In the 18 months since the war started, Ukraine has become one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. A third of its territory – a 174,000 km2 area larger than England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – is estimated to be contaminated by mines and other explosive ordnance. The situation is making it impossible for Ukraine – long known as the 'breadbasket of Europe' – to resume agricultural production. The civilians who were forced to flee their homes in the wake of the Russian invasion are now returning at considerable risk to their safety to past combat zones and territories reconquered by the Ukrainian army, particularly in the north (Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv) and south (Kherson) of Ukraine. For months now, tragic accidents have been on the increase, with farmers stepping on anti-tank mines while ploughing their fields, and other civilians, including children, losing life and limb to explosive ordnance or anti-personnel mines while playing in their gardens or clearing away the rubble from their homes. The clearance of mine-contaminated land is a matter of the utmost urgency and a precondition for the country's recovery.
CHF 100 million over four years
To enable Ukraine to rise to this challenge, which is threatening its entire population, Switzerland has asserted its position as a major supporter and added humanitarian demining as a priority to its existing international cooperation programme. A total of CHF 100 million will be earmarked for humanitarian demining between 2024 and 2027, funded in equal parts by the DDPS and the FDFA.
Cutting-edge mine action expertise
In keeping with its humanitarian tradition, Switzerland has cutting-edge expertise in mine action. Geneva is home to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), which over the past decade has provided Ukraine with training, strategic support and technical advice to strengthen the capacity of its government institutions. Only a small number of mine clearance organisations are currently active in Ukraine. Among them is the Fondation suisse de déminage (FSD), which is stepping up the engagement it began in the Donbas region, where war has been raging since 2014. Switzerland is also home to a number of manufacturers of demining machines.
Switzerland is already involved in humanitarian mine action in Ukraine. A total of CHF 15.2 million was allocated for 2022 and 2023, specifically for the FDFA's support of GICHD and FSD operations. The DDPS has donated a demining machine from the Digger Foundation, an organisation based in the canton of Jura, to Ukrainian rescue workers and is funding GICHD training in humanitarian demining for Ukrainian mine clearance specialists. With this additional CHF 100 million package, Switzerland will be able to step up the demining work carried out by the FSD and other demining operators, provide equipment and training for Ukrainian deminers, support the government in its efforts to coordinate this herculean undertaking and explore innovative solutions. Projects will be selected on the basis of evolving needs on the ground and the capacities of various humanitarian demining operators, with oversight provided by the Swiss embassy in Kyiv.
The Federal Council's decision to support Ukraine in the longer term, a country devastated by mines and other explosive ordnance, is a reaffirmation of its commitment to the nation as set out in the FDFA and DDPS's Action Plan on Mine Action for 2023–26, which was launched on 4 April 2023.
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