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Serhiy Prytula on his new fundraiser and Ukrainian drones

Mar 25, 2024

Ukrainian volunteer activist and politician Serhiy Prytula and his charitable foundation have announced an urgent fundraising campaign to purchase ten mine rollers worth UAH 40 million ($1 million).

In an interview with NV Radio on Aug. 29, he explained how urgently and in which areas they are needed, as well as sharing other news about the foundation’s activities.

NV: Your new initiative is aimed at strengthening the Ukrainian counter-offensive and protecting the Ukrainian military. Tell us about it.

Prytula: This is the result of our team’s latest trip to Zaporizhzhya and Kharkiv oblasts, and the Donbas. We spent Aug. 23-24 on road trips, delivering aid to five units in Zaporizhzhya Oblast and 13 units in the Donbas and Kharkiv Oblast.

Every time you come, you get some mass of information, which you then apply in your work. And here, in addition to the traditional items that we discuss with the military regarding supplies, we were puzzled by the question [we got from troops in] in the Zaporizhzhya area: “Do you have any mine rollers?”

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And this led to the fact that we prepared for this project in a few days after returning to Kyiv.

We’re raising funds for ten mine rollers. This is an extremely important thing during our counter-offensive, because I think it’s not a secret for anyone that the Russians have strewn Ukrainian land with minefields so that it’s extremely difficult to overcome them. And, of course, it’s better to use appropriate specialized equipment as not to endanger the lives of our soldiers or lose armored vehicles, which we also need very much.

That’s why we studied the market. We tried to do it as quickly as possible.

We immediately tested one sample that was offered to us. I was actually surprised. It seemed to me that producing such products is not a problem in our country with its [metal] casting capacities. That is, it’s just a pile of iron. Yes, it’s a very heavy pile of iron. That is, the rollers we’re going to purchase weigh 7.5 tons each. And yes, it must be cast correctly.

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We were offered production from several regions. The pricing policy ranged from UAH 4 million ($109,383) to UAH 6.5 million ($177,748) per unit. We settled on the one that costs UAH 4 million. It’s cheaper, but not necessarily worse.

Another sample we tested costs UAH 5.1 million ($139,464). Of course, we didn’t pay for it. The manufacturer hoped this test would satisfy us. To put it mildly, the roller didn’t pass the test properly. Because the manual states that such rollers should withstand 10 TM-57s, probably four TM-62s. These are anti-tank mines. I won’t go into details.

We’ve focused on the manufacturer who is already certified and has established production. It’s already in mass production. Therefore, we’ll buy from these manufacturers.

I don’t know how much we can buy. We’re trying [to buy] ten, but if people give more money, we’ll buy more. Because everyone who is on the front line, especially tank crews, is very much asking for these items. And that’s why I’m asking everyone: please join this fundraiser.

This is not a mega-fundraiser, it’s just UAH 40 million. This is not some sky-high budget that we couldn’t raise in two days. We set a maximum of two days for raising funds, realizing that it’s the end of the month. Not all family budgets operate with large amounts that can be donated. But we’ll be able to transfer these products to the front in a couple of weeks. We’re doing everything quite quickly.

NV: Given that this is mass production, does this mean that the state also orders mine rollers? That is, not only volunteers are engaged in this? I think this is also important.

Prytula: Let’s just say: yes, the government will also order mine rollers there.

NV: If things go well, can we say that the number of these mine rollers will be increased?

Prytula: We talked with the manufacturers. They guaranteed us that they could produce 20 mine rollers in September. If people donate more, it’s obvious that we can buy more.

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Still, there is some production capacity. We were promised that they could produce a maximum of 20 pieces in September. But they say that they can increase the capacity to 50 pieces per month in October and the following months.

NV: Serhiy, you went to Zaporizhzhya, what did you bring there, if it’s not a secret?

Prytula: We brought different things. The vehicle chassis, for example. A few months ago, our foundation won the auction for the sale of the bankrupt company’s property. And this company had 20 brand new (KIA) KM 450 chassis. It’s a little smaller than a standard truck, but a little more than a Hummer SUV. A very passable car. A real beast. All we had to do was to finish the bodies or install KUNGs (van bodies) or platforms, depending on the needs of the units to which we distributed these chassis.

This is actually one of the most successful examples of the foundation’s work this year. Because we bought 20 pieces of such incredibly cool equipment for UAH 2.6 million ($71,099). The whole batch of 20 pieces. And now we handed them over to the marines, the landing forces, and the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade.

What I liked the most was how the 503rd Borsuky [Badgers] marine infantry battalion handled the vehicles (it was no longer the Zaporizhzhya area, we had already arrived in the Donbas). They asked us to make a solid platform and installed an anti-aircraft gun on it. Other guys mostly used [these vehicles] to transport weapon systems, sometimes personnel.

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When we handed over the Snatch Land Rover armored vehicles for the 503rd battalion, we transformed the armored car into a medical evacuation vehicle. And this is also one of the biggest requests in all front sections now – to provide medical evacuation vehicles. I won’t say that the foundation has not worked and is not working in this direction. Because, in addition to the said Snatch, we’ll also contract these armored vehicles in the UK. Definitely. They have proven themselves very well.

As part of our work on restoring trophy equipment... When the guys knock out Russian military equipment, they give it to us, to the foundation, we restore it and give back to the front. Russian weapons are already firing at Russia. We’ve already transformed about 10 MT-LBs (amphibious armored fighting vehicles) into medical evacuation vehicles in the past eight months. Tracked armored vehicles are worth their weight in gold at the front.

