Good afternoon. And thank you Anne Simmons-Benton for inviting me to join this very important conversation. It is an honor to be part of such a distinguished panel.
I want to start by highlighting that the United States is a global leader in landmine clearance and conventional weapons destruction. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $4.2 billion for the safe clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war as well as the security and safe disposal of excess small arms, light weapons, and munitions in more than 100 countries and territories. In 2021 alone, the United States invested more than $265 million for conventional weapons destruction efforts in 62 countries around the world.
This is a joint effort between the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as foreign governments, private companies, international organizations, and civil society.
So, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to talk about our critical efforts to help the people of Ukraine.
For more than 12 weeks now, Russia has waged an unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its people. Beaten back from its failed attempt to seize Kyiv, Russia continues a grinding offensive across Ukraine’s south and east. The United States, as well as nearly 40 Allies and partner countries, are working around the clock to expedite shipments of arms and equipment essential to Ukraine’s defense.
Over $3.9 billion in U.S. arms and equipment delivered since February 24 has been critical in helping Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have seen how important items like U.S. anti-tank missiles, air defense systems, artillery, and unmanned aerial vehicles are to the fight.
Today I’d like to highlight another issue, namely how the United States, together with our Allies and partners, must also take action to protect residents from unexploded ordnance and start laying the groundwork to support Ukraine’s post-conflict recovery.
From 2004 to 2021, the United States provided more than $77.3 million to support lifesaving demining operations and other conventional weapons destruction activities in Ukraine and we remain dedicated to supporting this critical work in the months and years ahead.
Today, I would like to paint a picture of the obviously very challenging situation we are facing on the ground in Ukraine, and then provide some of the near-term and longer-term ways we can help the people of Ukraine safely return to their homes and livelihoods.
First, let me start with the scope of the problem:
- As of the end of 2021, the eight-year-long conflict with Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine had resulted in a line of contact between the Ukrainian Government and Russia’s proxies, the anti-government forces that Russia arms, trains, leads, and fights alongside. The areas along the line of contact running through the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or provinces, suffered from extensive landmine and explosive remnants of war contamination. These explosive hazards pose a major threat to thousands of Ukrainian civilians living in the conflict area. In 2021, 34 civilians were killed, and another 17 civilians were injured by explosive hazards in eastern Ukraine.
- In the early weeks and months of Russia’s all-out invasion beginning in February 2022, U.S.-funded international demining NGOs were focused on evacuating staff and equipment to western Ukraine while simultaneously providing digital explosive ordnance risk education that reached more than 18 million at-risk Ukrainian civilians.
- More recently, these NGOs have shifted their operational focus from the Donbas region to liberated areas of Kyiv and CHER-NEE-HIV oblasts and are restarting survey and clearance operations to supplement Ukraine’s national demining capacity. Ukrainian demining authorities such as the State Emergency Service are understandably overwhelmed by the massive scale of contamination. Ukrainian authorities report destroying more than 26,000 explosive hazards in Kyiv oblast alone as of April 30. That is four times the number of explosive hazards that PM’s NGO implementers destroyed in the Donbas over a four-year period.
- Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has generated acute needs for Conventional Weapons Destruction assistance. Russia has bombed and shelled massive amounts of Ukraine’s territory, including major population centers. Critical civilian infrastructure including apartment blocks, hospitals, schools, food warehouses, powerplants, roads, and bridges have been damaged or destroyed. International demining experts estimate that Russian 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. Additionally, Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that approximately 10 percent of the country’s farmland is now contaminated by explosive hazards.
- Unexploded ordnance, landmines, and other explosive remnants of war will exacerbate global food insecurity by impacting Ukraine’s food production and supply chain, block humanitarian aid workers from accessing Ukraine’s hardest hit areas and hinder the restoration of critical civilian infrastructure. Additionally, returning refugees will stream back into communities contaminated by explosive remnants of war. Ukraine’s national capacity to clear explosive remnants of war is already overwhelmed, and many returning civilians may feel compelled to clear explosive remnants of war themselves, causing casualties from these dangerous items to spike. For context, in the immediate wake of Raqqa, Syria’s liberation from ISIS, the city averaged more than five civilian casualties per day from explosive remnants of war.
