Lviv-based Ukrainian programmer Dmitry Zlotenko called the front line with an urgent request from his seat in a turn-of-the-century villa.
One unit lost one of the drones it uses to track Russian forces and artillery fire. Can you send a new one?
Mr. Zhlutenko contacted someone in the Netherlands who had found a suitable vessel on eBay and shipped it to Poland. Another volunteer then drove across the border to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, from where Mr. Zolotenko traveled east.
Within a week, a forward reconnaissance group was using it to locate Russian tanks and troops and to drop small bombs.
These small fundraising deals helped Ukraine turn the tide against Russia. Zlutenko's enterprise, which he calls "Dzygi's Paw" after his dog, is one of hundreds operating outside traditional military supply channels, producing essential equipment for the front line, from encrypted radios to Internet Starlink, produced by Elon Musk's SpaceX.
Informal and decentralized networks are difficult for the Russian regime to stop or reproduce. It is similar to the Ukrainian Army's approach, with field commanders having more autonomy.
The United States and its allies provide Ukraine with high-value equipment such as howitzers, precision artillery missiles, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The equipment provided by Mr. Zhlutenko helps units operate in small, independent groups, giving Ukraine a decisive advantage over Russian forces.
Commercial arms, many of which cross the Polish border without documentation, have helped the military use Western weapons, including Soviet-era models, by providing them with information to help them shoot more effectively while protecting their ammunition. .
Volunteers receive immediate feedback from the front lines to see which brands and models work best.
When his friends go to the front in February, Mr. Zolotenko, a tourist known to friends as Demko, quits his job and leaves the tech giant for the war.
The 24-year-old invested around $60,000 – his life savings to open a bike café – to introduce to his friends. After sharing their efforts on Twitter, others asked how they might get involved. He made money on an iPad at his home in Lviv. Almost $700,000 has been raised to date.
Zlotenko described it as a historic opportunity to counter Russia's attempts to take over Ukraine. His grandmother was born in Siberia, where his father was called Karkul after emigration, as a wealthy farmer.
Her great-grandfather survived the Holodomor, which killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as a result of Kremlin policies. I will never forget that. When he died, his family found bread hidden under his mattress.
Mr. Zulutenko gained credibility online by posting photos of equipment he had purchased and turned over to the military.
Dan Nylander, a 34-year-old goalkeeper from the medieval city of Breda, Holland, is one of the presenters. Mr. Neylander In 2014, Russian-controlled military forces shot down a plane from Amsterdam in eastern Ukraine, sparking outrage. Denying Russian involvement, he said, would mean "spitting on the graves of my fellow citizens".
Mr. Neylander began acquiring coded radios for the Ukrainian army, using his experience to organize illegal raids into the forest where it was necessary to hide communications from the police.
He found cheap radios and posted them on Twitter. It was bought by Mr. Zulutenko and they started working together.
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One day in September, Mr. Zoltenko sent a text to Mr. Nylander asking for a drone.
The call came from The Rock Battalion, a battalion of about 120 men named after its leader, whose massive hulk was nicknamed, like American actor Dwayne Johnson: The Rock or The Rock .
Mr. Nylander is the Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. , the world's largest consumer drone maker. He was browsing eBay and other websites with the Mavic 3. Powered by four rotors, weighing about 2 pounds, and popular with videographers and military intelligence groups for its powerful zoom camera. Rock guys often attach a 3D-printed plastic bolt that triggers a bomb when activated by a button on the remote control.
Mr. Nylander sends the equipment to an intermediary in Warsaw, who sends the parcels in special cars across the border to Mr. Zlutenko in Love. Mr. Zlotenko will either send them to the front or pick them up himself.
In September, he heads east in a truck loaded with Starlink terminals, drones, food, sleeping bags, and other supplies for The Rock and other units.
In September 2022, the UAVs were installed in Ukraine and reached the front line.
Mr. Zolotenko, armed with several small radio-controlled planes to keep the Russians from tracking him, meets Scala, whose real name is Major Yuri Harkavy, through a volunteer named Victor Yatsonic.
Yatsonic, better known as Brit or Brit because he lived in the UK for a quarter of a century, received the goods at the group's headquarters in a small country house.
Small groups usually launch drones and use Starlink to send feeds directly to nearby weapons. These units use images to monitor fires in real time.
"It is a technological war," said the Briton, who died days later in a landmine.
Precision drone-guided weapons helped Ukraine contain and wear down Russian forces in the eastern part of the Kharkiv region over the summer, despite Russia's significant weapons advantage.
After a Ukrainian raid cut supply lines to the north in September, the exhausted Russians quickly withdrew.
"We destroyed them here," Skala said later while surveying the area. "The tanks appeared and suddenly they were gone."
The damage caused by the unit to the Russians was seen in a church in a nearby village, which the Russians turned into a field hospital.
Rubbish piled up in front of the iconostasis wall, next to a pool of rainwater dripping from the dome's pit. And beside the table were glass jars of cabbage soup, and beside a table on which lay a dirty copy of the New Testament. On the chair was a copy of a Russian military magazine that announced the glorious victories of Russian soldiers. Pictures are piled around him, it looks like Russian schoolchildren sent to the soldiers, "Thank you for the peace."
Mr. Zhlutenko's website provides information on the activities of about 20 groups that he presents. Donors, most of whom come from abroad, can donate money to specific departments. A Berlin bar sold cash and supplies, and a Florida woman said she sold a rocking chair and mixer to raise money.
One common method is to allow donors to write their messages on projects or vehicles and equipment they have paid to repair.
A message written in Norwegian about a project recently taken over by Russia reads: "Peace in a great power." A Norwegian invested $1,000 to fix the wheel and is now lashing out at the previous owners.
Mr. Zlotenko prepared Christmas gifts for major donors, including traditional Ukrainian art: earthenware dishes and embroidered tablecloths.
Mr. Zhlutenko recently expanded his business by renting an office and setting stable salaries for himself and three other members of his team of more than a dozen people.
He still dreams of opening that bike shop after the Russians were kicked out of Ukraine.
"I don't want anything to do with the war," Zolotenko said. But the Russians have to go. or die.”
Email James Marson at [email protected]
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