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The Challenge of Land Mines in Ukraine: Reversal Could Take Centuries

  • Land mines have become a significant threat for Ukrainian troops in their ongoing conflict with Russia.
  • The mines have extensively affected an area in Ukraine equivalent to the size of Florida, according to The Washington Post.
  • Due to the complexity and cost involved in humanitarian clearance work, it could take an extraordinarily long time to complete.

The presence of land mines has become a formidable obstacle for Ukrainian forces as they continue to combat Russian aggression.

According to The Washington Post, Ukraine is now the most heavily-mined country in the world, with vast areas, approximately equivalent to the size of Florida, affected by land mines, unexploded bombs, and artillery shells.

This drastic transformation of the Ukrainian heartland not only poses a long-term threat to the country but also presents significant challenges for troops seeking to gain strategic advantages against Moscow. The counteroffensive has been hampered by the emergence of land mines, slowing down Ukraine’s progress after earlier successes against Russian forces.

While efforts are underway to clear the land mines, also known as unexploded ordnance, the full extent of the situation may remain unknown for a considerable period due to the ongoing conflict. However, data collected by the Ukrainian government and humanitarian mine clearance organizations indicate that the severity of the problem could persist for generations.

Greg Crowther, the director of programs for the Mines Advisory Group, a non-governmental organization assisting those affected by land mines, described the mine situation in Ukraine as unprecedented in recent decades.

According to Crowther, “The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There’s nothing like it.”

GLOBSEC, a global think tank, recently published a report highlighting that approximately 30% of Ukraine, covering over 67,000 square miles, has experienced intense fighting and requires comprehensive clearance operations. The report also reveals the extensive efforts made by Russian forces to render vast agricultural areas of Ukraine difficult to navigate or effectively unusable.

“The Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts remain the most contaminated regions among all the liberated territories as Russian forces have occupied them for an extended period,” the report states. “The nature of the demining challenge is different compared to the pre-February 2022 situation. Firstly, the intensity and duration of the fighting have increased significantly. Secondly, a wider range of explosive ordnance has been deployed. Finally, the potentially contaminated area is now 10 times larger.”

The report further adds, “Russian troops have shown infamous creativity in laying mine traps. They have placed victim-activated devices on animals, dead bodies, and set double or even triple booby traps on roads, fields, and forests. It has been reported that Russians deliberately targeted farming areas and agricultural land to render them unusable for future economic activity in Ukraine.”

Carrying out humanitarian clearance work, which is complex and costly, is also time-consuming. Such efforts are being undertaken in Kyiv, the capital city, and parts of the country located west of the front lines.

However, experts estimate that the scale of contaminated land in Ukraine is so immense that it may require close to 500 demining teams and approximately 757 years to complete the clearance work. The World Bank has projected that the cost of demining could exceed $37 billion by 2033.

The land mines have also had a grave impact on deminers, who are highly trained individuals responsible for clearing unexploded ordnance, as they are not immune to the dangers posed by the mines and booby traps set by Russian forces.

One deminer, Vladislav Sokolov, employed by the Ukrainian emergency service, recounted an incident where a fellow deminer lost his leg while in Kramatorsk, a city in the Donbas region. Sokolov stated that he saw his colleague in a gathering of ordnance removal workers, who now uses a prosthetic leg and is in the process of relearning how to walk.



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