Can Ukraine Offer The World Hobbyist Military Technology? – Part II

Dear Readers:

Continuing to read this piece in VZGLIAD, written by Nikita Volchenko.  We are discussing the strange phenomenon of “hobbyist military technology”, as popularized by Ukrainian nationalists.  One recalls these nationalist volunteers on the Maidan of 2013-2014 wielding improvised weapons (such as baseball bats studded with nails) against the police and National Guard.  People watching the news on TV got used to the sight of grown men and women wearing bicycle helmets while tossing Molotov cocktails at the National Guard and Berkut.  More sinisterly, one recalls the events of May 2, 2014, in which neo-Nazi auxiliary formations, including teenaged girls, cooked up home-made incendiary devices on the streets of Odessa, the purpose being to burn dozens of “pro-Russian” demonstrators alive inside the Trade Union Building.

Maidan weapons: Rocks and Molotov cocktails

Because the Maidanites won and were able to seize the government, they might have gotten it into their heads, and other people might have the impression as well, that a rabble with improvised weapons and armor are militarily able to defeat a regular army and regular police  I call this line of thinking the “Ewok myth”.

This is not what actually happened in Kiev.  The Ukrainian regular forces and Berkut could have dispersed this rabble definitively in a single hour, if they had been ordered to do so.  Instead, they were ordered to stand down, and take whatever was dished out against them.  The Maidan game was rigged — by the European Union, the United States, the lack of will of the Yanukovych government.  Maidan was a political, not a military, defeat, for Yanukovych.  He lost in the halls of Brussels, not on the streets of Kiev.  And yet the images of Maidan “rebels” with their hobbyist weapons and armor was political catnip for Westie audiences, who are trained to think in a certain way about “good guys” vs “bad guys”.  Brave yet disorganized INDIVIDUALIST rebels vs mindless Stormtroopers of the Evil Empire, blah blah blah.

Can Ewok catapult technology defeat the Death Star?

At the same time, it is not prudent to scoff at every new thing that happens in the world.  One wonders, is there anything at all in this hyped phenomenon of “hobbyist” military technology which serious military analysts should take note of?   Are there any real lessons that can be learned, any tips in these antics of children that be absorbed by the adults?  Or should it all just be dismissed as hype and Westie propaganda?  Lord knows that the Westies themselves rely on professional armies, trained and equipped with the very latest technology.  One doesn’t see NATO soldiers marching around wearing colanders on their heads.

But, as Volchenko notes, the various conflicts raging in the post-Soviet space never garnered as much popular participation as did the Ukrainian civil war.  Normally these conflicts are confined to small groups of people bearing particular political grudges.  In the case of the Ukraine, however, literally hundreds of volunteer groups sprang up overnight from within the population.

Further:  After their side won the revolution and seized the government, these volunteer formations did not disband and just go home.  On the contrary, the hobbyist mob now became a hobbyist army.  As the real army disintegrated and disbanded.  The new army was supported by volunteer donations.  And not just bake sales:  These volunteers purchased uniforms, wove camouflage nets, set up workshops to repair vehicles, and engaged in every type of provisioning activity.  Basically performing all the support and supply-chain functions which are usually performed by the regular military of an actual army.

Ukrainian tank made out of dumpsters

To compare with a “normal” country like Russia or the United States:  New military technologies are constantly being developed, but the customer is the government itself, while the producer is the military-industrial complex.  Very little “local initiative” takes place in this type of system, and “volunteer projects” are almost unheard of.  The Russian people, like the American people, are content to leave their defense in the hands of the experts.  I am not so sure about the American case, but the Russian science and industry appear to work quite well in carrying out the government’s requisitions.  This is why Russia still has a space program and continues to innovate in the sphere of military technology.  In the Ukraine, on the other hand, the regular army barely exists; and military/technical innovation is in the hands of small groups of volunteers.  Engineers working out of small shops are eager to send the fruits of their ingenuity to the front lines of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.  To test their products against reality, in the heat of actual war.

Innovations in Armor

If anything in this effort is successful at all, the success can be ascribed to the traditionally high level of education and literacy of the Ukrainian population.  Ukrainians inherited from the Soviet Union a legacy of science, technology, and especially engineering.  Ukraine was at the heart of the Soviet military-industrial complex.  This legacy still exists, but is already fading rapidly, as the Ukraine de-industrializes, her economy in free fall; and her once great education system degenerating before our very eyes.

Despite all of this, there are Ukrainians who, fueled by a passionate nationalist ideology, are determined to make their country great again, via personal achievements in innovation.  Volchenko goes on to discuss the situation of armored technology in the Ukrainian war on the Eastern front.  Emphasis is on the repair and refitting of old Soviet tanks; and on the armoring of civilian vehicles.  Ukrainian nationalists have boasted new innovator products such as the “Azovets”, a tank created for urban warfare.

Russian “Platform M” robotic tank

Another product which raised eyebrows in Russian military circles was the so-called “First People’s Tank”, an ambitious robotic device designed to compete against its Russian counterpart “Platform M”.  The Ukrainian device is designed to be small and carry a variety of weapons.  Ukrainian volunteers attempted to build their own version from donated funds.  They estimated they needed 270,000 hryvnas (approx $10,000 U.S. dollars), but were only able to raise 73% of the money needed.  Meanwhile, the lead engineer on the team, Valery Prud, a native of Nikolaev, has evolved politically since those days, and now is busy organizing meetings in his home town to protest against the rise of prices for public services.

