Winged helpers: the role of UAVs in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine
Ukraine's infrastructure is suffering massive destruction every day as a result of russia's aggression against the Ukrainian people. As a result of hostile attacks on power grids, production facilities, damage to arable land, and a shrinking labor supply, especially as refugees flee abroad, restoring pre-war levels of economic activity is unfortunately beyond the short term.
According to the KSE Institute, as of February 2023, the total amount of damage to Ukraine's infrastructure since the beginning of the full-scale invasion is $143.8 billion. This figure is growing daily as the russian war of aggression continues to cause massive destruction of infrastructure (including water supply, sewage, mobile communications and power grids), industry, education and healthcare facilities, damage to housing stock and further endanger Ukrainian citizens.
According to a recent economic forecast by the World Bank, Ukraine's post-war recovery will cost €500-600 billion (for comparison, Ukraine's GDP in 2021 was about $200 billion). The Government of Ukraine, with the support of international organizations such as the World Bank, the European Union, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and partner countries, is developing measures to help the country overcome the crisis and ensure its further post-war recovery.
Innovations and modern digital technologies, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, play an important role in this process. In the near future, UAVs will become one of the most important tools for restoring the territories to their pre-war condition and further development and improvement at the expense of international financial organizations and donors.
Here's how UAVs can be used in the post-war recovery and reconstruction of the country.
Aerial photography of destruction and digitization of collected data
According to the data published in the KSE Institute's annual report as part of the "russia will pay" project (damaged.in.ua), as of February 2023, the number of destroyed and damaged objects is 8.2% of the total housing stock of Ukraine and amounts to more than 153 thousand buildings. The approximate number of Ukrainian citizens who have lost their homes and property as a result of russian aggression is 4.5 million.
In addition, according to preliminary data, the enemy destroyed 630 administrative buildings, at least 1216 medical institutions, destroyed more than 900 educational institutions, and damaged almost 2200 more.
Assessing the extent of the destruction and documenting the crimes of the occupiers is a prerequisite for creating an evidence base and establishing the amount of compensation from the aggressor, which is thousands of hectares. The use of UAVs allows for the rapid collection of digital data on destruction in all affected regions of Ukraine. For example, the "Skif" UAV developed and manufactured by Culver Aviation can survey up to 1,500 hectares per day, and a 61-megapixel camera allows you to take images with a resolution of up to 1 cm per pixel, which clearly shows the infrastructure and housing destroyed and damaged by the occupiers.
Read more about how Culver Aviation monitors war-damaged facilities as part of the "russia will pay" project here.
Developing comprehensive plans for the development and reconstruction of territories
Comprehensive planning for the development of territories was introduced as part of the decentralization reform before russia's full-scale invasion and was intended to ensure infrastructure development, control the targeted use of land and resources of territorial communities, and attract investment.
In times of war, integrated spatial development plans (ISDPs) also become the main tool for post-war recovery and long-term reconstruction of territories. Creating effective mechanisms for digitizing and visualizing the lands of territorial communities is one of the first steps in developing a CSPDP, and innovative solutions such as aerial photography allow communities to quickly obtain up-to-date and comprehensive information about the area and objects located on it.
UAVs provide a wide range of opportunities for collecting information, processing it, and analyzing it to make informed management decisions. The data obtained with their help become the basis for the development and implementation of geoinformation portals, which are a source of consolidated geodata for planning the work required to rebuild the affected regions.
The second planting season in a row is taking place in Ukraine under martial law. The real challenge for the agricultural sector is mined land. According to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, the land that has been mined or is under temporary occupation amounts to almost 7 million hectares, which is 24% of the pre-war sown area (29 million hectares).
In addition to mined land, farmers are facing reduced sown areas, financial problems, limited markets, and more expensive logistics due to the inability of Black Sea ports to operate fully. Amid the crisis, the search for more efficient and at the same time cheaper solutions is becoming a top priority for agricultural enterprises. These solutions include, among others, agricultural monitoring and field processing using UAVs.
Drones have long proven themselves in agriculture as a tool that helps farmers make the right management decisions, reduce production costs, and increase yields. They are used to determine the exact contours and relief of fields, measure land plots, and identify problem areas and heterogeneity of seedlings, which allows for proper planning of fieldwork and minimization of crop losses from imperfectly performed technological operations.
