Russia’s invading forces have left more than a quarter of Ukraine’s territory contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), including areas in the Donbas that had already been riddled with mines since 2014. Landmines and UXO had killed and maimed more than 1,100 civilians by 2022. The already-severe humanitarian impact of mines and unexploded ordnance exponentially increased following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February of 2022.
Humanitarian demining will be integral to recovery and reconstruction efforts across Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces liberate territory in the east and south, landmines and UXO pose an enormous challenge. In one day, Government of Ukraine explosive ordnance disposal teams removed nearly 1,500 explosive items including mines from the Kherson region alone. Russian forces have also planted victim-activated booby-traps as they retreated from positions taken during the initial phase of the invasion. Agricultural production is further affected by landmines in fields and on rural roads as well as UXO, making an estimated ten percent of Ukraine’s farmland unserviceable.
The U.S. Department of State has allocated $91.5 million to date toward humanitarian demining efforts in Ukraine. This funds efforts to train and equip Ukrainians to conduct demining operations and to deploy contractor and NGO demining teams. Other international partners are also contributing but the de-mining needs are immense and long-term. When asked about the estimated cost of total demining, State Department expert Michael Tirre cited the World Bank’s rapid damage needs assessment, which estimated a cost of up to $73 billion to demine the entire country over several decades. That figure will grow as long as Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine persists.
Despite continuing tragedy caused by mines, improvised explosive devices, and more, Ukraine has one advantage – the nation has gained experience since 2014. Pre-existing demining expertise and regulation will make a difference in the long road that lies ahead for Ukraine. Tony Connell, Ukrainian Director of the Swiss Foundation for De-mining spoke to the spirit of those on the ground:
“The Ukrainian people are incredibly resilient. They are incredibly determined to resolve the problem. I’ve never been in a country where the national staff are so determined to get rid of the problem.” During the briefing, panelists also considered lessons learned from other countries such as Colombia and Cambodia where major demining efforts have taken place. Todd Biggs, VP for munitions response of Tetra Tech reiterated the importance of the affected country buying into and leading the plan.
“That’s one thing that we have seen here is they definitely want to be in the lead. They want to – you know, they want to fix the problem. They don’t want to just rely on others coming in here and doing it.”
Addressing this problem will take years, if not decades, but Ukraine and the international community must start now – reclaiming its territory from mines and UXO is not only a pre-requisite for Ukraine’s recovery and post-war reconstruction; it will also save untold numbers of civilian lives.