Force of the sky

They are called “sky snipers”, “birds”, “fliers”. They are scouts and forward observers. Today there are hundreds, thousands of them… They perform combat tasks every day, saving soldiers’ lives and destroying the enemy.

This war has long been called the war of drones and artillery. So many different unmanned aerial systems have never been used in any other war.

But even now, military experts do not always realize the importance and power of drones. Even the cheapest of them can save a Ukrainian soldier’s life. And the most expensive one will be just an “expensive toy”. It’s all about application and qualification.

Technology is practice

Surprisingly, the main partners in Ukraine’s security, the Americans, still do not consider the “doctrine” of UAV as an independent weapon. They rather see these “birds” as an auxiliary tool for conducting trench warfare. That is why they often produce their UAVs without taking into account powerful Russian EW systems.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that the drones manufactured by the American company Skydio are too delicate and unable to overcome Russian GPS jamming technology. Sometimes they even fail to take off, complete a mission or return.

Meanwhile, according to the WSJ, the Ukrainian army uses about ten thousand drones a month, so Kyiv is looking for opportunities to buy cheaper aircraft, in particular, in China.

But the “birds” discussed below are produced in Ukraine!

Clothes, pot-bellied stoves, candles, nets

We previously met with Ruslan Udovin, head of the board of Zmiiv NGO “Zhmenya Dobra” (A Handful of Good), in November 2022. At that time, the team of this Zmiiv NGO was actively engaged in making pot-bellied stoves for military units. But it was already the “next step”. They started by collecting food and clothes for the displaced people. In the first months after the full-scale invasion, the Zmiiv community accommodated a record number of refugees for the Kharkiv region — more than 27,000! Those people had to leave everything and run away from the invaders. Today, by the way, citizens of Vovchansk, Kupyansk, Bily Kolodyaz and other towns and villages that Russia is simply wiping off the map come to Zmiiv.

Before the all-out war, Ruslan Udovin had his own production facility, which was put on hold on February 24, 2022. But it didn’t stand idle for long, because Ruslan, together with like-minded people, began to use the facility for the needs of the military. That’s how they began producing pot-bellied stoves.

Ruslan Udovin and his first pot-bellied stoves

The volunteers began making them without waiting for any official requests from the units of the Armed Forces, and the orders came after the first batch of pot-bellied stoves had gone to the front.

“We made the first batch using our own raw materials,” Ruslan recalls. “But when the order came, we realized that we couldn’t produce it on our own. So we had to turn to caring people for help. And people responded.”

Empty, used gas cylinders and other necessary materials for making pot-bellied stoves were brought to the workshops.

Even in this production “chaos”, heaters were not made according to a template, but to meet specific needs of particular departments. Some were smaller, some were larger. Once, they even made pot-bellied stoves that “worked” on trench candles…

Later, the NGO members began to make trench candles, weave nets and produce warmers. They bought and keep buying cars and spare parts for military units. Sometimes they didn’t even have to open a collection – they managed it themselves. At first, they counted the cars: “Handful 1”, “Handful 2″… Now they post laconic reports on social media: “We have sent a bus”.

Ruslan Udovin, head of the board of NGO “Zhmenya Dobra”

Time to fly

Currently “Zhmenya Dobra” has suspended its activities in most of the areas from which their volunteering began. One cannot square the circle. Therefore, they focused on what they consider the most important. The team directs all its skills, abilities, knowledge and resources to produce and repair drones.

“UAVs are the future, – the head of the board of NGO “Zhmenya Dobra” assures. – I often visit military units close to hot spots and see how the ‘birds’ destroy the enemy.”

The drones in Ruslan Udovin’s hands are not from among the promised “million drones”. By the way, these promised drone have not been seen at the front yet. They are not provided under the “People’s FPV” project either. Although these drones are used at the front line, their quality is often such that they even fail to take off.

Drones from “Zhmenya Dobra” are originally designed – “Bombers” and “Kamikaze”.

Ruslan Udovin revived his old ties with the specialists from the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute who helped develop UAVs. A completely new team of IT specialists was assembled. By the way, before the all-out war, scientists of the Kharkiv Polytechnic University worked on new possibilities of using unmanned aerial vehicles in the national economy, in particular, to diagnose emergency states of electrical equipment with their help. But the specialized department ceased to exist in 2019 and its specialists moved away, including abroad.

NGO “Zhmenya Dobra” currently includes many people working in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, and other cities of Ukraine. Such “dispersion” is done for the safety of both people and production.

The first drones from “Zhmenya Dobra” appeared about six months ago. And at that time, no one knew whether anything worthwhile would come out of that “toy”. But it worked! So why not? Why not to start mass production of them? Especially since there were necessary contacts with the military. And this is the most important thing. Because it is necessary to promptly respond to their requests and adjust products for specific combat tasks.

Every drone manufactured by “Zhmenya Dobra” is tested on a training ground. Without this, the “birds” are not sent to the front.

The same applies to drones that have undergone repair. They are tested.

“For example, recently guys from a military unit deployed in the Donetsk sector sent us 18 “people’s drones” for repair. And before that, about 60 non-functioning UAVs were sent to us for repair. You can imagine how much effort and resources were spent on their creation, and as a result — just a heap of scrap metal. And it’s good that these drones have been repaired and may still work,” Ruslan says.

“Zhmenya Dobra” has already produced more than 500 “birds”, which successfully help destroy the enemy in the Donetsk, Kupyansk and, of course, Kharkiv sectors. The latter requires many-many drones!

According to the estimates of the head of the board of NGO “Zhmenya Dobra,” the entire organization network can currently produce up to 1,000 drones per month. But this requires funds. Therefore, “Zhmenya” opens small banks and asks caring people to donate. Actions in support of this initiative have been recently held in Zmiiv and Kyiv.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to generate large funds now. Even if it is for a good cause, and if you are known and trusted. Therefore, “Zhmenya Dobra” opens “small” banks in order to accumulate funds faster. Besides, it holds prize draws in collaboration with artists, and not only with those from Zmiiv. Last year, Serhiy Zhadan signed his new book “Skrypnykivka” for one of the prize draws held by “Zhmenya.” And now shell casings painted by Zmiiv artist Iryna Makovetska are increasingly being used as prizes.

A military artifact painted by Iryna Makovetska

Those who want to join this important effort — the production of drones, can find the bank details of the NGO “Zhmenya Dobra” on social netoworks.

Together to victory!

Author: Tetiana Logvina, journalist of “Visti Zmiivshchyny” newspaper, Kharkiv region.

*All photos are provided by the author.

*Supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.