As Kyiv Post reported in its article “Ukraine Farmer Risks Life Clearing Shells from Fields” on April 13, farmers, suffering from huge losses and feeling they can’t wait any longer for help, have been taking the clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) into their own hands.

One desperate farmer has turned to technology to help him in his efforts to demine his fields. According to a video posted on the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Twitter feed, Oleksandr Kryvtsun, the head of an agricultural enterprise based in the village of Hrakove in the Chuhuiv District of the Kharkiv region, has built an armored radio-controlled tractor for just that purpose.

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In the video, Kryvtsun tells about the devastation his farming community has suffered and relates how the State Emergency Service (SESU) cleared a nearby agricultural area of around 250 anti-tank and 10 anti-personnel mines.

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“There is a lot of work for the SESU,” Kryvtsun said. “Right now, they have the task to clear power lines and gas pipelines for the population as a priority. “So, we decided to do something so that we could go out into the field,” he added.

In the video he explains how they have used the armor from an abandoned Russian infantry fighting vehicle to protect a T150 tractor which forms the basis of the system. The tractor is fitted with a roller fitted with heavy flanges which he hopes will either push the mines aside or detonate them and that helps clear vegetation in preparation for sowing crops.

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The operator, Pavel Hyrhorchenko, sits in the bucket of a front-loader, which is raised to its full height in order to give a better video and control signal, as well as assisting him to view what the machine is doing and unearthing.

The enterprise has invested almost Hr.1 million in commercially available hydraulics, radio control equipment and a video camera, which his craftsmen have fitted to the tractor to allow them to drive and control it remotely. Kryvtsun justifies the expenditure because the land is farmed as a cooperative and the 40 owners who share the land plot have been unable to work the land ever since the invasion. They have no other income and will be unable to pay the rent due if they cannot plant this year.

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Modified, armored, commercially available earth-movers or agricultural vehicles are widely used in humanitarian demining as a cost-effective alternative to expensive military vehicles. However, to be used safely and effectively such machines should be supported by trained demining specialists and equipment.

As discussed in the April 13 article, while the desperation of farmers like Kryvtsun to get back onto the land is understandable, the risks of operating in isolation are high. It is not clear from his video what he and his team will do if they encounter unexploded mines or UXO. Can he call on SESU or one of the other demining organizations such as the HALO Trust or Mines Advisory Group to assist?

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