Thank you for the introduction, Demitra, and for the invitation to participate in this briefing. I appreciate how you described the existing landmine contamination in eastern Ukraine resulting from Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. This is key to understanding today’s context because, by the time of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, the Government of Ukraine already had existing demining expertise, including a mine action law, demining authorities, national mine action standards, and field experience. Since 2016, the United States has been supporting the Government of Ukraine’s response by advising these authorities, training and equipping government demining teams, and also funding international NGOs to deploy along the line of contact in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
The humanitarian impact of landmines and unexploded ordnance was already severe in eastern Ukraine and, tragically, this has been magnified exponentially by Russia’s full-scale invasion. 160,000 square kilometers is an initial estimate of the land that needs to be checked for explosive hazards, based on where fighting has occurred in Ukraine and where Russia’s troops have deployed. It’s an area roughly the size of Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut combined.
From reporting on the ground and statements from Ukrainian authorities, we know that Russia’s forces have deliberately booby-trapped objects in people’s homes, including children’s toys, and even the bodies of people killed by the invasion. The horrific use of improvised explosive devices by Russia’s forces is reminiscent of ISIS tactics in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS terrorists sought to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible and make people afraid to return home.
Additionally, international experts estimate that Russia’s munitions may have dud rates between 10 and 30 percent, meaning massive amounts of unexploded ordnance will remain in the ground for years to come. We expect this to be one of the largest landmine and unexploded ordnance challenges since World War Two.
Clearing this explosive contamination is a top priority for the Government of Ukraine. The lion’s share of the demining work is already being done by the courageous demining and explosive ordnance disposal personnel of the State Emergency Service, National Police, State Special Transport Service, and other Government of Ukraine operators. Since March, these incredibly brave and skilled Ukrainian demining and EOD teams have found and destroyed more than 500,000 explosive hazards.
As incredible as the Government of Ukraine’s efforts have already been, the sheer magnitude of explosive hazard contamination is overwhelming. The $91.5 million in assistance we’re providing over the coming year is designed to strengthen and supplement Ukraine’s national capacity in the recognition that this effort has been and always will be led by Ukraine.
In September, we awarded a $47.6 million task order to Tetra Tech, an American firm, to train Government of Ukraine demining and EOD teams to international standards inside Ukraine and provide them with the tools necessary to do their jobs. The project also includes the deployment of clearance and risk education teams through a Ukrainian NGO called the Ukrainian Deminers Association. Ukraine has substantial expertise, and our project is designed with this in mind: to help bring training to the next level, share international best practices, and supply much-needed equipment. Sadly, Ukrainian operators have experienced several casualties, and their leadership’s message is clear that they urgently need this training and equipment.
This project is unique because it’s the only internationally funded large-scale demining training program inside Ukraine, whereas other assistance programs usually require Ukrainians to leave the country. It’s also open to all Government of Ukraine operators, not only providing advanced training, but also facilitating collaboration and experience sharing between them by holding joint courses. Similarly, it’s designed to be a platform for engagement and coordination among other donor countries. For example, several countries plan to provide equipment but don’t have a way to run training courses in Ukraine for those items. We intend this project to help fill in such gaps and create a more coherent international response.
Most of the remaining funds from the $91.5 million will surge U.S. funded contractor and NGO demining teams to accelerate demining efforts in areas identified as high priorities by the Government of Ukraine. We expect to deploy approximately 100 demining teams by this spring, which is a dramatic increase from the 22 teams we were supporting prior to the full-scale invasion. Implementing partners include Tetra Tech and the Ukrainian Deminers Association, the Danish Refugee Council, the HALO Trust, the Swiss Foundation for Demining, and Spirit of Soccer. These teams have different specializations, such as survey teams to interview communities and find evidence of explosive hazards, manual teams to clear minefields and battle areas, and mechanical teams that can rapidly demine farmland or remove obstacles like vegetation or rubble. The teams will also include explosive ordnance risk education teams that are critical for teaching civilians how to recognize, avoid, and report hazards.
Currently, most teams are in Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, but have recently expanded to Kharkiv oblast. For example, our partner FSD, who’s represented in this event, deployed clearance teams to Izyum city on November 10. We anticipate that some U.S.-funded teams will deploy to liberated areas of Kherson once the security situation allows and they are tasked by Ukraine’s National Mine Action Authority.
Finally, we are strengthening the Government of Ukraine’s information management capacity so they can track contaminated areas and prioritize their resources effectively. The Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) is providing technical advisors and consultants to help the demining authorities manage their national database, revise national standards based on their new experiences, and provide key trainings that improve knowledge and skills at a strategic level.
Ukraine’s demining needs are increasing every day. The Government of Ukraine has more than 200 demining teams currently, with more than 1,000 personnel, and plans to expand to 400 teams (2,000 personnel) in 2023. As the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberate more areas, we are seeing even heavier contamination, and there are not enough teams to adequately cover all high priority areas. There is a need to continue our support beyond an initial surge to help Ukraine tackle this issue successfully and lay the groundwork for broader reconstruction efforts, restoration of farmland, and the safe return of displaced persons.