In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence warned Vladimir Putin’s forces were probably deploying anti-peronnel mines to “protect and deter freedom of movement along its defensive lines in the Donbas”.
Defence chiefs said they can inflict widespread casualities amongst both the military and local residents.
“In Donetsk and Kramatorsk, Russia has highly likely attempted employment of PFM-1 and PFM-15 scatterable anti-personally mines,” they claimed.
“Commonly called the ‘butterfly mine’, the PFM-1 series are deeply controversial, indiscriminate weapons
“PFM-1s were used to devastating effect in the Soviet-Afghan War where they allegedly maimed high numbers of children who mistook them for toys.
“It is highly likely that the Soviet-era stock being used by Russia will have degraded over time and are now highly unreliable and unpredictable.
“This poses a threat to both the local population and humanitarian mine clearance operations.”
Also known as green parrot mines, PFMs can be deployed from mortars, helicopters and planes and glide to the ground without exploding.
Vladimir Putin’s troops are trying to gain full control of the Donbas region of east Ukraine where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
Russian forces stepped up their attacks north and northwest of Donetsk city in the Donbas on Sunday, Ukraine’s military said. The Russians attacked Ukrainian positions near the heavily fortified settlements of Piski and Avdiivka, as well as shelling other locations in the Donetsk region, it said.
However Ukrainian soldiers were said by Kyiv to be “firmly holding the defence” and “inflicting losses on the enemy”.
The UK’s warning came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the shelling of Europe’s largest atomic plant at the weekend.
“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” Mr Guterres told a news conference in Japan on Monday, after attending the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Ukraine said renewed Russian shelling on Saturday had damaged three radiation sensors and hurt a worker at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, the second hit in consecutive days on the site.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of waging “nuclear terror” that warranted more international sanctions, this time on Moscow’s nuclear sector.
“There is no such nation in the world that could feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear plant,” Mr Zelensky said in a televised address on Sunday.
Russian forces captured the plant in southeastern Ukraine in early March but it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
The Russian-installed authority of the area said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and an area near a storage facility. The Russian embassy in Washington also released a statement itemising the damage.
Events at the Zaporizhzhia site - where Kyiv alleged that Russia hit a power line on Friday - have alarmed the world.
Mr Guterres said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needed access to the plant.
“We fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to create the conditions of stabilisation of the plant,” Mr Guterres said.
IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi warned on Saturday that the latest attack “underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster”.
Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as another four ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports while the first cargo vessel since Russia’s February 24 invasion docked.
The four outgoing ships had almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food. They were sailing under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to try to help ease soaring global food prices that have resulted from the war.