Ukraine is now the most mined country. It will take decades to make safe

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By Usa Express Daily


Mines and unexploded rockets next to a destroyed bridge on the way to Kherson, Ukraine, in November. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post )

In a year and a half of conflict, land mines — along with unexploded bombs, artillery shells and other deadly byproducts of war — have contaminated a swath of Ukraine roughly the size of Florida or Uruguay. It has become the world’s most mined country.

The transformation of Ukraine’s heartland into patches of wasteland riddled with danger is a long-term calamity on a scale that ordnance experts say has rarely been seen, and that could take hundreds of years and billions of dollars to undo.

Efforts to clear the hazards, known as unexploded ordnance, along with those to measure the full extent of the problem, can only proceed so far given that the conflict is still underway. But data collected by Ukraine’s government and independent humanitarian mine clearance groups tells a stark story.

“The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There’s nothing like it,” said Greg Crowther, the director of programs for the Mines Advisory Group, a British charity that works to clear mines and unexploded ordnance internationally.


HALO Trust used open-source information to track more than 2,300 incidents involving ordnance and mines in Ukraine from the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, up to July 11, 2023.

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Illegally annexed

by Russia

in 2014

Note: Data is from open-source research only and does

not include the results of surveys on the ground

by HALO Trust or other organizations.

HALO Trust used open-source information to track more than 2,300 incidents involving ordnance and mines in Ukraine from the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, up to July 11, 2023.

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Illegally annexed

by Russia

in 2014

Note: Data is from open-source research only and does not include the results of surveys on the ground by HALO Trust or other organizations.


Size

of Ukraine

233,030 sq miles

Contaminated area

67,181 sq miles

Size of

Florida

53,652 sq miles

Size

of Ukraine

233,030 sq miles

Size of

Florida

53,652 sq miles

Contaminated area

67,181 sq miles

The biggest obstacle to Ukraine’s counteroffensive? Minefields.

About 30 percent of Ukraine, more than 67,000 square miles, has been exposed to severe conflict and will require time-consuming, expensive and dangerous clearance operations, according to a recent report by GLOBSEC, a think tank based in Slovakia.

Though the ongoing combat renders precise surveys impossible, the scale and concentration of ordnance makes Ukraine’s contamination greater than that of other heavily mined countries such as Afghanistan and Syria.

HALO Trust, an international nonprofit that clears land mines, has tracked, using open-source information, more than 2,300 incidents in Ukraine in which ordnance requiring clearance was discovered. Though events are greatly underreported and the data does not include the results of on-the-ground surveys by HALO Trust or other organizations, it gives a harrowing outline of the problem.

This week’s deployment by Ukrainian forces of U.S.-made cluster munitions, which are known to scatter duds that fail to explode, can only add to the danger.

Evidence mounts for use of banned mines by Ukrainian forces, rights group says

The explosives have already taken a heavy toll. Between the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 and July 2023, the United Nations has recorded 298 civilian deaths from explosive remnants of war, 22 of them children, and 632 civilian injuries.


Injuries and deaths caused

by unexploded ordnance

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Illegally annexed

by Russia

in 2014

Note: Note: Incidents collected by HALO Trust using

open-source information. HALO Trust emphasizes

that civilian casualties are vastly underreported

and many events may not be included in the map

due to data availability.

Injuries and deaths caused by unexploded ordnance

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Illegally

annexed by Russia

in 2014

Note: Incidents collected by HALO Trust using open-source information. HALO Trust emphasizes that civilian casualties

are vastly underreported and many events may not be included in the map due to data availability.

Civilian deminers, who clear unexploded ordnance and mines from liberated territories, are highly trained and use safety gear. But they are not immune from catastrophic accidents.

Vladislav Sokolov, a deminer for Ukraine’s emergency service, told The Washington Post that one of his friends, a fellow deminer, lost a leg while working in a Kramatorsk minefield in 2022. Sokolov and his friend reunited at a meeting of ordnance disposal professionals after he received a prosthetic.

He was “trying to learn to walk” again, Sokolov said.

Dmytro Mialkovskyi, a Ukrainian military surgeon, has been operating on mine injuries since the beginning of the war. On Friday, at a hospital in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, he had to make a gut-wrenching call to save the life of a mine blast patient who was dying of his injuries.

“I realized that this leg is killing him and there is another leg with a tourniquet, too,” Mialkovskyi said. “So I had to do a quick amputation of both legs. In 10 minutes.”

