Russia-Ukraine War: Latest News and Live Updates

In a workshop in western Ukraine, a group of amateur drone pilots gathered around a table recently as a technician outfitted a racing drone to carry a grenade, transforming a plane found in hobby shops into a weapon in the war against Russia.

Two American businessmen, who arrived from the United States with a donation of a dozen similar drones, watched.

The drones are just a small part of an unprecedented public response to the Ukrainian military’s pleas for resources to help it fight much better-equipped Russian forces.

“Basically, we have a little drone hub here,” said a Ukrainian drone operator who, for security reasons, asked to be identified only by his middle name, Oleksandr.

He also asked that the location of the workshop not be disclosed. “We build drones and rebuild existing drones for use in rescue operations, military operations and search operations.”

In practice, many recreational drones have short lifespans.

“The enemy is hitting them, so some of them only live for a day or two,” Oleksandr said, referring to the fact that drones can be shot down in flight. “But in that day or two, they have important missions. We protect ourselves.

The group also simplifies drone control and trains Ukrainian service members to fly them. The amateur drones brought over from the United States are first-person view, meaning they have a camera transmitting live footage to a pair of goggles. This gives the impression that the pilot is in a cockpit. The drones reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour and Oleksandr said pilots who fly them in professional competitions train for years.

Unlike the United States, where drone pilots must pass tests, in Ukraine they are virtually unregulated.

“For drone enthusiasts in the United States, doing anything with military hardware is next to impossible,” said Chad Kapper, the founder of Rotor Riot, whose holding company Red Cat Holdings supplied 10 of the drones that he delivered to Ukraine. “The hobby is unregulated in some sense, so they can use as much as they can.”

Mr Kapper, a former Marine whose YouTube channel Flite Test has two million subscribers, said drones like the ones he provided would help fill a gap while Ukraine waits for more military-grade drones. He said he got involved after contacting Oleksandr, whom he knew from the international racing drone community, to find out how he was doing.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

For Oleksandr and the other Ukrainian pilots, technicians and engineers at the drone center, the effort is a continuation of a war that began in 2014 when the Ukrainian military turned to civilians to help offset its lack of equipment in its fight against the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula.

“The military are now calling me from different places, from different battalions and they say ‘can you send more? We don’t have any more,” said Oleksandr, who in peacetime is an organizer of sporting events.

He said the drones brought by the Americans, which each cost around $1,000 and up, would be useful for a range of tasks such as transporting explosives, spotting Russian units and targeting artillery. . They could also be equipped with infrared cameras to locate and help rescue people in destroyed buildings or forests.

“There’s nothing illegal,” said a Tennessee contractor who helped buy and deliver the drones in what he described as a humanitarian mission. He asked to remain anonymous because he feared for his safety. “They asked for drones. What they do with it is entirely up to them.

The war narrative of a weaker country fending off a powerful aggressor and the specter of genocide in Europe resonated strongly with Americans and others around the world.

“After sending money, I just didn’t feel like I was doing enough,” the American businessman said. “I have resources and I have connections in this part of the world. And I knew I could make a difference by putting some things in place to help with drone supply.

Many drones are funded by a local aid organization that helps the military. The American businessman, who said he was contacted by the Ukrainian military for help, said he was also setting up a charity to allow people to donate to buy drones for Ukraine.

About Jeff M. Thompson

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