- As of April 4, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that approximately 80,000 square kilometers of land was suspected to be contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance. This is an area approximately the size of West Virginia and Connecticut combined and represents approximately 13 percent of Ukraine’s total territory.
- Prior to Russia’s all-out invasion in February, PM’s demining program in Ukraine had cleared 3.4 square kilometers of contaminated land in the Donbas since 2017 at a cost of $23.6 million. This represents a tiny fraction – only 4 hundredths of one percent – of the current estimate of suspected hazardous areas.
In sum, the problem, as of today, is as follows:
- Ukraine already has more than nine years’ worth of scattered unexploded ordnance and landmines
- More than 13 percent of Ukraine’s total territory is contaminated by unexploded ordnance and landmines
- Approximately 10 percent of Ukraine’s farmland is contaminated by explosives.
- Local capacity is stretched thin due to the scope of contamination and the urgent need for explosive ordnance experts, who have joined Ukrainian forces to support the ongoing war against Russia’s aggression.
- And finally, communities across Ukraine are unable to return to their homes and rebuild their lives safely due to unexploded ordnance and landmine contamination.
Let me turn now to the United States’ response:
- Prior to the 2022 invasion, the Department of State trained and equipped Ukraine’s State Emergency Service demining teams that are now working tirelessly to address landmines and unexploded ordnance. Since the start of the war, we have provided explosive ordnance disposal equipment to Ukraine’s demining authorities and are committed to providing continued assistance and capacity building.
- Facilitating assistance delivery, preventing civilian explosive remnants of war casualties, and restoring farmland to productive use will require a significant and urgent international response.
- Deploying U.S.-funded demining teams will be essential to supplement Ukraine’s existing national capacity to conduct area-wide surveys to locate explosive remnants of war, safely remove and destroy these hazards, and provide explosive ordnance risk education to returning civilian populations. I should note that U.S.-funded demining partners are already providing extensive explosive ordnance risk education to Ukrainians, both in person and via social media. We believe they have reached 18 million people, but this will be an ongoing need.
- Concurrent training and equipping efforts are needed to expand Ukraine’s enduring capacity to address explosive remnants of war contamination independent of sustained international assistance.
- Helping Ukraine to safely survey and clear unexploded ordnance hazards will be a complex and difficult challenge. The United States and its implementing partners remain in the early stages of assessing our options as to how best to support this important humanitarian effort. At a minimum, based on what we know now and comparable past operations, we predict that the international community will need to:
- Strengthen the explosive ordnance disposal capacity of Ukraine’s demining authorities, such as by training and equipping new demining teams, so they can quickly and safely respond to explosive remnants of war reported by civilians as they return home;
- Surge demining teams to conduct survey and clearance throughout the country, initially focusing on high-priority infrastructure to facilitate the rapid provision of humanitarian and stabilization assistance; and
- Expand explosive ordnance risk education efforts targeting internally displaced people and refugees to prepare them for safe return.
In conclusion, without a complete understanding of the extent and nature of explosive remnants of war contamination, it is tough to estimate what it will take to address this problem. However, it is safe to say that resource requirements will be massive, and the cleanup effort will last for many years, if not decades.
As the world’s leading provider of conventional weapons destruction assistance, other donor countries will look to and follow the United States’ lead in Ukraine. Robust, rapid, and decisive action on the U.S. government’s part will encourage other countries to follow suit, bringing substantial additional resources to address Ukraine’s myriad explosive remnants of war challenges as quickly as possible.
In the Ukraine supplemental funding bill signed by President Biden this week, $100 million was authorized for the State Department to begin the effort to reduce contamination from landmines and unexploded ordnance, in addition to addressing chemical, biological, and radiological threats. This $100 million is a very significant first step towards addressing this urgent challenge.
Ensuring the safe return of displaced people and getting Ukraine’s farmland back to productive use are priorities supported across the entire U.S. government.