How soon will the fields and cities be cleared of mines? How much does it cost, who are "black sappers" and what does Ukraine lack for complete humanitarian demining?
During the year, mines in Ukraine killed 185 civilians and injured several hundred. Often, photos of tractors that have run into a projectile during harvesting get into the network. These are the realities of the dismissed regions. Ukraine is now one of the most mined countries in the world, and this problem is for a decade. It takes several days of shelling to make the land unsuitable for growing crops, and it takes months of sappers to remove explosive objects from it.
Now Ukraine has neither the time nor the sufficient number of specialists. To keep harvesting, farmers hire sappers on the black market, often resulting in tragic incidents. It's not just farmers who are suffering. During the retreat, the Russians deliberately damage communications and critical infrastructure in cities to make it harder for Ukrainian businesses and local residents to return. Complete humanitarian demining will cost billions of dollars and will require a lot of equipment and specialists.
According to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny, in August 2022, the Russians fired 40-60 thousand shells at Ukrainian positions daily. Some of them didn't explode.
According to various estimates, up to 20% of the released ammunition does not explode. In addition, if the Russians stay in a certain territory for a long time, they lay mines in the forests and fields.
In Ukraine, all areas where fighting took place are listed as contaminated with explosives. According to the estimates of the Association of Sappers, this is 139 thousand square kilometers. That is, a fifth of the country's territory needs to be checked.
Demining does not guarantee farmers a return to work on these lands. The surface still needs to be leveled and recultivated, that is, to restore soil fertility. The total cost of such work was estimated by the Kiev School of Economics in June at $40 million. The Kharkiv holding "Agrotrade" said that the reclamation of a hectare of land after demining cost an average of $100.
Ukrainian sappers have to check every meter of liberated land before it is useful for use. Until that moment, the business will not be able to work on it. It could take decades to completely clear Ukraine of mines.
Albania after the Yugoslav wars only ten years later was able to clear its territory. This is despite the fact that in this country 15 thousand square kilometers were considered dangerous - ten times less than now in Ukraine. Another example is Croatia. In the 1990s, 13 thousand square kilometers were considered to be mined there. The country still cannot completely clear its land of explosives.
It is difficult to calculate the cost of the complete humanitarian demining of Ukraine. The media write about 400-900 billion dollars. However, humanitarian demining would cost so much if all potentially dangerous 139 thousand square kilometers were covered with mines.
In fact, this figure is much less. The cost of demining is determined after a non-technical survey, and not all Ukrainian fields are heavily littered with mines. Part of the land may not need the work of sappers.
Meanwhile, the volume of foreign aid to Ukrainian operators in 2022 was measured in millions. This is not enough to expand the staff of sappers, purchase equipment and speed up the process.
As a result, a queue formed for free demining. Not all farmers can apply for it, because the operators do not work in a 20-30-kilometer zone from the front line. Not being able to wait for their turn for months, farmers are looking for sappers themselves. In de-occupied regions, there are cases when tractors explode in the field after "clearing" carried out by uncertified sappers. According to one of the agricultural companies, the cost of surveying a field by illegal sappers on the black market costs about 5,000 hryvnias. per hectare, and demining - 1-3 thousand dollars per hectare, depending on the pollution. Specialists are skeptical about "black sappers".
Existing sappers are not enough to survey all problem areas, but international support for Ukraine has increased over the past year, so the process may accelerate.
The government faces several tasks: to attract more donor aid to buy equipment, to strengthen control over illegal sappers, to establish clear rules for operators, and to build a market for humanitarian demining, making it accessible to farmers.