By Viktoria Lakezina
STEPOVA DOLYNA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Hanna Plishchynska, a pensioner, has been using a metal detector to comb her fields for mines and war detritus in the ruins of her village in southwesten Ukraine, so she can put her cow out to pasture and plant vegetables.
The 67-year-old returned several weeks ago to her home in Stepova Dolyna, a rural community of 150 people in Mykolaiv region that emptied as fighting raged for months last year during Russia's invasion.
The village on the edge of Kherson region found itself on the front lines and took heavy shelling from both sides. Plishchynska wanted to stick it out, but eventually fled with her cow, chickens and ducks.
The area is in ruins though the fighting moved away after Ukraine recaptured Kherson city last November.
She returned to find her house standing, albeit with smashed windows, and began scouring the area with a metal detector to check for mines and other dangers.
"What if my cow was killed by an explosion, what would I do?" she asks.
"If it weren't for the cow I wouldn't do it. Everybody laughs at me that I go around the garden and check. But on the pastures over there the cows are being killed."
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office, told a briefing in Geneva there were dozens of mine-related accidents being reported every month in the regions of Mykolaiv and Kherson, as well as in Kharkiv in the northeast.
"Mine contamination is also a threat to farmers trying to return to their farms and humanitarians delivering assistance," he said.
As soon as Plishchynska's metal detector beeps, she takes a stick, marks the area and calls the police.
"Once he (police) came and took away I don't know what it was, some bit with wings. And the little bits, fragments I pick up myself. I see they're just fragments, shattered bits of explosives," she said. The exploded ones you can handle, I put them over there, let them stay there, they don't bother me."
(Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Timothy Heritage)