The Hazards of Demining: Understanding the Challenges in Ukraine

26 Aug 2023

As the counter offensive continues, there’s plenty of info and disinfo about mines and their effects.

As the Ukrainian counter offensive progresses we see more and more the relevant impact of minefields on inhibiting the ability of offensive forces to move clearly through hazardous areas. We also see the strategy of “success by the numbers” where the success of the offensive is gauged by the amount of recovered territory. This strategy of applying recovered territory as a measure of success is fraught with risk, due to the fact that breaking through established Russian defenses is a grind in manpower, logistics and specialized equipment.
In this article we’ll be attempting to break down what makes minefields so dangerous and why clearing and de mining areas is such a difficult task in a peace time environment let alone a still active combat zone. However this article will focus on landmines only, as naval mines are outside our knowledge scope.

The Background:
One of the earliest forms of warfare, mining has a history that dates back prior to the discovery of gunpowder. Back then, you’d find mines being rather simplistic, with caltrops and goads a good example of what you’d expect to find. Extremely simplistic, relying on simple designs to stay oriented and being victim triggered by design, these were the first form of mine warfare, allowing a military to strike without having to see their target.
As gunpowder evolved and fuses came into the picture, mines became more complex and destructive with the ability to spread shrapnel and provide kinetic effects on target, as well as becoming more simpler and efficient to lay. While earlier mines remained simplistic, by the time the First world war happened mines had much better engineering, with ball bearing shrapnel and more complex fusing which often included delayed timing.

The Cold War era saw mines regularly used and further developed with many countries dealing with the aftermath of mine warfare, causing the usage and consequences of land mines to reach the public eye. Probably the best known example of this was the 1990’s campaign by the late Princess Diana to have landmines outlawed, due to the damage suffered by Cambodians in the post Vietnam era.

While this campaign was a success in many western countries it’s worth noting that many countries were still not part of this, with one of these countries being the Russian Federation.
Princess Diana worked hard to bring awareness to the plight of the Cambodian people. Source: 

Types of Mines and Demining:
When we are looking at options for de mining it’s important to understand that there is distinct strategies in regards to both the laying of mines and any subsequent de mining operations.
Firstly when we look at the weapons individually the term “mine” becomes more of a generic term rather than a specific reference to a particular weapon. This is because like firearms, mines come in many different types and subsequent to that there are many different methods of laying and triggering these various types of systems. This includes acoustic, time, remote and pressure based detonation strategies.

We must understand these differences before we able to proceed as this will directly influence our strategies and available options. Let’s look at the types of mines that we have first.

Anti Personnel mines are probably the closest thing to what people see in their head when discussing landmines. Designed to injure troops and deny territory to the enemy, these mines are often quite light yet extremely destructive requiring little pressure to set off once armed. Because of this, civilians suffer disproportionately in areas where land mines are used. Anti Personal mines are also easy to lay, being able to be fired from artillery shells or airdropped into areas, providing a quick, easy and destructive denial capability to troops on the ground.
Soviet Era PFM-1 Anti Personal mine. Source: Wikipedia

The second type of mine is the Anti Material / Anti Tank systems. While these systems are larger, with a greater explosive yield these often provide less risk to civilians than anti personal variants due to the pressure plate design of the firing system. Requiring a certain amount of weight before the mine will detonate, these mines are capable of taking out tanks, armored vehicles and other large systems and will often include the usage of shaped explosive charges so as to deal with the incapacitation of these vehicles more effectively.
US M-731 ADAM artillery based area denial mine. Sorce: Wikipedia.

Unfortunately despite having a heavier trigger requirement means little, as analyzing modern warfare techniques soon reveals that it’s extremely common to have mixtures of various types of mines so as to add to the complexities faced by any Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams.
Cold War Era Anti Tank Mine. Source: Wikipedia

Next, when we look at the options for clearance of minefields we are to look at the different methods and standards for doing so and attempt to understand why they vary.

Military Clearance:
The most obvious of clearance types, military clearance is the type of demining conditions used by armed forces the world over. With recovery of territory and speed of movement being extremely important, military clearance is far more risky, with the possibility of having to do so under enemy fire being something clearance teams may face. While most militaries tend to value the lives of skilled troops, it’s fair to say that military operations come with a risk of casualties which is far more likely to be accepted under these conditions.

It also prompts a different type of clearance because initially for a military clearance to be successful the minefield simply needs to be breached rather than entirely removed. Once a clearance path has been pushed through, troop and vehicle movements can resume despite active mines still being present on either sides of the path.

So it’s fair to say that for military clearance, the push for speed and freedom of movement on the battlefield adds a stress that isn’t present in humanitarian options and while your average NATO standard K9 team will be highly effective they are doing so with different goals in mind in comparison to humanitarian operations.

K9 Detection teams are a huge part of safely providing clearance services. The Belgian Malinois is particularly well suited to working in an ordnance detection role. Source:

Humanitarian Clearance:
While military clearance is precise, humanitarian methods are even more so due to the difficulties faced by the changing standards of the brief.

Firstly while this clearance method has far less of the speed and time restrictions it also has far greater standards for success as well. It’s goal is the complete eradication and clearance of mines in a particular area rather than a breakthrough.

We also see an emphasis on civilian casualties, as the objective of humanitarian clearance is to preserve as much life as possible all the way round. While initially this means civilians, it also means EOD teams themselves, with far more time to clear an area and many more tools in the tool chest for doing so safely.

Regardless of the approach collaboration is hugely important here. This is because to be effective, demining must rely on many teams coming together to provide the skills and resources needed to safely conduct clearance operations.

This means that UAV pilots, K9 handlers, Bomb Disposal technicians and other specialties must all come together, pooling their skill sets to accurately chart, disarm and clear minefields whilst remaining casualty free.
Post Falklands conflict landmine charts. Accurate surveys are vital in conducting safe clearance options.

