How the Ukrainian military adapts civilian items to their needs

A year has passed since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Back then, Western partners predicted Ukraine’s defeat in a matter of weeks, and the aggressor planned to capture Kyiv, the capital, in ‘two or three days’. Now (March 2023 – ed.), the Armed Forces of Ukraine have regained more than 50 per cent of the territories occupied since February 24, and the whole world knows Ukrainians and supports them. However, how was this possible when the enemy had more equipment, ammunition, and personnel? The Ukrainian side could not resist if it were not for Ukrainian soldiers, who had to improvise and defeat the Russians with their intelligence, not force. Of course, we shouldn’t forget about Western support, but the creativity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the unusual use of ordinary non-war stuff made it possible. Read here to find out how the Ukrainian military has adapted things we use in everyday life to their needs.


Mobility is an essential element of work at the frontline. That is why cars, especially pickup trucks and jeeps, remain one of the primary needs of the military. As of December 2022, over 60,000 vehicles have been delivered to Ukraine. Thanks to well-established processes, volunteers bring used cars from Europe, Asia, America, and sometimes Africa. Before buying a car, they inspect it on-site and only after they get it to Ukraine. According to volunteer requests, the Armed Forces’ favourites are Mitsubishi L 200, Pajero, Nissan X-Trail, Ford Ranger and many other pickup trucks, sports utility vehicles (later – SUVs) and minibuses. In this case, the main thing is the vehicle’s high off-road performance.


Why do the Armed Forces need these vehicles?

The obvious answer is to move along the frontline. While an imaginary John from Texas is taking groceries home in his pickup truck, the same vehicle brings ammunition and people to ground zero, evacuates the wounded, and helps to execute many other tasks. Mobile mortar teams use modernised civilian vehicles to get to their combat positions. They receive information about the location of the enemy from aerial reconnaissance men who have just returned from the frontline in a similar SUV. Air Defence Forces also use SUVs and pickup trucks. They come in handy during massive missile attacks, when troops need to reach observation and firing positions as quickly as possible.


If Xzibit made a new season of ‘Pimp My Ride’ in Ukraine, its ratings would be on top. And it’s not just about light or heavy armour. During the year of full-scale war, the Ukrainian military learned how to customise civilian cars to suit their needs. Given the number of videos on social media, the most popular engineering solution is to install machine guns or anti-tank/portable air defence systems in the trunks of pickup trucks. Some special units equip such ‘turrets’ (special mounts for installing weapons – ed.) with radio control and surveillance cameras to safely repel enemy attacks. They even find ways to use trophy launchers from downed MLRS, helicopters and aeroplanes.

Our craftsmen make beautiful things out of a pile of Russian scrap. And this beauty is used to liberate the territories occupied by the Russians,’  says one of the Kryvyi Rih Territorial defence brigades on its Facebook page about adapting a BM-21 Grad launcher to its pickup truck.

Source: Криворізька ОБТО

‘Shahed’ hunters

On October 5, 2022, the Russian Federation used Iranian Shahed drones for the first time to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Since then, Ukrainian forces have adapted to the new enemy weaponry: the number of hits by unmanned aerial vehicles (later UAVs) is almost zero. Creating of mobile air defence fire teams called ‘Shahed hunters’ also made those changes possible. Each group consists of several off-road vehicles: one has a large-calibre machine gun or anti-aircraft gun, and the other has a powerful searchlight that illuminates targets at night.

Source: Сили Територіальної оборони ЗСУ

Other wheeled vehicles

Other transportation innovations by Ukrainians are also worthy of attention. For example, in March 2022, volunteers from the Serhiy Prytula Foundation had to drive close to the contact line in Kyiv Oblast to pick up ATVs (all-terrain vehicles – ed.). Later, they served as transport vehicles for Ukrainian soldiers in Sumy, Kyiv, and Chernihiv regions. The ATVs were used for manoeuvring through forests, mining, and working with anti-tank missiles.

We also shouldn’t forget about handmade automobiles. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, many volunteer organisations have emerged in Ukraine to build homemade buggies (small all-terrain vehicles – ed.) and ATVs. Among the most successful is the company named Vols.

The military needed fast and manoeuvrable vehicles that would allow them to conduct surveillance and quickly strike the enemy. The buggy is assembled from spare parts for VAZ vehicles (ones left from Soviet times – ed.), so it is cheap and easy to maintain and repair,’ says Militarnyi.

Source: Сергій Притула


A typical Ukrainian social media feed currently looks like this: drone fundraiser – another drone fundraiser – drone shot down, fundraising for a new one – fundraiser for a pickup truck – fundraiser for ten drones. Therefore, we will now talk about civilian UAVs.

