Leprosy

of the land

Thousands hectares of land turned into lunar landscapes due to illegal amber mining. Our machine model found traces of such activity on satellite images for the area of 70,000 square km.

Ukraine has a world amber market share of 30-40%, it is from 250 to 350 tons.

Illegal extraction of gemstones provide "jobs" to thousands of people who live near such deposits in Volyn, Zhytomyr, and most of all, in Rivne region of a country.

A few decades ago one could hardly imagine how to make profit out of the "solar stone". In the past people could dig up amber in their backyards and burn it in stoves as a fuel for house heating.

Everything changed in 2012-13. The town hotels of Rivnenska oblast have never seen so many Chinese people before. Foreigners brought currency and smuggled the amber back to China. The Chinese buyers paid generously, so the amber mining got mechanized — shovels gave way to power pumps. 2014-2016 became the golden years for amber diggers leading to environmental disaster.

All pictures in this article are the satellite images of amber mining sites. You could click on each image to see the area on the map

Around 50 000 of Ukrainians are engaged in illegal amber mining.

Residents of amber-rich areas do not skip "work shifts". Estimately 50 000 Ukrainians are involved in illegal amber mining. They vary in age and status: high school students, pensioners, even teachers and priests. They operate on more than 5,500 hectares (official approximation). Goverment officials estimate annual profits of illegal mining at USD 120-300 million.

90 per cent of gemstones is exported to China, the rest is distributed between the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and European countries. China is the key price setter for the Ukrainian amber.

Annual revenue from illegal mining, according to government estimates, is $120-300 million.

Before reaching the end customer, Ukrainian amber is legalized in Poland where licensing is cheap and transparent, and sold at the Gdansk commodity exchange. It means that the Polish intermediaries receive a big share of profit. They head this money to develop amber processing, scientific research, and legal trade. In Ukraine, illegal mining deprives amber diggers of big profits and prevents restoration of land.

In 2016 a new supplier for China and the new competitor for Ukraine emerged. Kaliningrad amber factory from Russia has struck a deal with the Chinese jewelry company to supply 680 tons of amber in 3 years.

While in Kaliningrad mining sites the amber is excavated by machines, Ukrainians dig it with shovels, or power pumps at best.

This competition derailed prices: a chunk of 100 g, the size of a fist, may cost USD 2-4 thousand. This is twice less than during the lucrative period of 2012-2014, but the amber diggers do not abandon their shovels and pumps.

The amber from Ukraine deposits is of better quality, but Russians excavate more and sell cheaper.

To find the places mutilated by illegal mining, we developed and deployed a machine learning algorithm (read about methodology). It screens through several hundreds of thousands of satellite images to detect key amber mining sites in three Polissya regions with total area of 70 thousands square kilometers. Below you can see the most detailed map of illegal amber mining in Ukraine. You could download data for this map.

Attention! Interactive map. Zoom in and watch satellite imagery

Leprosy of

the land

Thousands hectares of land turned into lunar landscapes due to illegal amber mining. Our machine model found traces of such activity on satellite images for the area of 70,000 square km.

Illegal extraction of gemstones provide "jobs" to thousands of people who live near such deposits in Volyn, Zhytomyr, and most of all, in Rivne region of a country. A few decades ago one could hardly imagine how to make profit out of the "solar stone". In the past people could dig up amber in their backyards and burn it in stoves as a fuel for house heating.

Ukraine has a world amber market share of 30-40%, it is from 250 to 350 tons.

Everything changed in 2012-13. The town hotels of Rivnenska oblast have never seen so many Chinese people before. Foreigners brought currency and smuggled the amber back to China. The Chinese buyers paid generously, so the amber mining got mechanized — shovels gave way to power pumps. It was the golden age for amber diggers leading to environmental disaster. All pictures in this article are the satellite images of amber mining sites.

Around 50 000 of Ukrainians are engaged in illegal amber mining.

Residents of amber-rich areas do not skip "work shifts". Estimately 50 000 Ukrainians are involved in illegal amber mining. They vary in age and status: high school students, pensioners, even teachers and priests. They operate on more than 5,500 hectares (official approximation). Goverment officials estimate annual profits of illegal mining at USD 120-300 million.

Annual revenue from illegal mining, according to government estimates, is $120-300 million.

Before reaching the end customer, Ukrainian amber is legalized in Poland where licensing is cheap and transparent, and sold at the Gdansk commodity exchange. It means that the Polish intermediaries receive a big share of profit. They head this money to develop amber processing, scientific research, and legal trade. In Ukraine, illegal mining deprives amber diggers of big profits and prevents restoration of land.

In 2016 a new supplier for China and the new competitor for Ukraine emerged. Kaliningrad amber factory from Russia has struck a deal with the Chinese jewelry company to supply 680 tons of amber in 3 years.

While in Kaliningrad mining sites the amber is excavated by machines, Ukrainians dig it with shovels, or power pumps at best.

This competition derailed prices: a chunk of 100 g, the size of a fist, may cost USD 2-4 thousand. This is twice less than during the lucrative period of 2012-2014, but the amber diggers do not abandon their shovels and pumps.

To find the places mutilated by illegal mining, we developed and deployed a machine learning algorithm (read about methodology). It screens through several hundreds of thousands of satellite images to detect key amber mining sites in three regions with total area of 70 thousands square kilometers. Below you can see the most detailed map of illegal amber mining in Ukraine. You could download data for this map.

Attention! Interactive map. Zoom in and watch satellite imagery

Programming and special effects

Design and programming

Modeling

Developing

Text

texty.org.ua

Vlad HERASYMENKO

Nadia KELM

Anatoliy BONDARENKO

Yevheniia DROZDOVA

Yaroslava TYMOSHCHUK

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