NV: Our military is demonstrating a creative approach, right?

Prytula: It seems to me that if it weren’t for some creative component of our military, the situation would be much worse.

What’s more: every time we understand that Russians actually learn too. In fact, thank God that we’re half a step or a step ahead of them in some areas. But they learn very quickly. And maybe some of their technologies are not so perfect, sometimes, excuse me, made of shit and sticks, but they take over with their numbers. Those tactics of small groups, which were used and are used by our military, have now been adopted by the Russians as well. And our troops must constantly invent something new both in tactics, and in provision, and in logistics – in everything.

NV: Disturbing information: unfortunately, the Russians now have a lot of drones, they launched a production line of Iranian Shahed UAVs. What are our prospects for surviving this arms race in the UAV and drone segment?

Prytula: The task is extremely difficult, but not unrealistic. I had a meeting with specialists. Because, of course, we also monitor the military technology market in Ukraine. We look closely at everything new and interesting that appears. We’re waiting for the successful use of an UAV, or a mobile platform for remote firing large-caliber machine guns [we’ve recently purchased], and then we buy these items.

Read also: Kamikaze drones terrify residents of Russian Bryansk – video.

We just cannot invest in these production capacities. But if it has already proven itself well, we’re ready to work. We have now looked at new types of kamikaze UAVs that can cover from 200 kilometers and beyond, and can carry a warhead to hit important targets in temporarily occupied territories.

NV: Is this a Ukrainian development, Ukrainian production?

Prytula: Yes of course. Last year, when we were fundraising for our ‘payback’ campaign, we contracted 142 kamikaze UAVs, which were all manufactured in Ukraine. Therefore, we are now paying attention to three [domestic] manufacturers. Interesting designs. And I think we will soon start fundraising for them as well. And I hope we can purchase a lot

It’s the same with FPV [first-person view] drones. I saw the first FPV drone in the Donbas in the winter of 2021, even before the full-scale invasion. And I had plans, in cooperation with another fund, to launch the production of these FPV drones in Ukraine in 2022. We calculated the budget at that time. The situation with donations was completely different at that moment. We understood that it would take a very long time. But we were already ahead of the Russians at that time.

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We already understood what it was and what kind of technologies it was. In fact, we were the first to start using them properly from our side of the front.

But China is a bit closer to Russia. And the relations are less strained, let’s say. Therefore, it’s very difficult for us to compete with them, but this competition is taking place. That is, someone constantly raises funds for FPV drones in Ukraine, someone imports FPV drones. Logistics also takes a lot of time. But the process is underway.

I know that some companies have already started producing individual parts for FPV drones – microchips, etc. We still can’t produce [entire FPV UAVs] on our own yet, but I think we’ll make progress sooner or later.

NV: You drew attention to three manufacturers. These are three companies that manufacture drones. Does the state work with them, make any orders? I still return to the issue of synergy.

Prytula: The state makes many orders. In 2023, it’s about hundreds, probably thousands of systems. From what I know, there are more than a dozen Ukrainian manufacturers of various types of UAVs, both strike and reconnaissance. Some western models are also contracted, like FlyEye or Vector. It might be Poseidon, but I could be wrong. A few more manufacturers.

But the emphasis is, of course, on domestic producers. The state contracts, for example, Leleka-100 or Furia UAVs by hundreds. I would like to note that I’m not currently engaged in any kind of advocacy. I just want to voice some real things.

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I really liked the initiative, which was brought to a reasonable conclusion by [Digital Transformation Minister] Mykhailo Fedorov. It just so happens that many things he suggests go in very well. This is the Brave1 platform, which I would like those who start some kind of military production or some kind of innovation to pay attention to.

If you have an innovative military technology even at the development stage, pay attention to this platform. Because it includes several ministries, such as the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the Ministry of Strategic Industries, etc. They are representatives of the state, the regulator. And they are the customer for what you can produce. There are also large funds that can later buy your products. There are manufacturers who come with their developments. And there are also investors who check this platform to see if there is something interesting to invest in these developments.

That is, this platform is also gradually gaining momentum, showing its viability and effectiveness. I already know that they have allocated (albeit not much amid what is happening now) about a million dollars to beginners, developers for their startups. It’s very cool. That is, we don’t stand still in that regard.

NV: Serhiy, you mentioned that the foundation is involved in the restoration of trophy equipment. How much has the Russian military and industrial complex changed? Are there any new examples of Russian military equipment?

Prytula: I think the latest ones that are being knocked out will definitely not be handed over to volunteers for restoring as they must be examined by specialists.

NV: That is, they are disassembled into spare parts and studied?

Prytula: Exactly. This happens with everything: what is interesting, what is new in armaments, everything is subject to examination.

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Honestly, I’m not an expert on the technical characteristics of armored vehicles. But it’s obvious there’s nothing new among the equipment we repair. We had a BTR-82 armored personnel carrier, one or two pieces. But we usually have recovery and maintenance armored vehicle, these are infantry fighting vehicles. We restored nine or ten T-72 tanks.

We transformed one Smerch multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). That was a challenge for us. Because one thing is to screw the nuts in an armored personnel carrier, while another thing is to transform the MLRS. It seems based on a KamAZ Typhoon truck. This is from something that we don’t have in service.

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I’m very happy with this direction. When we counted everything in July, it turned out that we had repaired 34 pieces of armored vehicles in a year. We started working in this direction since July last year. The total budget for repairs amounted to UAH 26 million ($710,992). We understand that one T-72 tank is probably worth four times more. And now, over the past month or a month and a half, we’ve completed eight more pieces of equipment.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine