Ukraine is the most heavily mined country in the world, and demining efforts could take decades or even hundreds of years, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
“The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There’s nothing like it,” Greg Crowther, director of programs for the Mines Advisory Group, told the Post.
The report said about 30% of Ukraine, or 67,000 square miles, has been contaminated by mines and other ordnance and will require demining. The area is larger than the US state of Florida.
The situation will get worse as the US has provided Ukraine with cluster munitions, which the White House has said Ukrainian forces are already using. Cluster bombs spread small submunitions over large areas, and those that don’t explode can kill or maim civilians decades later.
According to UN numbers, between February 2022 and July 2023, 298 civilians in Ukraine were killed, and 632 were injured by mines and other ordnance. Both sides in the conflict have used anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Anti-personnel mines are more hazardous to civilians because they require much less pressure to detonate.
Ukraine is a signatory to a treaty banning anti-personnel mines, but there’s evidence that Ukrainian forces have used them. The US and Russia are not signatories to the treaty, known as the Ottawa Treaty.
The US has provided Ukraine with two known types of mines, including the Remote Anti-Armor Mine System, which uses 155mm artillery and is designed to eventually self-destruct. The other type, M21 anti-tank mines, do not self-destruct and will be needed to be cleaned up.
Russia laid extensive minefields along the frontlines, leading to heavy Ukrainian armor losses in the first few weeks of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Ukraine is relying on demining soldiers, known as sappers, to dismantle the minefields by hand.
The Post report said that some experts estimate clearing all of Ukraine’s contaminated areas would take the approximately 500 demining teams in the current operation 757 years to complete. The mine clearing will also come at a huge financial cost. The World Bank estimates that demining in Ukraine will cost $37.4 billion over the next 10 years.