It is almost impossible to underestimate their role on the battlefield because the ‘birds’ created to film weddings have literally become the eyes of the Ukrainian military. They are smaller, quieter, cheaper, and more manoeuvrable than their military counterparts. In addition, there are simply more of them, although, after a year of active warfare, one can argue with this.

The primary function of the ‘wedding birds’ is aerial surveillance. They help locate enemy equipment and personnel positions at different depths of the front. They help to adjust artillery and control the battle from the command headquarters. If it were not for UAVs, the military would have to fulfil all these functions, risking their lives.

The most popular choice among Ukrainian soldiers is the DJI line of drones. According to volunteer requests, Mavic 3, Matrice 30T, and Matrice 300 are the favourites. The same copters, but in a thermal imaging modification that allows for night reconnaissance, are more in demand.

Source: stand-up comedian, soldier Serhiy Lipko


Over the year of the war, the range of drone tasks has slightly expanded. Among the innovative additions are DIY drop systems that allow drones to be equipped with small mines, grenades, and improvised explosive devices that turn them into mini-bombers. Such systems are made from scrap materials, often using 3D printers, but they are not the only examples of the Ukrainian army’s creativity.


Over the past few months, Ukrainian UAV pilots have mastered a new segment of ‘birds’: FPV drones. Their main task is to observe and search for targets, but if you attach a munition and send it ‘one way’, the effect will be much better. Such homemade kamikaze drones are faster, more manoeuvrable, and, most importantly, cheaper than their serial equivalents.

Source: Сергій Стерненко


The army is an organism, which means everything is interconnected there. To arrive at an aerial reconnaissance point, you need a pickup truck; to conduct the aerial survey, you need a drone. You need a tablet or phone with special software to control the drone. This chain can be continued for a long time, but it is better to consider each part in more detail.

Warfare in the 21st century is not just about Leopards, HIMARS and F-16s. As digitalisation happens in your everyday life, it also occurs on the frontline. Artillerymen and aerial reconnaissance men often work with tablets that use Ukrainian software to calculate the coordinates of targets, mark them on a map, and transmit them to each other or the command post (CP). The CP no longer resembles a mole hole with a paper map on the entire wall. Modern CPs are equipped with TVs and large monitors to keep track of several directions at once and coordinate troops. They are equipped with communication amplifiers, repeaters, blockers, and other equipment. They transmit images to monitors from modern laptops and computers, similar to the ones you use at home or work. The only difference is the software developed for specific tasks.

Source: 93 ОМБр

The command post, in turn, needs connection because it is in a combat zone where the enemy’s No. 1 target is satellite towers, which are usually the first to be hit. In this situation, Starlinks, satellite plates from SpaceX, came to the rescue of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, allowing Ukrainian soldiers to have good Internet access even in the trenches. They are placed out of dugouts, on the roofs of buildings, at command posts, and in frontline towns, providing communications to the local community. We can safely say that Starlinks have become the ace up the sleeve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as they give them speed in response, communication and decision-making, which positively affects the battlefield.

Source: Reuters

After the start of large-scale weekly missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine and, as a result, prolonged blackouts, satellite communications from SpaceX became popular among civilians. They were installed in the Points of Unbreakability so that everyone could contact their loved ones whenever needed, and they were also purchased for private use. Satellite communication combined with powerful batteries allowed the owner to work from home without electricity in the city. The plates were even hung on trains and buses to improve the service.

Source: Бабель

Some rare but also exceptional examples of creativity

Even separate units are being created to introduce innovations into warfare, such as the ‘Birds of Madiar’ drone unit and the ‘Seneca’ special unit of the 93rd ‘Kholodny Yar’ Brigade. But while the ‘Madyar Birds’ specialise in UAVs, ‘Seneca’ is a true example of engineering at the front. We will analyse a few examples of their work.

Surveillance cameras

We have already discussed them, but this case is more interesting. The soldiers connected the camera to a pickup truck with a turret mounted on it. This is what the commander of the special forces unit with the call sign ‘Zmiy’ (Serpent) said on Twitter about the work of these cameras:

‘These cameras are needed to monitor the enemy’s movements online around the clock, especially when there is no way to deploy drones, to reduce the number of frontline observation points, and to adjust artillery visually.’

Various radio-controlled devices

Also, on Twitter, Zmiy demonstrated the testing of radio-controlled robots. The military did not disclose the intended purpose, but it could be assumed to be either reconnaissance or attack.

These examples demonstrate how Ukrainian soldiers, using their creativity and ingenuity, offset the enemy’s numerical superiority on the battlefield and find time and space to innovate even in war.

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