FORT LEE, Va. — The Humanitarian Demining Training Center at Fort Lee hosted a small delegation from Ukraine along with participants from the U.S. government and other organizations March 30 to discuss demining aid and support for the Eastern European nation.
The event, held at the Michael K. Williams Multi-Purpose Room at the Army Logistics University, functioned essentially as an exchange of ideas between government and military officials, non-governmental organizations and others involved in ongoing demining efforts in the Ukraine. Eight Ukrainians were on hand for the one-day conference.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for these demining experts and leaders from Ukraine to meet personally with Department of State and Department of Defense leaders in humanitarian demining,” said Marie O. Kokotajlo, manager, Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid program for Defense Security Cooperation Agency, HDTC’s parent agency within DoD. “We’re exchanging plans, concerns and priorities and talking about how we can improve the humanitarian demining support we’re providing.”
Portions of Ukraine, which shares a border with the Russian Federation, were forcibly annexed by federation military forces in 2014 and invaded more than a year ago during a “special military operation,” according to the federation. Since then, casualties have numbered in the hundreds of thousands and left Ukraine with widespread destruction as well as an untold number of mines, unexploded ordnance and other hazards.
Approximately 30 percent of Ukrainian territory is contaminated with explosive remnants of war and other explosive hazards, said Kokojajlo, “posing extreme difficulties for displaced civilians wanting to return to their homes and agricultural communities who need to be sowing seeds this time of year.”
Landmines and unexploded ordnance killed or maimed more than 1,100 people leading up to last year’s invasion in Ukraine. Since then, the country has become exponentially more dangerous with heavy fighting in several parts of the country.
Ukrainian military and government officials face the challenge of demining as the fighting moves and civilians return to communities after displacement.
HDTC trains and prepares U.S. military forces, U.S. government stakeholders, and international partners to conduct humanitarian missions to remove and dispose of landmines and other explosive remnants of war, according to its website.
It could play a vital role in Ukraine's reconstruction and recovery efforts. Currently, the United States is the largest donor to the country’s demining projects, according to the Department of State.