Army vehicles are being patched up in a Ukrainian farm shed: ‘Western equipment is not designed for this climate’

The twenty Ukrainian mechanics of the 44th brigade do everything they can not to be noticed. They erase traces of cars, drive around in a car as little as possible and try to hardly be outside, says Serhi in a farmer’s shed. In the room are two broken-down Western M113 armored infantry vehicles and a ZIL130, a Russian truck that is also in need of repairs.

A Russian direct hit at this location, where Ukrainian army vehicles are being repaired, would be a serious blow to the 44th brigade. Three months earlier, says Serhi (30), a Russian missile landed on a Ukrainian base further away. Hence the caution among the Ukrainian mechanics. Now there are only three military vehicles in the barn, on other days there may be more, including tanks. Their job is to repair the vehicles as quickly and efficiently as possible in conditions that are far from ideal.

The 44th Brigade of the Ukrainian Army has twenty technicians, who do their best to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

They work on the property of a farmer who has made part of his land available to the technicians. They sleep in the canteen, where the farm staff used to eat. In the pantry there are pickled gherkins and tomatoes, cabbage and canned goods. Other sheds contain jeeps and generators. The technicians repair everything. They give the army vehicles a second, third, fourth and sometimes a fifth life.

If necessary, the men work day and night. They don’t just do that work in the barn, located fifteen kilometers from the front line. They also venture closer to the front if a vehicle has broken down there. “War has no days off,” says Serhi, wrapped in his army winter coat. “We are always there for the boys. They fight in the trenches and can use whatever equipment they need. So we are obliged to make everything quickly.”

Injured and dead

A lot depends on their work, Serhi explains. They cannot afford for an apparently repaired vehicle that picks up the injured to come to a standstill on the way back. “Failure is not an option,” he says, sternly with himself. “If there are no vehicles to evacuate cargo-300, it will turn into cargo-200. That will affect our conscience.” In Ukrainian army jargon, charge-300 stands for wounded and charge-200 for dead.

Their work requires improvisational talent, forced by the Ukrainian bureaucracy. The technicians say that ordering parts takes a long time. Request letters have to go through various levels within the Ministry of Defense until someone makes a decision. There is no time for that with an enemy who has more equipment, the technicians say. “We are therefore looking for other solutions,” Serhi explains. “That’s how we discovered that we can use parts from tractors. We have no choice. Why wait when you can do it much faster on your own?”

MechanicSerhi We are always there for the boys. They fight in the trenches and can use whatever equipment they need

Not only is bureaucracy an obstacle, winter also hinders vehicles. In the dim light, a mechanic repairs the western M113. White nets on the roof are intended to camouflage the armored infantry vehicle. The M113, which can be used to transport soldiers to the front, has problems with the fuel system caused by the winter conditions. The other M113 in the barn also has problems due to the cold. The outside temperature this winter day is 5 degrees below zero and the wind is blowing across the snow-covered fields. Serhi: “Because our climate is so harsh and cold, it puts a lot of pressure on technology.”

An American armored infantry vehicle is being patched up in a barn near the eastern front. According to the mechanics, the Western equipment is poorly suited to the harsh climate.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Mechanic Vitaly (33) agrees: “In the winter season, sooner or later every technique fails. Western equipment is not designed for this climate.”

Serhi: “They don’t know the cold. This makes them less effective.”


Volunteer Pavlo Narozhny recognizes the bureaucratic problems of the mechanics. With his Ukrainian organization Reaktivna Posjta he orders parts for army equipment, especially for Western artillery, such as Himars, Caesars and M777. The money comes in through donations. Commanders can contact his organization to order items such as a windshield, tires for jeeps and trucks, engine parts and drills for repairs.

They do this out of necessity, because of the bureaucracy, says Narozhny (46). The paperwork that a commander has to do to order parts from the Ministry of Defense takes up 50 percent of his time, he believes. “A commander cannot afford that. He must spend his time fighting, leading his unit.”

And if you submit a request to Defense, the question is what will become of it. It can take a month, Narozhny says, for a unit to get something, or there’s nothing in stock, there’s no money, or you don’t receive everything you asked for. “Then you don’t get ten truck tires, but two.”

Repairers are faced with a lack of partsbut also with the bureaucracy.
Photo Kostyantyn Chernichkin

If his organization does not have the financial resources for it, Narozhny says, soldiers contribute money themselves and order a part from Reaktivna Posjta. “This allows them to skip the paperwork and receive parts within three to five days.”

According to the former soldier, there is another inconvenience: the border blockades by Polish farmers. They protest against import benefits for their Ukrainian colleagues. With their blockade they hinder the flow of parts for the army. They are there at the border and cannot enter Ukraine. “It is sometimes vital that those parts come this way. But those farmers don’t care if someone dies from a lack of parts.”

No ammo

Currently, Ukrainian forces are short of everything, Narozhny says. For example, truck tires are currently a major problem. These are vulnerable to shrapnel cutting through them. But tires are necessary for the transport of soldiers or artillery.

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It could mean that Ukraine has to postpone an attack, Narozhny says. If you don’t have a truck to transport your soldiers, that’s it. The soldiers do not need parts today but yesterday, the former soldier emphasizes the urgency. But: “It is not that we will lose the war because of this. The biggest problem is that we don’t have ammunition.”

The latter is due to the lack of Western supplies. Add to this the Ukrainian loss of the city of Avdiivka, the Russian pressure on the front and the problems with the parts, and it comes across as if Ukraine is squeaking and creaking on all sides.

Narozhny does not call the current situation for Ukraine catastrophic. “But,” he acknowledges, “we are going through a very difficult period.”