There has been no shortage of Ukrainian ingenuity throughout the four months that the invasion had been raging on. In another instance of Ukrainian creativity, a group called “Car4Ukraine” had been building battle vehicles for the Ukrainian forces in an attempt to contribute to the war effort.
The Ukrainians needed to be creative as they were up against an army with more military equipment than them, albeit not well-maintained, as we have seen from their military performance thus far. From the get-go, Russia had been touted as one of the world’s largest and most advanced militaries in the world, with only the United States surpassing it is a numbers game and perhaps even in a technological aspect, but I digress.
From a comparison on paper, Russia should have run over the Ukrainian Armed Forces as they had the advantage in virtually all aspects, having a far larger military budget of $61.7 billion in 2020, with Ukraine just spending $5.9 billion. In terms of armored vehicles, Ukraine only had some 2,870 armored vehicles ready to be used at any given moment, while Russia had over 19,783. That’s a pretty huge disparity, to say the least.
Wanting to contribute to the war effort, Ivan Oleksii, a 25-year-old E-sports analyst from Kherson, wanted to help retrofit civilian trucks to become combat vehicles so that the Ukrainian Armed Forces could have more vehicles at their disposal to use for whatever capacity they may deem necessary. Oleksii had a health condition that made him medically exempted from active service, but he still wanted to contribute to the fight against the Russians. Thus, the Car4Ukraine initiative was born.
Together with a bunch of volunteer mechanics and engineers, they created Car4Ukraine, where they transform civilian trucks into vehicles that are capable of carrying missiles and heavy machine guns. Yes, that’s right, those trucks you’d see on a normal day are transformed by these volunteers into battle-ready pickup trucks. Furthermore, we should mention that Car4Ukraine is not just a Ukrainian-led project, but the team is also composed of volunteers from Europe and the US.
“I wanted to do this project because it makes a very direct impact. You buy a car, fix that car, arm it, put the thing on the back to hold machine guns or anti-tank weapons, and then have a burnt Russian tank.”
According to his interview with Insider, they primarily funded their initiative through crowdfunding, where they garner support and fiscal funding through their website. Once they garner enough money to customize and build battle trucks for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, first, they purchase the trucks, usually second-hand vehicles from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, the UK, or Scandinavia, to save money.
Crowdfunding has been a central theme of the conflict, with the Ukrainians being donated a crowdfunded Bayraktar TB2 drone and the Russians being crowdfunded basic supplies such as food, night vision goggles, tools, Chinese radio equipment, and the like – not something you’d see from one of the world’s best militaries.
Oleksii revealed that they primarily purchased 4-wheel drive diesel trucks with a 2.01 engine or more. These trucks are usually from Toyota pickup trucks such as the Hilux and the Tindra, Ford Rangers, Nissan Navara, Jeep Gladiators, Mazda BT-50s or B2500, the Isuzu D-Max, and the Mitsubishi L200. These are also cars commonly found in Europe; thus, sourcing spare parts would not be a problem if ever repairs are needed for the trucks.
When the vehicles arrive in Ukraine, the team of volunteers gets to work on the body fitting steel plates to the doors and body to provide some protection from shrapnel and small arms fire. The team also adds an additional layer of metal plates to the truck’s chassis, to shield it somewhat from Russian mines and explosives.
They were also tasked to add mounting plates to the vehicles’ rear bed to mount machine guns on them and enable troops to fire Javelins, Stingers, and NLAWs from the back of the vehicle.
While we are sure that these trucks will not survive a direct hit from an anti-armor weapon, they can surely be useful to the Ukrainians in terms of being mobile and agile enough to fire their anti-tank weapons at the enemy and quickly getting out of counter-fire. Mobility and hit-and-run tactics have been the Ukrainian’s top tactic throughout the war, and light trucks are quieter and more concealable than larger purpose-built military vehicles they can use regular roads trails and bridges without their weight being a factor.
We’re also unsure what type of reinforcement they did to the body of the car. Thus, the car may not be as highly armored based on the photos we’ve seen. They may survive an indirect hit but may still be vulnerable to small arms fire. However, Oleksi did state that one of the trucks was hit by an unidentified explosive but was still able to drive away as the chassis was reinforced with metal sheets.
Quite a lot goes into making a true armored car, like thick bulletproof glass, kevlar and armored paneled body, bomb-resistant frame, and run-flat tires. We’re not seeing that in these trucks yet, but what they have added could probably give some protection from small arms and steel splinters from mortars or artillery.
This fight is personal for Oleksii as his family remains stuck in Russian-held Kherson, where the Ukrainian counteroffensive had been taking place. He said that his family still has “arms and legs” but that the situation in Kherson was dire.
“If there is at least something we can do to de-occupy the territory, we’re going to do that,” he said.
Currently, the team at Car4Ukraine is still making armored light trucks for their troops. They have also created another initiative at War-Stop.com that enables all people from around the world to purchase supplies for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. So far, they have successfully retrofitted and upgraded some 60 vehicles.
Looks like crowdfunding is not going anywhere anytime soon, with both sides of the conflict engaging in crowdfunding to supply their troops with the weapons they need to win. Check out Car4Ukraine’s website here if you want to contribute to their cause.