Valery Prud led the team which tried to build the tank.

Ukrainian volunteers also devoted their resourcefulness to the creation of the so-called “Holy Nicholas”.  This was basically an armored ambulance, designed to carry the wounded from the front lines.  The Nicholas was developed at the old Soviet Nikolaevsk tank factory, now dubbed the “Mad Max Tank Factory” where neo-Nazi craftsmen from the Azov Battalation attempted to work over everything from old tanks to garbage trucks.  Readers, please to scroll through the photos in the piece I just linked.  These pictures tell the entire story of what has happened to the Ukraine in the past 25 years.  The reporter quotes factory foreman and Azov leader Bogdan Zvarych:

“We use a lot of the equipment that was left behind. During the Soviet Union they made these machines to work 50 years,” he says. “They’re still very good and very accurate. In the USSR, everything was like that. A very simple car should run. It runs shitty, it looks ugly, but it runs. And it will run for 50 years.”

Soviet BTR-70 armored personnel carrier

Ukrainian nationalists were apparently born without a sense of irony.  Since it never seems to occur to men like Zvarych that the “bloody Communist” system which they hate so much, created technology to run for 50 years; whereas all that the “new men” like Zvarych are capable of, is scavenging used parts from a past which they deride.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where the scavenging Hyenas spit on the Lion, the King of the Beasts, while helping themselves to his leftovers.

Needless to say, the “Holy Nicholas” which was patched together, like a Frankenstein monster, from old Soviet BTR-70 tanks; and which was celebrated publicly by the victors of the Maidan, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenuk, as they cracked a champagne bottle and sent the monster out to the front lines — needless to say, this misgotten creature failed in the most epic manner under actual conditions of actual reality.  This engineering marvel could barely move and kept breaking down.  Basically, it was not able to keep running in real time for even 50 minutes, let alone 50 years.  As Star Trek’s Helmsman Geordi La Forge might have rebuked Zvarych:  “You’re not very smart.  You can’t make it go.”

And so much for “innovations” in the world of armor.  But what about the vaunted Ukrainian expertise in the world of cyber warfare?

[to be continued]

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12 Responses to Can Ukraine Offer The World Hobbyist Military Technology? – Part II

  1. Pavlo Svolochenko says:

    I see you’re putting Betteridge’s law to good use.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks, Pavlo!

      When I craft my headlines I try to vary a little Betteridge with the occasional New York Post – the gold standard for tabloid sensationalism!


      • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

        ‘Headless body in topless bar’ – still the greatest headline ever written. Incidentally, did you ever read Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin?

        This may be of interesting to re Ukrainian cyber warfare, if you hadn’t heard of it already.


        • yalensis says:

          Yup, there should be a Pulitzer Prize for greatest misleading yet ultimately factual headlines. My personal favorite in the Russian press is “Americans admit they were never on the moon.” Forgive me, because I know I have told this story before, but basically, the Russian travel reporter went to America and interviewed some tourists at a planetarium. Pointing upwards at the exhibit, he asked them, “Have you ever been to the moon?” and they all answered, “No.” Thus, the misleading yet ultimately factual headline.

          Fortunately for the reporter, Neil Armstrong didn’t happen to be there, otherwise it would have ruined his little joke!


        • yalensis says:

          No, I haven’t read Helprin’s novel. I just googled it, and it sounds interesting. Do you recommend it?


          • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

            Loved it. At times enraptured, at other times just plain frustrated, but I recommend without reserve or hesitation.

            Some people don’t have the patience or sense of wonder for it – I pity them very much. Anywho, if you do read it, the link between it and the headlines of the New York Post will eventually become apparent.


        • yalensis says:

          Thanks for posting that Variag piece. Basically confirms what people have long suspected: that the CIA is running trolls in the Russian blogosphere.

          Normally I wouldn’t approve of being a “stukach” and running crying to the security services about another blogger being a traitor — that’s a bit too rat-finky for my liking.
          But in this case Novikov was justified, because he exposed that the CIA bots had actually stolen the identity of a real person and basically sliming his reputation as well as being assholes themselves.


          • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

            It explains a lot really. Especially on Twitter and disquis you meet a lot of trolls who give the impression of being bots, or else human beings who failed the Turing test


  2. davidt says:

    If you would like a little giggle then Google “NT news” and click on images.


    • Pavlo Svolochenko says:


      • yalensis says:

        And all this in a city named after Darwin!


        • davidt says:

          I actually quite like Darwin- the nearby creeks and rivers are lousy with saltwater crocodiles, but the national parks are wonderful. The last time I was there a rather big US helicopter carrier was in port. I think that US marines are more or less permanently based there now- this seems to be central to Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”
          By the way, my next door neighbor moved to New York as editor of the Post. The funny thing is that one day my old School got a phone call from a mathematician on the east coast who was very much involved in the “Maths Wars”. It was partly because he wanted advice as to whether I thought the NYP would take up the cudgels on the conservative side of the Math Wars. That seemed to me to be a very naive hope. (My neighbor’s house boasted photographs of the family posing with Bill Clinton- a gentle reminder of how things work.)


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