placement of explosives in Ukrainian homes cannot be independently verified.

Mr Naumenko, who was killed on April 4, worked as a driver in the village of Khokholiv, about 40 miles outside Kyiv. But his talent lies in car repair. After Russian forces withdrew from a nearby village, neighbors found an abandoned car and handed it over to him.

His wife learned of his death the next day in Poland, where she had fled with their 7-year-old son and mother at the start of the war. She returned to their village as soon as she received the news. “What was left was the car, with the door still open and a pool of blood,” said Naumenko, 28, “and a big void.”

Her account was confirmed by photos by the regional police in Kyiv, which posted a report on the incident on its Facebook page, warning returning residents not to “touch objects and things that have not been previously tested by experts.”

Other local authorities are urging residents to call emergency services before entering their homes.

Retreating armies often bury anti-personnel mines to slow the advance of enemy armies. However, experts say Russian forces have a well-earned reputation for areas they have left with mining traps to kill and maim returning civilians.

Human Rights Watch has documented the use of Russian anti-personnel mines in more than 30 countries involving Moscow forces, including the conflicts in Syria and Libya. In Palmyra, during the Syrian war, mines appeared after the Russians left the city.

“Leaving small gifts for civilians when they return – such as hand grenades, cable cables, unexploded shells – is a Russian military tradition,” said Mark Hiznai, a senior weapons researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again,” he said.

Mr Hiznai said “putting an anti-personnel mine in someone’s freezer” was a tactic that had no use other than terrorizing civilians. Ukraine will deal with the effects of anti-personnel mines “one civilian leg at a time”, he added, explaining that it can often take years, and possibly decades, to clear all ammunition.

“The presence of these devices deprives civilians of their terrain and forces them to make difficult choices: to take the sheep out to pasture or to risk stepping on a mine in the pasture,” he said.