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As war devastates Ukraine, AOAV examines the country’s existing landmine problem

The war that is devastating Ukraine will have a hidden impact, too. It will hamper the country’s progress in eliminating the landmines that proliferate throughout parts of its country, and further impede the capacity of agencies to protect the people whose daily lives are affected by them.

Around two million people are estimated to be exposed to the threat of landmines on either side of the 450km long ‘contact line’ in the disputed Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. The most recent Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor suggests that around 8% of the government controlled land, covering around 7,000km², contain or are suspected to contain antipersonnel mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). This region encompasses urban areas used to access schools, hospitals, markets, agricultural land needed for farming and livestock and woodland putting lives at risk daily.

The Landmine Monitor for 2021 estimates an additional 14,000km² of undifferentiated contamination was reported in areas not controlled by the government,  affecting the livelihood and infrastructure of those who live there. The heaviest mine and ERW contamination is believed to be inside the 15 km buffer zone between the belligerent parties, but access to this area for survey and clearance operations has been severely limited[1].

Currently, Ukraine ranks 4th worldwide in Mine/ERW casualties, 6th with the inclusion of states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty[2], making the east of Ukraine one of the most mine contaminated areas in the world.

Such weapons cause harm: 277 casualties were reported in Ukraine in 2020 alone[3]. This is down from 324 casualties identified in 2019 and 325 casualties identified in 2018. But these are only verified casualties, and it is believed that the actual number is likely to be much higher.

Since 2014, the demining charity HALO has recorded over 2,000 casualties- men, women and children-suffering life changing injuries or death[4]. Children have continued to be particularly vulnerable to explosive remnants of war (ERW) in east Ukraine. Prone to picking up and playing with explosive remnants of war – boys, adolescent males and adult men have all been cited as being key risk groups by Ukraine state parties.

Such harm will almost certainly be exacerbated by the current conflict. Deaths and injuries from landmines accounted for one fourth of casualties in 2020-2021, but this doubled year on year in the first half of 2021[5]. The Crisis Group noted that the bulk of these casualties occurred along the banks of the Siversky Donets river, which divides the government controlled part of the Luhansk region from the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic. People fishing for food for sustenance, gathering wood from the surrounding heavily mined forest area, smuggling food and goods across the river due to a declined economic situation post Covid have all been suggested as reasons for the rise in casualties[6]. Poverty and a lack of viable livelihood alternatives also continues to be cited as the primary reason for intentional risk-taking by population in both rural and urban areas[7].

Despite such dangers, critics state that Ukraine’s progress in demining before the 2022 war remains slow. In December 2020, long awaited mine action legislation was signed by the President. However, further legislative amendments and proactivity will be needed if peace comes to ensure meaningful demining operations are widespread. Ukraine is not currently on track to meet its extended Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) Article 5 deadline of 1 December 2023. Further escalation and conflict in the area will not only hamper meeting this deadline but lead to additional contamination.

Furthermore, Ukraine stands in violation of Article 4 of the Mine Ban Treaty, having failed to complete destruction of their landmine stockpiles. In 2019, Ukraine declared a stockpile of 3,364,889 antipersonnel mines[8]. This is not counting the 2, 585, 106 antipersonnel mines declared to have been destroyed by Ukraine from 2011-2019[9].

Since the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the clearance of mines and ERW has been undertaken by both Ukrainian government authorities and separatist groups.  International clearance operators have also aided clearance in government controlled areas. Issues with surveying due to access to the land and a lack of up to date technical equipment for mine clearance have been cited as affecting progress.

Despite such challenges, work continues to be done. In 2020 alone, national and international mine action operators jointly cleared and restored around 5, 500 hectares of land, which is almost the size of San Marino or equal to 7,700 football fields[10]

As of the publication of this report, Ukraine has no mine action strategy end date in place, and while there is a risk education strategy/standards in place for all age groups there is no victim assistance or victim assistance plan/strategy currently present[11]. Recent reports on beneficiaries of landmine risk education by the Ukrainian Red Cross state that almost 60% were children[12]. Continuing casualties by landmines suggest there is scope for continued and expanded risk education campaigns. This is especially true for the elderly living near the contact line, whose insufficient pensions force them to continue to cultivate plots of land, pick mushrooms and collect firewood in areas contaminated with mines and ERW[13].

Further improvement regarding comprehensive mine victim assistance programs is of crucial importance and need. The ongoing conflict has impacted health care infrastructure, the ability to access and retain medical staff and the ability to acquire medical supplies and equipment[14]. While there is free access initially to emergency medical care, there is no access to continued medical care, medical or physical rehabilitation, high quality prostheses or psychosocial assistance offered to mine survivors. Limited access to trauma care and emergency health services was exacerbated amid the Covid 19 pandemic due to lockdowns, movement restrictions, and the closure of crossing points[15]. Many victims living in rural areas lack the ability to afford a way to travel to the urban centers to access treatment. Inclusion efforts in schools for children who are disabled from mines also need further improvement.

In 2020, Ukraine received $14.6 million from international state donors to support their demining effort[16]. Current heightened tensions complicate those efforts by impeding access to contaminated areas in order to demine and provide necessary mine victim assistance. In its second Mine Ban Treaty extension request, Ukraine noted that the ongoing conflict in the country’s eastern region is further contaminating the area, and that the irregularity and non-selectivity of the use of antipersonnel mines by armed groups hampered efforts to estimate the scale of contamination[17].

Until disengagement and de-escalation of the current crisis on Ukraine’s border is resolved, combatants are unlikely to disengage from high traffic areas, forcing demining efforts to be curtailed and significantly impeded.

[1] The Landmine Monitor for 2020

[2] The Landmine Monitor for 2021

[3] The Landmine Monitor for 2021


[5] “Visualising the Dynamics of Combat and Negotiations in Donbas” The Crisis Group, 3 Aug 2021

[6] “Visualising the Dynamics of Combat and Negotiations in Donbas” The Crisis Group, 3 Aug 2021

[7] The Landmine Monitor for 2021

[8] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7report, Forms B and G, 1 April 2019

[9] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report, Form G, 2012-2015 and 2017-2019

[10] UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ukraine

[11] The Landmine Monitor for 2021

[12] The Monitor Impact Ukraine Report 2020

[13] The Monitor Impact Ukraine Report 2020

[14] Health Cluster Ukraine. “Exploring access to health care services in Ukraine: a protection and health perspective, “ 25 July 2019, p2.

[15] UNOCHA, “Humanitarian Needs Overview: Ukraine,” 15 February 2021, p 40.

[16] The Landmine Monitor 2021

[17] Ukraine Mine Ban Treaty Article 5 Extension Request, 1 November 2018, p 3.