- Frontline units lack equipment from drones and night vision gear to spades.
- An Estonian formed an aid organization in Kyiv which has already raised over one million euros.
- Ukraine’s old trouble: some official aid gets lost on the way.
It is no secret that the Ukrainian soldiers on the fronts suffer a serious shortage of artillery, tanks, rocket launchers and other heavy equipment. Postimees learned that in the fifth months of the war of independence, Ukrainian frontline units face an increasing shortage of even the most elementary equipment as the stockpiles are gradually running out.
“Transmitters, night vision equipment, thermal cameras, drones,” one of the garrison commanders of the frontline Zaporizhya region rapidly lists the most urgent equipment they need.
“Drones, cars – especially pickups trucks –, individual protection gear, body armor and helmets, radio transmitters,” adds a commander of the Kraken Battalion fighting in the Kharkiv area.
“Night vision equipment, thermal cameras, optical sights, rangefinders, tablet computers, pickup trucks,” the commander of a territorial defense brigade in the Dnipro region immediately behind the East Ukrainian frontline.
The commander of a battalion fighting at Donetsk tells Postimees that he could use all the above – they lack the same items – and explains: “We had four pickups with machine guns a month ago, but now there are none left.” He adds another somewhat surprising item to the list of equipment they need – ordinary solder’s spades. “If you need to change positions quickly, digging in is the first thing to do. We often have to equip new positions under artillery fire. This requires spades which we do not have,” he says.
One of the commanders of a Ukrainian brigade-strength volunteer unit operating to the north of Kharkiv says that some of his men still wear Soviet-era body armor and helmets. “This armor does not stop practically any bullets and the helmets can be cracked with a fist,” he characterizes his troops’ protective gear. “The men have to buy the most elementary protection on their own and the volunteer organizations are helping, of course.”
The situation is much the same everywhere. All units fighting in Ukraine have a long list of equipment they are badly short of or lack altogether. Frontline operations use up a lot of equipment but replacing it is becoming increasingly difficult. And it will become colder in three months which means that they will need a different kind of equipment.
Foreign aid is becoming increasingly important
There are hundreds of aid organizations in Ukraine which support military personnel, but it is already apparent that their capabilities are limited both financially as well as to their ability to obtain equipment from outside Ukraine. And the longer the war lasts, the less they can help.
With every passing month, the role played by international volunteers in the war in Ukraine is increasing. One such successful aid organization was created by Harri, a 35-year-old Estonian in Kyiv. (For security reasons he does not want to publish his full name; his name is known to Postimees.)
It all started with Harri and his friends from Estonia delivering to Ukraine five tons of protective plates (1,200 units) for body armor. As the Polish authorities held the aid cargo on the border for three days (Postimees wrote about it on April 19), Harri had time to communicate with other donors and the Ukrainians. He realized that armor plates for 600 men or a battalion-sized unit seems a lot in the Estonian context, but given the needs of the Ukrainian army, it was just a drop in the sea.
Harri, who worked as a sales manager of a large international construction company in the Baltic’s, compiled a business plan for helping the Ukrainian army while waiting at the Media border crossing station with the funding scheme and social media strategy playing an important role. When he finally arrived in Kyiv, he already had a specific action plan and the necessary contacts.
The Estonian builds up the aid organization
Harri, whose grandfather comes from the Crimea, has now a team of nearly 50 people around the world. With his Ukrainian helpers, he established in Kyiv the non-profit organization Ukraine Aid Operations (Ukraine Aid Ops). According to Harri, the principle of their activities is to directly support units fighting on the front. “We officially receive the list of the equipment they need. We buy everything necessary and deliver it directly to the units in the front, we have no intermediaries where some of the help could get lost,” Harri says. “This way we also become personally acquainted with the unit commanders. All further action is based on trust.”
In two months, Harri’s team has been able to raise just over a million euros through social media. According to Harri, no one from his team receives salary, not even his Ukrainian assistants.
In a month and a half, Ukraine Aid Ops obtained 20 tons of high quality protective plates for bullet-proof vests; more than 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers received protection. According to Harri, they initially focused on the personal protection equipment of the soldiers and the acquisition of drones.
"Självklart, we continue with the armor plates, this is the main resource on the front, but next we focus on obtaining night observation equipment and thermal cameras. These are very much needed on the front, especially in special units. The shortage is very serious,” Harri says. “At the beginning of the war, the Ukrainians had actually more equipment than the Russians, but now the Russians already have much more thanks to the Chinese.”
Thermal cameras are particularly important for combat units and Postimees has learned that the need for them is very acute. They were already scarce during the Donbass war and, strangely enough, the situation is hardly better eight years later. Units need thermal cameras, figuratively speaking, to prevent the enemy from sneaking up unnoticed at night.
Search for encrypted communication systems
Harri’s Ukraine Aid Ops also intends to focus on the acquisition of encrypted radio stations for the Ukrainian units. There is also extreme shortage of efficiently protected communication systems. Even many frontline units do not have proper communication systems, so that they often do not use radios which can be easily intercepted. But refusal to use radio communication in combat can cause chaos between the units and results in the threat of friendly fire.
Harri, who has been a logistics professional for years, says that Ukraine is now a logistical hell. “Equipment goes missing and no one knows where it has gone. Everyone has to figure out by themselves where and why some of the things have disappeared,” Harri comments whether the Ukrainian army has been able to make their logistics effectively function in the war. “Unit commanders are complaining – and I have realized it myself – the longer is the path of the equipment from the Polish border to the unit, the less will reach the destination.”
How to support
Supporting the Ukrainian units through Ukraine Aid Ops is possible via the website ukraineaidops.org.
Forty-six people from all over the world are working for the fund, including eight in Ukraine.
They have separate charity funds in the USA and the UK.
Their activities can be observed over Twitter @UkraineAidOps and @Harri-Est and over Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UkraineAidOps