“I still don’t know if he’ll survive,” he said.

Minefields flooded by Ukraine dam breach pose new risk to civilians

Both sides use mines. Russia heavily mined its front lines in anticipation of Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive, and has made far more extensive use of widely banned antipersonnel mines.

Small, deadly antipersonnel mines, triggered by the weight of the human body, cannot discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

Russian forces have used at least 13 types of antipersonnel mines, as well as victim-activated booby traps, Human Rights Watch investigations found. Evidence suggests Ukraine has also used at least one type of antipersonnel mine, a rocked-delivered PFM blast mine, around the Ukrainian city of Izyum in summer 2022.

Antitank mines, which usually require immense weight to detonate, are not internationally banned, though any explosive device that could be detonated unintentionally by a civilian can be considered an antipersonnel mine under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, to which Ukraine, but not Russia or the United States, is a party.


Intended to self-destruct over a period of 1 to 40 hours. The small size and innocuous appearance of these mines of Soviet and Russian manufacture can lead to children or other civilians handling them unknowingly.

Plastic “butterfly”

wing

It is filled with

approximately 37grams

of liquid explosive.

A thin plastic wing makes it easier

to manipulate.

 

The mine is normally colored green,

khaki brown or sand-brown

to avoid detection.

11lb of pressure

is enough to detonate

the device.

The blast of the PFM-1S

has an effective range of 3 feet.

Soviet-manufactured PMN-4 mines are armed with a delay. They have been found in southern Syria and Ukraine.

2 ounces explosive charge, total weight 10 ounces.

11lb Soviet-manufactured mine.

The OZM-72 comes with a spool of tripwire to be strung up between stakes.

 

When the trip wire is triggered, the mine explodes upwards, releasing over 2,400 steel fragments.

Family of Soviet-manufactured circular blast mines typically loaded with over 16lb of explosives.

It can be laid manually or

using mine-laying machines

The TM-62

requires 330-1,212 pounds

of pressure to detonate. The

PTM-1 instead requires

330-881lb of pressure

to detonate.

This Russian anti-vehicle mine is scattered by aircraft or rocket systems.

It has a green plastic

outer shell, with nearly

2.5lb of liquid

explosive

It cannot be neutralized or disarmed after it has been emplaced.

 

The Russian military recommends destroying the mine by “projectile attack,” such as shooting it with a machine gun mounted on a vehicle.

Intended to self-destruct over a period of 1 to 40 hours. The small size and innocuous appearance of these mines of Soviet and Russian manufacture can lead to children or other civilians handling them unknowingly.

Plastic “butterfly”

wing

It is filled with

approximately 37grams

of liquid explosive.

A thin plastic wing makes it easier

to manipulate.

 

The mine is normally colored green,

khaki brown or sand-brown

to avoid detection.

11lb of pressure

is enough to detonate

the device.

The blast of the PFM-1S

has an effective range of 3 feet.

Soviet-manufactured PMN-4 mines are armed with a delay. They have been found in southern Syria and Ukraine.

2 ounces explosive charge, total weight 10 ounces.

11lb Soviet-manufactured mine.

The OZM-72 comes with a spool of tripwires to be strung up between stakes.

 

When the trip wire is triggered, the mine explodes upwards, releasing over 2,400 steel fragments.

Family of Soviet-manufactured circular blast mines typically loaded with over 16lb of explosives.

It can be laid manually or

using mine-laying machines

The TM-62

requires 330-1,212 pounds

of pressure to detonate. The

PTM-1 instead requires

330-881lb of pressure

to detonate.

This Russian anti-vehicle mine is scattered by aircraft or rocket systems.

It has a green plastic

outer shell, with nearly

2.5lb of liquid

explosive

It cannot be neutralized or disarmed after it has been emplaced.

 

The Russian military recommends destroying the mine by “projectile attack,” such as shooting it with a machine gun mounted on a vehicle.

Intended to self-destruct over a period of 1 to 40 hours. The small size and innocuous appearance of these mines of Soviet and Russian manufacture can lead to children or other civilians handling them unknowingly.

11lb of pressure

is enough to detonate

the device.

The blast of the PFM-1S

has an effective range of 3 feet.

Plastic “butterfly” wing

A thin plastic wing makes it easier

to manipulate.

 

The mine is normally colored green,

khaki brown or sand-brown

to avoid detection.

It is filled with

approximately 37grams

of liquid explosive.