Due to the rise in the cost of fuel and lubricants and other resources, the agricultural sector has been showing a significant increase in interest in UAVs in recent years. They are used for irrigation, fertilization, and plant protection products, and since the beginning of autumn, also for pre-harvest desiccation of crops. We wrote about the benefits of this method here.
Thus, UAVs are becoming one of the tools that can help farmers face challenges and improve their performance even in times of crisis.
Construction and restoration of infrastructure
In addition to the significant destruction of housing, administrative buildings, educational and healthcare institutions, road infrastructure and industry also suffered enormous losses as a result of russian aggression. Thus, according to the aforementioned KSE Institute report, about 25 thousand kilometers of roads have become unusable, which is almost 15% of the total length of state roads in Ukraine. At least 344 bridges were also destroyed, and 426 large and medium-sized enterprises were damaged or destroyed.
Bridges are a key part of road infrastructure and logistics, so repairing damaged ones and building new bridges to replace the destroyed ones is a top priority for public services. At the same time, they are perhaps the most difficult objects to restore today and require innovations and non-standard technological solutions that would allow for inspection even in remote and hard-to-reach areas.
Drones are the best tool for collecting information about the current situation on linear facilities such as roads, railways, overpasses, power lines, and onshore pipelines. Thanks to modern navigation systems, high-resolution cameras, thermal imagers, and other special algorithms, they allow for infrastructure inspection, defect detection, and the creation of orthophoto plans and 3D models with maximum detail based on the data obtained. They can be used to make decisions on the feasibility of repairs, as well as to determine the type and amount of materials required for repair or reconstruction.
It has been proven that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles helps to reduce the cost of infrastructure monitoring, improve the quality of the data obtained, and conduct inspections, and subsequent repair and restoration work.
Environmental monitoring and cleanup of territories contaminated as a result of hostilities
According to the latest estimates by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, the damage caused by russia to Ukraine's environment is estimated at UAH 2 trillion. The military aggression of the occupiers has left no component of the environment intact: air, water, soil, flora, and fauna.
The bulk of the damage is caused by air pollution: since the beginning of the war, the amount of harmful emissions have exceeded 67 million tons, while in 2021 and 2020 they amounted to only 2.2 million tons per year.
It is noted that forests are suffering great losses: almost 3 million hectares of forest (which is a third of the forested territory of Ukraine) have been damaged due to russian aggression, and about 500,000 hectares are temporarily occupied or in the combat zone.
According to the UN, Ukraine is one of the most mined countries in the world today: almost a third of our territory (about 200,000 square kilometers) needs to be demined and cleared of explosive remnants, which will take at least 10 years. Soil contamination caused by mine explosions is another challenge: according to the Ministry of Ecology, the ingress of lead, strontium, titanium, cadmium, nickel, and other heavy metals can make land unsuitable for further agricultural use.
Russian strikes on oil depots and fuel and lubricant warehouses also released hazardous substances into the air. According to environmentalists, in one month, all of Kyiv's transportation produces as much air pollution as is emitted by oil burning.
The need to collect information on the state of air and soil in the de-occupied territories, the situation with water depletion and pollution, loss of landscape and biodiversity, transformation and degradation of terrain, etc. is another promising area of UAV use. Equipped with special sensors for monitoring pollution, drones can monitor the state of the atmospheric air for compliance with specified standards, identify sources of pollution, and measure the concentration of dust and other substances. We talked about how MENATIR monitors and controls air quality here.
The information collected by drones is also used to create maps of minefields, speeding up mine clearance and making it easier for sappers.
UAVs are also used to obtain data that becomes the basis for creating digital terrain and relief models. Detailed information on landscape characteristics allows us to predict soil subsidence, determine the level of groundwater and water accumulation areas, plan agricultural and construction work, etc.
A full-scale war has led to new challenges for digital transformation, and the consequences of russian aggression have led to a new direction for it - the restoration and reconstruction of war-affected areas. The destruction of housing, damage to infrastructure and industry, and the need to clean up the areas where hostilities took place are all prompting local authorities and community leaders to optimize their processes to be more efficient and competent in accounting for losses, planning to fund, and the specific sequence of work to restore the territories.
The urgent tasks faced in wartime require the use of modern digital tools. UAV data collection is a necessary component of this process, and their use in the near future will be an important tool for ensuring sustainable reconstruction and recovery of the country.