I’m a Ukrainian 17-year-old and have built a landmine-detecting device while hiding from Putin’s war

Tech

I’m a Ukrainian 17-year-old and have built a landmine-detecting device while hiding from Putin’s war
I’m a Ukrainian 17-year-old and have built a landmine-detecting device while hiding from Putin’s war

I remember hearing the explosions of bombs falling on my hometown, Kyiv, as soon as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022.

Straight away, my parents decided to move the family from Kyiv to the countryside, where we sheltered in a basement. This was an incredibly scary and stressful time for the entire community.

It was terrifying to think that at any moment we could lose a loved one, and our homes could be destroyed.

But despite the constant roar of rockets and gunshots, I understood that this was a new reality I would have to learn to live with.

Like for so many of my peers, those early days of the war were filled with online learning to complete high school. I resolved that the war had already taken so much from all of us – I would not let it take away my education.

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My favourite subjects had always been maths and science, and I had long-dreamed of inventing something that could help the world. I decided to pour all my energy into building a landmine-detecting device to help protect not just my fellow Ukrainians, but all victims of war.

I have been extremely lucky to have exceptional teachers who have inspired me to put my love of science to use by making conflict zones safer. Some have had to join the army and, while defending our country, continued to support me over the phone and via Zoom calls so that I could finish my school year and further my drone project.

Without their support, I might never have been able to build a working device.

My research began long before, when I was nine years old, as Russian troops began their invasion and occupation of Crimea, and I desperately wanted to help. I started by reading any book I could find about robotics, and I often stayed after class to discuss my project with my teachers.

I had never built a drone before, but I was determined to find a way to use robotics for demining.

It may sound extraordinary to have spent my childhood in this way, but it actually felt like the only rational thing I could do. So many Ukrainians I know, of all ages, have been doing what they can to protect our country.

Over the last two years, I have also sought the help of scientists from around the world. Together with these scientists and my teachers, we started by examining how modern robotics could improve on existing landmine removal technology by making it smarter and more agile.

igor klymenko
Igor winning an award (Picture: Clinton Global Initiative)

We decided to use artificial intelligence to provide precise coordinates of where a landmine is located.

I soon realised that a flying drone would present a major advantage in not setting off mines, and could be adapted to work for both anti-personnel landmines, which detonate when a person steps on them, and anti-vehicle landmines, which can be triggered remotely, or by pressure on the road from cars or tanks.

I drew the designs while closely consulting with my teachers and scientists I spoke to from all over the world. I am now working to build a minimum viable product so that the device can be tested in the real-world, and put to use to help free Ukraine and the world of landmines.

I have been in touch with humanitarian organisations working to demine Ukraine, and I hope that one day the army can use my device. I do not know if President Zelensky is aware of my work, but it has been great to see so much support for my project in Ukraine and around the world, including from the Ukrainian Parliament, Ukraine’s official Instagram account, and Education Cannot Wait.

I have now received two official patents in Ukraine for two separate drone-detecting features we invented for the prototypes.

These prototypes have also won awards, including: the Chegg.org Global Student Prize, first place at the All-Ukrainian research competition at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine for the 2021-2022 academic year, a gold medal at Malaysia’s 21st Technology Expo, and a silver medal at the 48th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva.

Throughout this war, I have felt an urgent need to make a contribution to my society, one that has lost so much and so many, so I also started tutoring my fellow students in physics and maths.

Russia fired 100 missiles at Ukraine in countrywide strike
Russia fired 100 missiles at Ukraine in countrywide strike (Picture: Reuters)

We have discussed the war and all the changes in our lives, but at the same time, the upheaval we have faced has strengthened our resolve to keep learning and never give up on our education.

From the basement my family and I were in, I kept studying and working hard to complete my high school education. It was an unimaginably difficult time for us all, but continuing with my learning gave me a small sense of normality.

Even in those worst of times, I knew that education had the power to help my people far more than the bombings could hurt us. Education transforms lives, everywhere, every day.

When I finished school, I was lucky enough to get involved with Ukrainian Global Scholars, a programme that helps secure scholarships for high school students to attend schools and colleges overseas with a promise to help rebuild our country in years to come.

I recently moved to Canada, where I am studying computer sciences at the University of Alberta, while at the same time pursuing an online degree in robotics from the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. The knowledge I gain from these prestigious courses will help me further refine my drone project.

It is difficult being so far away from home, but Alberta has a thriving Ukrainian community, and I have already made a lot of friends here.

Of course, I worry about my family back home, but I have witnessed first-hand their incredible strength and resilience. They have all been extremely supportive of me, and I look forward to returning to Ukraine, equipped with more knowledge to free my country, and the world, of landmines.

Education can teach us so much, but the greatest lesson I have learnt is the importance of courage.

If we all have courage, hold hands, and move forward together, we could solve so many of the world’s problems – not just the global landmine crisis, but climate change, global inequality and pandemics.

There is something I cannot unlearn: war is the worst of humanity, but education can bring out the best in people.

 Igor Klymenko is the winner of the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2022



Age is Just a Number

Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

If you have a story to share, email Siobhan.Smith@metro.co.uk


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