Soviet-manufactured PMN-4 mines are armed with a delay. They have been found in southern Syria and Ukraine.

 

Black pressure plate with a reddish brown or khaki body.

11lb Soviet-manufactured mine.

2 ounces explosive charge, total weight 10 ounces.

The OZM-72 comes with a spool of tripwire to be strung up between stakes.

 

When the trip wire is triggered, the mine explodes upwards, releasing over 2,400 steel fragments.

Family of Soviet-manufactured circular blast mines typically loaded with over 16lb of explosives.

It can be laid manually

or by using mine-laying machines

The TM-62

requires 330-1,212 pounds

of pressure to detonate. The

PTM-1 instead requires

330-881lb of pressure

to detonate.

This Russian anti-vehicle mine is scattered by aircraft or rocket systems.

Green plastic outer shell,

with nearly 2.5lb of liquid

explosive

It cannot be neutralized or disarmed after it has been emplaced. The Russian military recommends destroying the mine by “projectile attack,” such as shooting it with a machine gun mounted on a vehicle.

Intended to self-destruct over a period of 1 to 40 hours. The small size and innocuous appearance of these mines of Soviet and Russian manufacture can lead to children or other civilians handling them unknowingly.

11lb of pressure

is enough to detonate

the device.

The blast has an effective range of 3 feet.

Plastic “butterfly” wing

A thin plastic wing makes it easier

to manipulate.

 

The mine is normally colored green,

khaki brown or sand-brown

to avoid detection.

Filled with more than

an ounce of liquid explosive.

Soviet-manufactured PMN-4 mines are armed with a delay. They have been found in southern Syria and Ukraine.

Black pressure plate with a reddish brown or khaki body.

11lb Soviet-manufactured mine.

2 ounces explosive charge, total weight 10 ounces.

The OZM-72 comes with a spool of tripwire to be strung up between stakes.

 

When the trip wire is triggered, the mine explodes upward, releasing over 2,400 steel fragments.

Family of Soviet-manufactured circular blast mines typically loaded with over 16lb of explosives.

 

It requires 330-1,212 pounds of pressure to detonate.

 

It can be laid manually

or by using mine-laying machines

Russian anti-vehicle mine scattered by aircraft or rocket systems. It requires 330-881 lb of pressure to detonate.

Green plastic outer shell,

with nearly 2.5lb of liquid

explosive

Cannot be neutralized or disarmed after it has been emplaced. The Russian military recommends destroying the mine by “projectile attack,” such as shooting it with a machine gun mounted on a vehicle.

Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used anti-vehicle mines.

The United States included two types of mines in its aid packages to Ukraine: the Remote Anti-Armor Mine System, which uses 155-milimeter artillery rounds to create temporary minefields programmed to self-destruct, and M21 antitank mines, which require hundreds of pounds of force to detonate but do not self-destruct, leading to concerns about later removal.

Mines are not the only type of explosive that pose a threat. Mortars, bombs, artillery shells, cluster munitions and others also become hazards if they do not explode when deployed.

Russia’s heavily mined defenses, built up over months of stalemate along the front lines, are slowing down the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began last month, damaging Western-supplied battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

Though specialized mine-clearing vehicles are in use, front-line mines are so concentrated that specialized soldiers, called sappers, have had to resort to clearing paths by hand.

Humanitarian clearance operations, which return denied land to local populations after conflict, are extremely slow, tedious and expensive. They are underway across parts of Ukraine, including around Kyiv, the capital, and other areas West of the front lines, where the battle has receded.

Ukraine’s contaminated territory is so massive that some experts estimate humanitarian clearance would take the approximately 500 demining teams in current operation 757 years to complete.

Demining teams crawl inch by inch across the terrain, using metal detectors and sometimes explosive-sniffing dogs, excavating every signal, not knowing whether they will uncover a harmless nail or deadline mine.


Humanitarian mine

clearance

Teams of manual deminers use handheld metal detectors, at great danger, to locate and investigate possible mines.

An armored vehicle intended to counter mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), manufactured by Armtrac, a British firm.

 

A detector on the front robotic arm finds IEDS and marks them with paint.

A vegetation cutter attaches to the rear robotic arm.

The UR-77 is equipped

with a rocket-propelled explosive line charge system called the MDK-3.

It is based on the chasis of the 2S1 tracked self-propelled howitzer.

The system works by launching a line charge filled with explosives over a minefield.

