Russia's invading forces have inflicted extensive contamination on over a quarter of Ukraine's territory, leaving behind landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs). This dangerous legacy includes areas in the Donbas region, which had already been heavily afflicted by mines since 2014. Even before last year's invasion in Ukraine, more than 1,100 people were sadly killed or seriously injured by landmines and unexploded bombs. According to the Statista, during the Russian invasion in 2022, a total of 571 casualties were recorded in Ukraine due to mine-related incidents, handling of explosive remnants of war (ERW), and explosions of military depots.
Save the Children reported that one out of every eight civilians who are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance in Ukraine is a child. The UN has verified a total of 758 casualties caused by remnants of war, with nearly 12% of them being children. Regrettably, landmine accidents occur on a daily basis in Ukraine, resulting in an average of 3 civilian fatalities or injuries caused by explosive remnants of war each day. At least one child loses their life to landmines every day, and it is likely that the actual numbers are significantly higher than reported.
Currently, the UN estimates that around 2 million people in Ukraine are at risk of the potential dangers posed by landmines and ERW. Ukraine is ranked fifth globally in terms of civilian casualties caused by landmines and ERW, and it is among the top three countries for accidents involving anti-vehicle landmines. As a consequence of Russia's irresponsible use of landmines, Ukraine has become one of the most extensively mine-contaminated regions globally. The aftermath of this situation implies that it will take more than a decade, possibly even a lifetime, to clear all the landmines and mitigate their impact.
The recent explosion of a Russian landmine near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) raises concerns about its vulnerability. In a worst-case scenario, such an explosion could have catastrophic consequences, potentially resulting in a meltdown and the release of significant amounts of radiation into the surrounding environment. The news of a landmine explosion near the ZNPP site underscores the gravity of the situation and highlights the potential ramifications it poses. In fact, the explosion is believed to have been triggered by animals. This raises concerns not only for the safety of the plant, workers, and the people of Ukraine but also for the welfare of animals that have been neglected for years since the war. This has taken a toll on the country’s diverse wildlife as well, engangering 74,000 species of flora and fauna, which represent a third of Europe’s biodiversity. Around 600,000 hectares of Ukrainian forest has been affected by the war and more than 30 percent of the land is mined. As a result, a significant number of dolphins and migratory birds were left disoriented or deceased and over 90 species of rare animals are at risk of extinction. The mass environmental pollution caused by Russia’s landmines demands substantial investment and decades to restore indeed.
The Ukrainian government estimates that approximately 62,000 square miles of territory in Ukraine are contaminated with landmines and munitions. This contamination includes farmland, which is a vital component of Ukraine's economy, accounting for over 40% of their most significant export product. Unfortunately, the presence of landmines has made harvesting an extremely dangerous task, resulting in approximately 50% of people killed or injured being victims of landmines during these activities. These numbers highlight the threats posed by Russian landmines to Ukraine's agriculture, farmers, national economy, and livelihoods. With the agriculture sector providing a livelihood for around 13 million Ukrainians, landmines not only directly endanger the lives of farmers but also deprive them of the means to earn a living. As a result of the war, 25% of the Ukrainian rural population involved in agriculture has either halted their activities or reduced their output and over 40% of rural families have been affected by this situation.
The issue extends beyond Ukraine's borders, as landmines pose a significant risk to food security. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading exporters of wheat and plays a crucial role in supplying grains to the global market. The disruptions in the supply chain have the potential to trigger widespread hunger, especially in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that heavily depend on Ukrainian exports. With scarce harvest due to landmines and ongoing war, the situation could further exacerbate the food shortage and impact the global market.
What Is Next: Demining Aid
As aforementioned, uncleared landmines have serious consequences, causing displacement, hindering humanitarian aid, and disrupting agricultural activities. Also, landmine injuries often lead to traumatic amputations of body parts, which can be traumatic. To address this issue and support the recovery process, Ukraine has actively participated in national and international cooperation efforts, underscoring the crucial necessity for collaboration in the following ways:
International aid and investment should be responsible and prioritize people first.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU), a government agency tasked with emergency management and safeguarding citizen safety, has significantly bolstered its team with approximately 1,000 personnel as of early 2023, including 1,500 deminers. To support demining efforts in Ukraine, the U.S. Department of State has allocated $91.5 million in funding. This financial assistance is utilized for training and equipping Ukrainian deminers, as well as deploying demining teams sourced from contractors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, several other international partners have recognized the extensive and enduring demining requirements in the country and are actively contributing their support.
