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Ukraine is contaminated with mines. Here are some stats – and solutions

Due to Russia’s war of aggression, Ukrainian land has become highly contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance that pose a threat to both people and wildlife. And not just “highly” but the most potentially mine-contaminated country in the world since the Second World War.

A Ukrainian sapper is carrying out the demining works in the Kharkiv region.
Photo: Vyacheslav Madiyevskyi / Avalon

The deadly remnants of war have been found in territories under Russian attack and those already liberated from the temporary occupation: settlements, infrastructure facilities, forests, and agricultural fields. While it may take years, Ukraine has already been actively working on demining, particularly by attracting innovative approaches and technologies.

The area of Ukraine’s mine contamination

As of February 2024, the territory of Ukraine, potentially contaminated with explosive objects due to Russia’s full-scale war, amounts to 156,000 square kilometersreported the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SES). This is approximately 25% of the country’s total area. In terms of size, it is comparable to the area of the European country Liechtenstein (160 thousand square kilometers).

Map of Ukrainian territories that could potentially be contaminated by explosive objects.
Screenshot from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine website

The total area of potentially mined and hazardous territories used to be even larger: in 2023, due to the joint efforts of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and demining operators, it was reduced from 174,000 square kilometers to the current 156,000.

Here are some stats: after February 24, 2022, the pyrotechnic units of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine:

  • carried out over 84,000 missions to potentially mined areas and neutralized over 472,000 explosive items;
  • cleared over 14,000 objects and households, 7,800 kilometers of power lines, 549 kilometers of gas pipelines, 3,700 kilometers of roads, and 606 kilometers of railway tracks.

The most common explosive objects contaminating Ukraine’s territory include mortar mines, remotely detonated anti-tank mines, anti-personnel fragmentation mines, anti-personnel blast mines, trap mines, as well as various types of unexploded ordnance, ammunition, missiles, and bombs.

Mined settlements and minefields on Ukraine’s agricultural land

Over 6 million Ukrainian citizens still reside in at-risk areas. According to the SES report, as of the end of February 2024, 287 civilians, including 15 children, have been killed due to explosive items detonation, and 641 more, including 77 children, have been injured.

Areas of priority for the SES units include demining liberated settlements, critical infrastructure, and agricultural lands. The most contaminated territories, as of the beginning of 2024, are in the Kharkiv, Kherson, and Donetsk regions.

“We find ‘explosive gifts’ in the most unexpected places, from front doors to personal belongings, closets, beds, even beehives. The most dangerous are grenades on tripwires,” explained Serhii Reva, Head of the Department for Organising Humanitarian Demining at the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

Sowing near frontline territories in Ukraine. Despite the threat of enemy shellings and mines,
Ukrainian farmers keep working during these challenging times.
Photo: Dmytro Smolienko

Mined agricultural lands remain a significant problem for Ukraine, which affects the country’s farmers and export opportunities in general. Under such conditions, not only governmental agencies but also non-governmental organizations and farmers participate in demining.

Read more: “I collected 4,000 mines from a thousand hectares”. How farmers sowed winter crops in the Kherson region.

Mine clearing vehicles and other innovations

Ukraine actively implements and applies innovative approaches and technologies in the demining process. Thus, to preserve lives and expedite the clearance of Ukrainian land from enemy explosive items, the SES units already operate 33 mine-clearing vehicles.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine has signed a partnership agreement with the US company Palantir Technologies to automate demining processes and use artificial intelligence in them. This initiative aims to gather and analyze information about mine clearing operations and develop recommendations for faster demining of Ukrainian territories with fewer losses.

Ukrainian sappers have been using drones in their work.
Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine / Facebook

In addition, there are several Ukrainian projects working on innovative solutions for demining. For instance:

  • An AI monitoring platform from UADamage which is used for automatic war damage monitoring, demining, and rebuilding process.
  • Ailand Systems developed the ST1 drone to search for mines, which works with an accuracy of 90%, even at a depth of up to 15 centimeters.
  • Mine trawler by Ratel Deminer was designed to detect and neutralize anti-personnel mines. It operates remotely, thus saving people’s lives.

At the moment, it is difficult to predict the exact time needed to demine all territories of Ukraine: some of them are still under temporary Russian occupation or suffer from constant attacks, with the number of unexploded shells and mines there only growing. 

The Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, Ruslan Strilets, noted that with the current development of the demining market and relevant technologies, it may take “seven years for the complete demining of Ukraine” after the victory and the de-occupation of all territories. At the same time, Ukraine will continue to need committed support from its partners, both military and humanitarian, to achieve this result and ensure the safety of people and wildlife in the shortest time possible.