 

Once the line charge is in place, it is detonated, creating a shockwave that neutralizes or detonates any mines near the explosion and clears a safe path up to 6 meters wide and 90 meters long.

The Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks that Finland has transferred to Ukraine are developed on the basis of the Leopard 2A4 tank.

These tanks are equipped with mine plows, a bulldozer bucket and an automated marking system.

Humanitarian mine

clearance

Teams of manual deminers use handheld metal detectors, at great danger, to locate and investigate possible mines.

An armored vehicle intended to counter mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), manufactured by Armtrac, a British firm.

 

A detector on the front robotic arm finds IEDS and marks them with paint.

A vegetation cutter attaches to the rear robotic arm.

The UR-77 is equipped

with a rocket-propelled explosive line charge system called the MDK-3.

It is based on the chasis of the 2S1 tracked self-propelled howitzer.

The system works by launching a line charge filled with explosives over a minefield.

 

Once the line charge is in place, it is detonated, creating a shockwave that neutralizes or detonates any mines near the explosion and clears a safe path up to 6 meters wide and 90 meters long.

The Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks that Finland has transferred to Ukraine are developed on the basis of the Leopard 2A4 tank.

These tanks are equipped with mine plows, a bulldozer bucket and an automated marking system.

Humanitarian mine clearance

Teams of manual deminers use handheld metal detectors, at great danger, to locate and investigate possible mines.

An armored vehicle intended to counter mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), manufactured by Armtrac, a British firm.

A detector on the front robotic arm finds IEDS and marks them with paint.

A vegetation cutter attaches to the rear robotic arm.

The UR-77 is equipped

with a rocket-propelled explosive line charge system called the MDK-3.

It is based on the chasis of the 2S1 tracked self-propelled howitzer.

The system works by launching a line charge filled with explosives over a minefield.

Once the line charge is in place, it is detonated, creating a shockwave that neutralizes or detonates any mines near the explosion and clears a safe path up to 6 meters wide and 90 meters long.

The Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks that Finland has transferred to Ukraine are developed on the basis of the Leopard 2A4 tank.

These tanks are equipped with mine plows, a bulldozer bucket and an automated marking system.

Humanitarian mine clearance

Teams of manual deminers use handheld metal detectors, at great danger, to locate and investigate possible mines.

An armored vehicle intended to counter mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), manufactured by Armtrac, a British firm.

 

A detector on the front robotic arm finds IEDS and marks them with paint.

A vegetation cutter attaches to the rear robotic arm.

The UR-77 is equipped

with a rocket-propelled explosive line charge system called the MDK-3.

It is based on the chasis of the 2S1 tracked self-propelled howitzer.

The system works by launching a line charge filled with explosives over a minefield.

Once the line charge is in place, it is detonated, creating a shockwave that neutralizes or detonates any mines near the explosion and clears a safe path up to 6 meters wide and 90 meters long.

The Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks that Finland has transferred to Ukraine are developed on the basis of the Leopard 2A4 tank.

These tanks are equipped with mine plows, a bulldozer bucket and an automated marking system.

GLOBSEC estimates that one deminer can only clear 49 to 82 square feet per day, depending on the terrain and concentration of explosives.

The short window for clearance in the spring, after the ground thaws and before farmers plant, leaves little room for disasters like the Kakhovka dam breach in early June, which drastically disrupted clearance efforts.

Farmers in heavily contaminated regions such as Kherson have resorted to visual inspections and rigging tractors with armored plates while planting this year’s harvest.

There is a steady market for “dark deminers,” who offer hasty and often unreliable clearance without official certification, to clear some of the more than 19,000 square miles of unusable agricultural land.

Demining is not just slow, it’s also expensive. The World Bank estimates that demining Ukraine, which costs between $2 and $8 per square meter, will cost $37.4 billion over the next 10 years.

The United States has committed more than $95 million to Ukraine’s demining, according to a 2023 State Department report.

Mines as a dark legacy of conflict all over the world, from Cambodia to Kosovo, hint at the challenges Ukraine could face as it rebuilds.

Cambodia, riddled with millions of land mines after decades of conflict, has been subject to ongoing clearance operations for 30 years. Crowther estimates there at least five years of work remains. Tens of thousands of people have been maimed by Cambodia’s mines.

Kosovo saw armed conflict in 1998 and 1999. “Kosovo was a six-month war that was a fraction of the scale of this conflict,” Crowther said of the war in Ukraine. “It’s taken decades.”



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