For instance, the U.K. has supplied Ukraine with over 1,000 VALLON metal detectors and 100 bomb de-arming kits to help clear the country’s minefields and make safe reclaimed territory, civilian homes, and infrastructure, the U.K. government said in a statement in 2022. And the financial aid from Germany also plays a key role in helping the Halo Trust, a non-governmental organization that specializes in removal of landmines and other explosive remnants of war, which provide demining programs.
Following the ongoing war, Svyrydenko, the first vice prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Economic Development and Trade, emphasized the urgent need for robust support even further. To ensure successful demining operations, continuous and long-term coordination with donors is crucial, encompassing areas such as financing, technical equipment, methodological assistance, and more. By providing unwavering support, including the provision of resources like "demining Ramstein," the international community can play a vital role in assisting Ukraine as it strives to reclaim its freedom. Tymur Pistriuha, from the Ukrainian Deminers Association, emphasized the critical problem of deminers not having enough metal detectors. To support the deminers and improve their effectiveness in clearing mines, it is essential to address this shortage and provide them with the necessary equipment.
Demining the entire territory will cost at least €364 million per year as the Ukraine government has already announced. Urgent international cooperation is needed to provide life-saving devices, including bomb de-arming kits, to address the pressing demining requirements in Ukraine. It is crucial for the international community to support Ukrainian farmers whose livelihoods have been impacted by the presence of landmines. This support should include grants and assistance in finding alternative employment options. Prompt removal of Russian landmines from Ukrainian territory is essential to prevent long-term consequences to the global food system, ensure the safety and security of people and restore wildlife and natural environment.
Education and Training
At the international level, the Japanese government, through JICA, is actively involved in supporting Ukraine's demining efforts. They have invited SESU to receive training on the latest Japanese landmine detectors, in collaboration with Cambodia. The SESU, responsible for landmine and UXO clearance in Ukraine, can subsequently transfer the ALIS (Advanced Landmine Imaging System) skills to their colleagues engaged in mine clearance operations. To ensure broader accessibility for Ukrainians, these training opportunities are also being provided in neighboring Poland. It is crucial to expand the number, quality, and frequency of such training programs with the support of international aid and cooperation. These efforts will contribute to the reconstruction of a resilient country, recovering from the damages inflicted by the war.
Ensuring civilian education is equally essential by providing life-saving information to civilians, enabling them to recognize the signs and effectively avoid these hazards. Access to education should be made available to all people in Ukraine, which includes funding for training staff, ensuring the availability of trained deminers, establishing and maintaining suitable facilities for training centers, providing necessary educational resources, and acquiring metal detectors. These resources are crucial in equipping the civilian population with the necessary knowledge and tools to safeguard their safety and well-being.
The provided aid and training are vital in the endeavor to clear the environment from landmines and explosives. The head of the SESU has emphasized the urgency of this priority, particularly in areas surrounding critical and energy infrastructures, as these are essential for basic living conditions and long-term economic development. By creating landmine-free environments, citizens will have access to fundamental necessities such as water and electricity, fostering improved living standards and supporting the overall socio-economic growth of the region.
Despite the efforts to eliminate the threat of landmines and explosives, Russia's continued addition of landmines exacerbates the situation. Addressing this problem requires immediate action from both Ukraine and the international community. Clearing Ukraine's territory from mines and UXOs is not only crucial for the country's recovery and post-war reconstruction but also essential for saving countless civilian lives, protecting animals and environment, and ensuring the safety of the Ukrainian Army. While it will take time, starting now is crucial to reclaim the territory and mitigate the devastating consequences of landmines.
THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED BY STELLA BALDWIN