Award-winning student from Ukraine using U of A education to help his war-torn country

Far from home, Igor Klymenko has found a community of support to finish his work on a drone that can detect landmines.


Igor Klymenko has gone from taking shelter in Ukraine's countryside to taking computing science courses at the U of A's Augustana Campus, in hopes of finishing his prize-winning prototype for a drone that can detect landmines. (Photo: Sydney Tancowny)

Igor Klymenko’s parents always told him, “If there is an opportunity, you need to take it,” and as he and his family huddled in a basement in Ukraine earlier this year, afraid for their lives, those words rang in his ears.

Feeling the explosions overhead as his country was bombed, the teen vowed to do something to help his homeland — which meant finishing a drone project he’d started in high school.

“I realized I shouldn’t stop working on my device, because today could be the last day. Each day could be the last day,” the 17-year-old recalls.

The eventual result of Klymenko’s work, a prototype that can detect landmines, not only earned him the $100,000 Global Student Prize for his innovation, but also landed him at the University of Alberta.

Less than a year after taking shelter in Ukraine’s countryside, he’s now studying computing science at Augustana Campus, determined to get the education he needs to finish the drone. 

Though he has plenty of hands-on experience in programming his prototype, “I need to know computing science better,” he says. 

An online search of universities brought Klymenko to the U of A, which he liked for its research facilities, so he applied and was accepted.

“The U of A has some of the largest laboratories in Canada, especially the physics labs, and I found out that it can be really useful working with professors in U of A labs to develop my device.”

He says he’s also looking forward to collaborating with his fellow students.

“It’s impossible to do something alone, so I want to develop soft skills that are useful for my work in the future. I have only been studying for a month, and I am already finding that it is much easier to make new friends and work on a team.”

Far from home and family, Klymenko says he was also attracted to the U of A’s Ukrainian presence.

“There is a big Ukrainian community here, and subjects connected to Ukrainian culture.”

While studying full time at the U of A, he’s also juggling part-time courses in machine-building from Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine, to add some engineering experience to his knowledge base.

It all makes for a heavy workload for the first-year student, but he says he feels compelled to do the work for the good of his country and for more than 60 other nations struggling with the treachery of landmines.

“I can save the lives of somebody’s mother, son or daughter by creating this device. We can save hundreds or even thousands of lives.”

Deadly landmines stud more than a quarter of Ukraine, Klymenko says.

“I am scared of going to the woods and to the fields near my house. We walk only on the roads.”

Klymenko plans to further refine his drone using his prize, which is awarded annually to extraordinary students to shine a light on their efforts to reshape the world for the better.

Now in its third prototype, the device uses metal detectors to detect landmines and then transmits the co-ordinates to the operator. Klymenko is also working to develop and add an AI function that can identify different types of landmines with spray paint, to aid in their safe removal.

The prototype landmine-detecting drone being developed by first-year student Igor Klymenko (Photo: Supplied)
Igor Klymenko's drone prototype uses metal detectors to find landmines and transmit location data to an operator. “I want to provide Ukraine with this project, and I want to create startups as a scientist entrepreneur to work on innovations that make the world better,” he says. (Photo: Supplied)

Once his invention is certified for use by Ukrainian authorities, Klymenko says it will be shared with his country for mass production.

Ultimately, Klymenko wants to build a career based on science, a discipline he’s always loved.

“Science for me is like an art — I can create some unimaginable things, not just for military use, but to help people in daily situations.

“I want to provide Ukraine with this project, and I want to create startups as a scientist entrepreneur to work on innovations that make the world better,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Klymenko says he’s thankful for the friendships he’s making on campus.

“I am far away from my home and my family, but I have found a lot of new people who have become my small Canadian family. And I am extremely grateful for all the Canadian people who are supporting Ukraine. It is inspiring, because they want to give you opportunities to feel better in another country.”