Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
My name is Michael Tirre and I have the privilege of serving in the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees our humanitarian demining assistance to Ukraine.
In August, we announced $89 million to support life-saving demining operations in Ukraine, building on the projects we already had in place since Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. That amount increased to $91.5 million after we identified additional funding. Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with key implementing partners such as the HALO Trust to invest that funding into tangible activities that protect civilians, restore infrastructure, and set the stage for Ukraine’s recovery.
Chris did a good job describing the pressing humanitarian challenges posed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war caused by Russia’s aggression. Just to reiterate the massive scale of this problem: 174,000 square kilometers, nearly one-third of Ukraine’s territory, is estimated to be contaminated. That’s 220 times the size of New York City.
Already, Government of Ukraine demining and explosive ordnance disposal teams have found and destroyed more than 500,000 explosive hazards in areas liberated from Russia’s forces. These explosive hazards are in people’s homes, gardens, parks, power stations, grocery stores, roads, hospitals, schools, and farms. According to the Government of Ukraine, as Russia’s troops retreated from northern Ukraine, they hid booby traps and improvised explosive devices in car trunks, washing machines, hospital beds, and even in toys and shiny objects that deliberately attract children’s attention.
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. It follows Putin’s broader strategy of trying to break the will of the Ukrainian people by causing as much suffering as possible.
Demining assistance is a critical way to counter that nefarious strategy and ensure that Russia’s invasion results in a strategic failure. And it’s a smart taxpayer investment, stabilizing the country immediately, while also facilitating longer-term reconstruction and development projects. Clearing mines right now helps Ukraine both win the war and win the future.
Ukraine knows this. President Zelenskyy has repeatedly highlighted the importance of demining efforts, and Patron, the lovable bomb-sniffing dog for the State Emergency Service, has become an international icon. And Ukraine’s demining operators are working furiously to stabilize liberated areas. They’ve set their targets on doubling the number of demining teams this year. But even with that ambitious goal, they’re racing against the clock. The number of infrastructure sites needing to be cleared is already overwhelming, not to mention the 25,000 square kilometers of farmland that is contaminated. With the planting season quickly approaching, farmers are desperate to have their farms cleared, increasing the risk that they take matters into their own hands.
This requires a multi-faceted response that not only strengthens Ukraine’s ability to tackle this problem itself, but also immediately augments that capacity to accelerate operations.
I should note that the Government of Ukraine already has substantial demining and EOD expertise, and its teams have been undertaking incredible work since Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. With this in mind, we have partnered with Tetra Tech, an American firm, to launch a train and equip project to further strengthen the Government of Ukraine’s demining and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) capacity. Tetra Tech’s expert instructors will train Government of Ukraine demining and EOD teams to international standards, provide equipment, and mentor trained personnel. The project also supports deploying additional clearance teams and explosive ordnance risk education teams through the local non-governmental organization Ukrainian Deminers Association (UDA).
Our project is designed to help fill any gaps that exist and bring training to the next level, share international best practices, and supply much-needed equipment.
We are coordinating closely with Ukraine and other donors to standardize the training and equipment our Ukrainian partners receive, and to encourage experience-sharing between the different operators.
At the same time, we are surging the number of U.S.-funded contractor and NGO teams to accelerate demining efforts in areas identified as high priorities by the Government of Ukraine. We expect to deploy 100 demining teams over the coming year. Our implementing partners include Tetra Tech and the Ukrainian Deminers Association, the Danish Refugee Council, the HALO Trust, the Swiss Foundation for Demining, and the Mines Advisory Group. These teams will have different specializations, such as manual clearance, mechanical clearance, non-technical survey, and explosive ordnance risk education.
These teams are an additional resource to help the Government of Ukraine in its demining efforts. The national demining authorities certify their technical expertise, approve their deployment to specific areas, monitor them in the field, and collect detailed information on how much land they clear and how many explosive hazards they remove. This is an integrated approach that augments the Government of Ukraine’s own demining teams.
The vast majority of the staff employed under these projects are Ukrainian citizens who are courageously working to help their country recover and rebuild.
Our assistance is at work right now:
· We’ve already supported survey and clearance operations in liberated areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and most recently, Mykolaiv oblasts, spanning northern, eastern, and southern Ukraine. These are both mechanical and manual demining teams, largely focusing on agricultural tasks.
· We’ve provided explosive ordnance risk education to more than 18 million at-risk civilians through a digital campaign, using ads on social media, while also providing more than 1,000 in-person risk education sessions in hard-hit areas.
· State Emergency Service teams that we trained and equipped before the full-scale invasion have reported clearing more than 11,000 hectares and destroying 49,000 explosive hazards.
The United States is not doing this alone. The number of donors in this space is astonishing: nearly 30 major donors, from western Europe to the Nordics and Baltics, the Balkans, Latin America, and Asia, plus robust participation from the private sector: companies, foundations, and crowd-sourcing initiatives. As in so many other areas, the world has rallied to support Ukraine’s demining efforts.
The problem will, tragically, persist for a long time after the conflict ends. More than 100 years after WWI, millions of artillery shells continue to endanger farmers in Belgium and northern France, in what has been termed the “iron harvest.” The United States is still working to remediate WWII-era unexploded ordnance in the Pacific and ordnance from the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia. And, just two weeks ago, a 550-lb bomb from WWII exploded in the UK, thankfully without any casualties.
Ukraine will have to deal with these explosive hazards for decades. But the international community’s attention to this issue, and Ukraine’s prioritization of it, means we’re on the right track. Our investment now will pay dividends long into the future and give the Ukrainian people another reason to hold onto hope. Thank you.