A Looming Crisis in Ukraine
Alexander Lobov, a military engineer and mine action expert with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has witnessed the devastation caused by landmines in conflict zones across the globe.
However, he never anticipated that his expertise would be needed in his own native country, Ukraine. Following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has become one of the world’s most heavily mined areas, posing grave dangers to its population.
Landmines Claim Lives and Contaminate Large Areas
The extent of the landmine crisis in Ukraine is staggering, with nearly one-third of the country reported to be contaminated by unexploded ordnance.
Mr. Lobov asserts that the consequences have been dire, with a high number of casualties, particularly among adults and children.
Tragically, Ukraine now holds the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rate of mine-related fatalities worldwide. As the conflict persists, the future remains uncertain.
The Enormity of the Challenge
The UNDP estimates that explosive objects are scattered over an area twice the size of Austria, endangering the lives of 14 million Ukrainians.
While progress has been made in clearing over 366,000 landmines, achieving complete safety for Ukraine is an arduous and costly long-term endeavor. The World Bank estimates that the full demining package will exceed $37 billion.
Recognizing the magnitude of the problem, Ukraine has enlisted international support, with the UNDP assuming the role of lead coordinator for mine action in the country.
UNDP’s Comprehensive Approach
Addressing the complexities of the situation, Mr. Lobov emphasizes the need for additional resources, advanced equipment, new skills, and coordinated efforts. The UNDP has risen to the challenge, not only focusing on demining but also supporting victims and conducting information campaigns.
Generous contributions from the European Union, as well as countries like Croatia, Denmark, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom, have provided critical funding.
Clearing Rubble and Educating the Public
Apart from physical clearance, one crucial aspect of mine action is the removal of rubble. In just 40 settlements in the Kyiv region, debris from the hostilities could pave a road from Ukraine’s capital to Berlin.
Mr. Lobov underscores the necessity of safely processing and disposing of hazardous waste following its removal. Additionally, mine action extends beyond physical clearance; raising public awareness is vital.
Many Ukrainians are still unaware of the gravity of the problem. Information campaigns must target residents of Western regions, those who were abroad during the conflict, and refugees.
Cultivating a Mine Action Culture
Considering the long-lasting impact of landmine contamination, Mr. Lobov stresses the importance of fostering a mine-action culture in Ukraine. He advocates for incorporating mine action knowledge into the education system, teaching children the necessary safety guidelines. We should ingrain the main message in the population’s behavior:
“Stay away! Don’t touch! Call 101! The State Emergency Service will respond immediately.”
By imparting this knowledge in a constructive manner, we can avoid creating panic-inducing imagery.
While the safety of the people remains the top priority, the extensive landmine contamination poses additional challenges, including economic and resource access constraints. Consequently, with limited resources and the high cost of demining, we are compelled to make tough choices.
For instance, when prioritizing the protection of the agricultural sector, deminers may need to divert their attention to safeguard essential power lines, which are vital for the country’s electricity supply.
Embracing New Approaches
The evolving realities of the crisis necessitate innovative approaches. Mr. Lobov highlights optimized processes for identifying and neutralizing unexploded ordnance.
Unconventional methods, such as the utilization of fencing to enclose infrequently used areas, and the employment of mechanical detectors and specially trained rats, which have been found to possess higher sensitivity when compared to dogs, are being utilized.
UNDP remains on the ground, working alongside experts like Mr. Lobov, to support Ukraine in developing its long-term strategy for demining, even amid the ongoing conflict.