US Tech Mogul Peter Thiel Uses AI to Demine Ukraine, Now World’s Most Deadly Forest

Ukraine is using AI, Drones and Retrofitted equipment as part of the most extensive demining project ever undertaken.

Tue 05 Mar 24


Ukraine has struck a deal with Peter Thiel, who with Elon Musk co-founded Pay Pal and was the first outside investor in Facebook, in a deal that will see AI deployed to remove millions of landmines from forests, fields and roads every month.

The deal will see Palantir supply Ukraine with artificial intelligence (AI) tools to organise and accelerate its demining efforts.

Ukraine is hoping to decontaminate 80 per cent of its potentially mined land within ten years and bring it back into economic use, freeing up millions of acres of farmland. Roughly a third of the country’s landmass is thought to be hazardous owing to mines or unexploded ordnance.

The World Bank has estimated efforts to remove the explosives could cost up to US $38 billion, with Ukraine seeking international deals and support to accelerate the effort even as it grapples with Russian advances in the Donbas.

The 12-month agreement with Palantir builds on an earlier pilot programme. Palantir’s technology can create a digital map of Ukraine’s territory and resources, such as heavy machinery and drones, and prioritise its clearance efforts.

Late last year, Peter Thiel spoke of the power of AI to address a 50-year stagnation in science progress – footage courtesy of @worldofdaas.
The impact of landmines on Ukrainian forests.

Over 30% of its territory is contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance devices, making the war-torn country home to more landmines than any other on Earth.

Among the most impacted areas are Ukraine’s forests, with Wood Central reporting that 3.5 million hectares of forest have been affected by military activities in Ukraine and Crimea.

Occupied forest areas and forest areas on the front line correspond “to more than 1 million hectares of areas designated for sustainable forest management,” with heavy disturbance in aboveground ecosystems, soils and water systems significantly impacting forest health.

A breakdown of the occupied and reoccupied areas with Ukrainian forest areas cross-over shaded in green. (Photo Credit: L. Poliakova, May 2023.)

According to Yuliia Svyrydenko, the Ukrainian government has been provided with up to 500 million Euros to aid in the recovery of the mines.

“We will formulate and offer our partners’ package’ areas, such as mine clearance of critical infrastructure, power grids, forests, and underwater demining,” according to Mr Svyrydenko, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, who spoke about the landmine issues late last year.

So far, up to 300 million Euros have been provided, with the number of demining organisations quadrupling since the start of the war and the Ukrainian government procuring state-of-the-art equipment.

The invasion has left Ukraine with a staggering amount of territory to clear of landmines before regular activity can resume. 

Yuliia Svyrydenko, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economy visited the first certified demining vehicle constructed in Ukraine in August 2023. (Photo Credit: Facebook Supplied)

According to Ukraine’s Emergency Service deputy chief Mykola Didyk, mines are scattered across more than 174,000 square kilometres of land mass.

Despite predictions that it could take Ukraine over 1000 years to demine based on current resources, the Ukrainian government has pledged to return 80% of this mined land to use within the next decade. 

Incredibly, Ukraine is now using drones, AI and repurposing agricultural equipment as part of the world’s largest-ever demining exercise.

Experts state this will require a massive coordinated effort between Ukrainian demining teams, international funding and equipment providers, and local landowners who want their land back.

Yesterday, US State Department personnel visited Ukraine’s extensive demining production facilities. (Photo Credit: US State Department)
Three types of demining operations are employed:
  1. Military demining focuses on clearing frontline combat zones to enable troop movements. 
  2. The State Emergency Service tackles spot removal of explosives in newly de-occupied towns to allow displaced residents to return.
  3. Finally, humanitarian demining involves a comprehensive survey of rural areas, mapping suspected mine locations, and systematic clearance efforts culminating in safety certification for agricultural use.

The first step is a non-technical survey to divide the land into dangerous and potentially safe zones. 

Once identified as “safe,” deminers search contaminated areas using specialised technology to locate landmines. Finally, the land is certified mine-free.

The cost of this process depends on the density of mines laid by occupying forces. 

According to the Kyiv School of Economics, non-technical surveys cost around $6 per hectare. But searching and clearing heavily mined land can soar to $30,000 per hectare – a massive financial hurdle for Ukraine.

During the Demine Ukraine Forum in Kyiv on 28 September, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine needs $37 billion and 10,000 deminers for mine cleanup.

However, with only 3,000 trained deminers in the field, Ukraine’s PM said that the number needs to increase to at least 10,000 to eliminate landmines in a reasonable time frame.

However, manpower and machinery are not the only constraints slowing the process, with red tape slowing efforts to drive demining at scale.

Accordingly, Oleksandr Borniakov, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation, said the government is now streamlining its certification process in a complete overhaul of its compliance system.

The plan is to have a wholly digitalised collection system for demining, and “temporary certification suspension during wartime is also on the cards,” Deputy Minister Borniaov said.

Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industries states that the country lacks mechanised demining machines and “demining tech, which includes robots, metal detection sensors, and software.”

The Ukrainians are hopeful that industry can help bridge that gap.

For example, the Ukrainian company “Intervybuhprom” has unveiled its first Ukrainian mine-clearing machine, “Kryvbas.” 

This machine, priced at 360,000 euros, has successfully passed trials and withstood multiple anti-tank mine explosions.

Buoyed by this success, Ukraine hopes to become a leading player in the humanitarian demining industry.

Now, Ukrainian companies like Pozhmashina are providing industrial equipment for EU countries. Here, Oleg Averyanov, CEO of Pozhmashina, and Jan Werner Jensen, CEO of Danish company Hydrema, sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the support of the Federation of Employers, Dansk Industry, and the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine. (Photo Credit: Pozhmachina)

Like Croatia, following the Kosovo conflict in the 1990s, Ukraine is looking to take experiences from the conflict and build an industrial capacity post-war.

According to Deputy Minister Borniaov, more than 20 Ukrainian companies have registered for the ‘Brave1 cluster’ program to build industry capacity in demining activities.

By the numbers, Ukraine has 10.4 million hectares designated for sustainable forest management, with 87% of forests State-controlled.

It has a large share of lucrative middle-aged trees strongly influenced by reforestation in large clear-cut areas after the Second World War – most trees are pine, oak, beech, spruce, birch, alder, ash, and hornbeam.

According to Forest Europe, the country is a sleeping giant in forest products, with a growing stock estimated to be 2.1 billion cubic metres, with an annual increment of around 35 million cubic metres. 

Most of Ukraine’s intense forests are located in the Western part of the country. Source: L.Poliakova, 2022, based on State Forest Resources Agency forest survey data 2011.

In 2021, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree launching the ‘Green Country’ project, which would see 3 billion new trees planted over the decade to 2031.

Nonetheless, the conflict has ravaged the country’s forest products industry.

Since the start of the war, more than 50% of the country’s forest production and trade has closed with blockades on the black sea, power outages and a demand reduction, making reconstruction difficult. 

Last year, the total volume of timber sales decreased by 1.813 million cubic metres, and as a result, the revenue of state forest enterprises declined by 80 million euros. 

In August, Forest Europe released a report which confirmed that “Ukraine, as a country, and the Ukrainian forest-related administration can only solve the challenges with significant international support and aid.”

“New and modern practices in forest management planning and monitoring,” including digital solutions, can be further developed in the country. 

Due to the extent of environmental damage, the report concludes that “forest recovery should be considered a cross-cutting issue involving different agencies.”

“This ensures a comprehensive landscape approach and financial incentives for the forest sector and beyond.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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