This is no small task, however one of the most important parts of effectively achieving this goal is the accurate surveying and charting of minefields and areas of risk. While most minefields are charted when they are laid, the fog of war means that often these plans are lost, incorrect or simply denied to the opposing side. As you’d expect, this adds an additional layer of complexity to any operation.
Booby Traps, Double Stacks & Other Evil Tricks
Now we understand the different types of mines we face, and the clearance options for doing so we can now look further into some of the problems faced in conducting operations on Ukrainian territory.

Firstly it’s prudent to point out here that the Soviet Union placed great emphasis on the usage of minefields for cheap and effective denial operations. We saw this in the Afghan war where landmines were used in tandem with other strategies to help deny freedom of movement to combatants.

However the best measure of looking at the work level that’s involved with clearing is the expected density of mines within a particular field or country, and by that metric after more than 500 days of combat Ukraine is now one of the most heavily mined places in the world. It’s alleged by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine that over 30% of territory is now mined and will require ordnance detection strategies once the conflict has ended.
While the conflict continues though, one of the biggest issues faced by both sides is that newly cleared areas are able to be remined quickly by using artillery shells to spread mines across a new area.

Additionally to this, the very concept of mine warfare is sneaky with “easter eggs” of all kinds causing additional complexities.
A good example of this is the concept of using anti handling strategies and booby traps to increase the risk whilst clearing a minefield.

While these methods vary by application generally speaking they add an increased penalty time wise and can be difficult to detect in the early stages of clearance operations. We’ve included a picture for you to show how it works, but it’s not uncommon to find double stacked mines where they are piggybacked to increase the blast effects as well as the chance of triggering a detonation during disarmament.

It’s also extremely common to find booby traps and other targeted setups outside minefields. Unfortunately mining bodies, properties and other useful wartime assets is as old as history it’s self, with this performed with the intention of targeting the skilled specialists that are needed to perform this kind of work effectively.

It’s fair to say that while there’s chaos in conflict, demining requires experienced staff, a cool head and a clear understanding of the objectives.
Patron hard at work carrying out clearance operations. Source: Twitter

Looking for Non Traditional Solutions:
While traditional methods are still useful for demining purposes one of the problems faced with this approach is the complexity and expense of training and equipping adequate numbers of EOD teams. The specialized equipment used for clearance operations is expensive and subject to risk during operations and manual clearance methods are unable to be always reliable.
M1 Abrams equipped with mine plow. Source: Wikipedia
A single NATO certified K-9 EOD team will cost over $100,000 to train by the time the investment in K9, handler and training program to bring them up to deployment ready standard are factored in to our consideration. While this cost isn’t prohibitive to many armies, the time constraints around training large numbers of handlers and animals increase as the program grows with time. Therefore to achieve the required goals, we see the need for a synergy between traditional measures and new technology.

The seed for this has already been planted in both the commercial and civilian worlds and like many other scenarios in Ukraine at this point, the answer seems to be drones, in a mixture of both land and aerial vehicles.

Providing effective methods of both charting and surveying minefields, drones allow far quicker results than traditional methods whilst providing an additional layer of support to the skilled teams that make up an operational EOD team. While new technologies and strategies have already been put forward, its reasonable to expect that these options will continue to grow as they are used in the field and are modified with that feedback to become more effective systems.

Probably one of the most interesting innovations of late came from a Ukrainian. At just 17 years old, Igor Klymenko recently designed a drone for mine clearance, coming up with a drone based system that was able to detect mines and send the coordinates to a user remotely. While it’s still in the early stages, innovations like this will be essential in protecting the skilled EOD teams that Ukraine will need if they are to continue moving ahead with this task.

If you’d like to read about Igor’s design, you can do so by looking at this article.
Thermal cameras appear to show land mines due to heat variances. Another potential option. Source: Pravda
While plenty of traditional solutions exist, Ukraine will need to find innovative ways to effectively clear and neutralize mined territory. Source: Wikipedia.

Support The Fight:
So there you have it. We hope after reading you have a clearer understanding about the role mine warfare plays in conflict and why these strategies can be all consuming in both time and materials. We also hope you have a clearer understanding on why these are specialized personnal in these roles. Unfortunately, experienced EOD teams are very difficult to train.
However we’d be remiss to write about the situation in Ukraine without providing a call to action so here it is.

Firstly if you’re experienced in any Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) role Ukraine would love to hear from you. This means Technicians, K9 Handers & Trainers and other technical roles are a hot commodity, even more so when you consider they will be experienced enough to provide training for organic teams on the ground.

However if you’re not EOD you can still assist by providing a donation through the official UA donation channels. Have a look via this link.

Lastly if you’d prefer to not provide financial assistance you can still support Ukraine by sharing material and providing exposure on social media.

Choose the strategy that’s best for you, but remember as global citizens we are all stronger together. Слава Україні

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As scary as interesting. So complete, well documented and illustrated. A great article ! Thanks.
Demining, the process of removing landmines and explosive remnants of war from areas to make them safe for civilian use, is a crucial and challenging task in conflict-affected regions like Ukraine. The ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine has left a significant number of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) scattered across the landscape, posing serious risks to the local population, infrastructure, and economic development.Demining is an inherently dangerous activity due to the unpredictable nature of explosives. Deminers are at risk of injury or death while working with live explosives, and even a small mistake can have devastating consequences.t's crucial for the Ukrainian government, international organizations, and NGOs to collaborate closely to ensure the safe and effective demining of affected areas. This effort requires sustained funding, technical expertise, cal expertise, and a commitment to prioritizing the safety and well-being of both deminers and local populations.