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Ukraine is Now the Most Mined Country in the World. It Will Take Hundreds of Years to Clear Them All

(AP photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

The Washington Post reports that an area the size of the state of Florida is now virtually uninhabitable in Ukraine because of the hundreds of thousands of land mines and unexploded ordnance that litter the countryside.

That same area will also soon be scattered with unexploded cluster bombs courtesy of the red, white, and blue. It’s a logistical nightmare for Ukraine’s military as well. In the midst of their much-ballyhooed “counteroffensive,” Ukrainian commanders have been forced to abandon the use of NATO Leopard tanks due to Russia’s strategic placement of the mines covering the approaches to Moscow’s defenses.

Minefields in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts have required huge combat engineering efforts that are taxing the abilities of Ukraine’s army. The result has been a change of tactics that has seen the Ukrainian military now proceeding much more deliberately, attacking Russian artillery and other fire support in order to create fire lanes for the infantry, cleared by armored vehicles with plows.

In truth, the military problem with mines is a separate issue from ordinary citizens having to live and work in contaminated areas. And the cost has already been high.

There have been 265 civilians killed by antipersonnel mines since the war began in February 2022. There have also been 383 civilians killed by anti-vehicle mines. And there have been 29 people killed by booby traps.

“There are still communities interacting with (mines) every day… because they have to, as a matter of livelihood,” said Adam Komorowski, regional director for Eastern Europe, South America, and the Caribbean at humanitarian deminer Mines Advisory Group. “Do I go out and take the risk that I might come across an explosive device? Or do I simply decide to not plant or harvest crops? Either way, you’re making a horrific choice.”

Even the “liberated” areas in Ukraine are incredibly dangerous. GLOBSEC, a global think tank, recently published a report revealing that about 30% of Ukraine, covering more than 67,000 square miles, has been the scene of heavy ground fighting. Meanwhile, Russia has deliberately set out to force farmers in Ukraine to take their lives into their hands if they wish to work their land.

“To date, the Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts remain the most contaminated regions of all the liberated territories, as Russian forces had been present there for a longer period of time,” the report says. “The nature of the demining challenge is different to the pre-Feb 2022 situation: First, fighting has been heavier and longer in duration; second, a far greater range of explosive ordnance has been deployed, and, finally, the area of potentially contaminated territory is 10 times greater.”

“Russian troops are infamously creative in leaving mine traps: They plant victim-activated devices on animals, dead bodies, as well as double and even triple booby traps on roads, fields, and forests,” the report continued.

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 deadly mine.

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

Because deminers are hard to come by, Ukraine’s farmers have taken to hiring “dark deminers” — entrepreneurs who may or may not know what they’re doing but have the benefit of not being certified. Cutting through the red tape may not be the safest alternative, but what they lack in knowledge and legality, they claim to be faster than the approved version of deminers.

The World Bank estimates that demining Ukraine will cost $37.4 billion over the next 10 years. And that will be just a start. As in Vietnam where civilians are still being killed after uncovering unexploded mines, Ukraine’s nightmare will only just be beginning after 10 years.

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