Makers in Defense of Ukraine: A Year Of Fighting Back With Innovation

Maker News Makerspace
Makers in Defense of Ukraine: A Year Of Fighting Back With Innovation

On February 24, 2022 at about 4:50 a.m., we woke up, my wife Svitlana and I, and argued whether the sounds we were hearing were a rocket or not. Then our kids came into the bedroom and we covered them with blankets. We started reading messages and news. While calming the children, we also explained to them that a war had started and that we were going to get them to a safe place.

We understood that the battle for Kyiv would last long so we decided to move the kids as far away from rockets as we possibly could. Within hours, a huge number of people in cars began to flee the city and created many traffic jams. We waited and visited some friends and checked on others by phone. By 9:00 p.m., the traffic was much better so we left Kyiv for Lviv in the west. The trip took 26 hours instead of the usual 6 or 7.

After two days, I came back to Kyiv with a friend who is now in public affairs for Ukraine’s army reserves, the Territorial Defense Forces. Svitlana and the children crossed the Poland border and were picked up by our friend in Germany, where they still live. I remained in Kyiv, keeping my computer reseller and consulting business running. I slept on a mat in the hallway for many nights because that was the safest place for me. I would also spend as much time as I could helping volunteers and networks of makers. For those of us not fighting the war, we helped in any way we could, connecting to other people and finding resources for them.

When we started producing Maker Faire in Ukraine in 2015, we hoped to organize a volunteer network of makers. We produced 15 Mini Maker Faires in five cities, a two-day camp for makerspace leaders, and had a plan to produce a maker-hacker camp for summer 2022. The goal is to change the culture, which Svitlana describes as characteristic of the Soviet era: “very low trust, low initiative, low ideas rate.” She believes that Ukraine is “very hungry for ideas, startups, new forms of education, especially because schools and teachers are still old school.”

DEFENSE EFFORTS

War is not something new for Ukraine. We have been in a state of war since 2014 and we were confident that a big war was coming. Our country has been in a weakened state, and many of our institutions were influenced by Russia. What was necessary was a huge volunteer movement to help support the defense of our country by the armed forces.

A Kyiv shop burning near a makerspace after a rocket hit.

When the war began, many of us decided to take things into our own hands, if just to overcome the fear and confusion caused by the invasion and lack of information. What emerged was a self-organizing effort, not dependent on our institutions. As makers, we can respond to requests from relatives in unoccupied regions, or from friends in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) or the Territorial Defense. We can use the tools we have or reach out to people in the network who have the competence or tools to help out.

Last fall, we conducted a survey of 196 Ukrainian makers and found their most urgent need was new training, and their strongest interest by far was 3D printing. There are now about 18 makerspaces across Ukraine, many which have struggled for funding during the war. A makerspace in Kyiv was hit by a rocket in November 2022; we lost equipment such as 3D printers but no one was hurt when the explosion hit in the early morning hours.

A large number of makers were drafted into the army where most of them keep improving processes, developing and iterating new tech, building trust in their team, and caring a lot about what they do. Civilian makers are helping to supply our defense with much-needed equipment as well as modifying or repairing devices.

WELDING

At Kyiv Hacklab, residents welded a lot of anti-vehicle spikes — the metal comes from cutting up shopping carts — as well as Czech hedgehogs and other obstacles to stop heavy armored vehicles.

Makers also started to weld simple, cheap camp stoves and sent them to soldiers as well as civilians in unoccupied territories. Odesa artist Sergiy Vukolov raised some funds for supplies and then started welding camp stoves without a day off.

ELECTRONICS

A car battery in an ammo box can be used as a universal power bank for devices.

Quest organizer, steampunk fan, and maker from Dnipro, Ihor Kochet, started to produce power supplies in ammo boxes using car batteries and sent them to the front line where they needed generators. A maker who I can’t name started small-batch manufacturing of $100 low-power encrypted communication radio stations.

3D PRINTING

With supply chains broken, there was a need for ordinary car parts for repairs. Makers are often able to 3D print replacements.

3D Printing for Ukraine coordinated efforts outside Ukraine to print parts for tourniquets for wounded soldiers. Such tourniquets were not available early in the war. Another example is Tech Against Tanks in Warsaw, Poland, which has a database of 3D printing projects that includes eye shields, knee guards, and window barricades.

3D printers are also used to produce grenade-release mechanisms for drones and stabilizing tails for grenades. These tails are printed all over the country in huge numbers. Early in the war, the grenade tails made noise when used, which alerted the Russians, and so the community prototyped new versions that were quieter. They also had to correct for the grenades tumbling out of control.

This March, I organized RepRapUA, a festival to celebrate and mobilize our community of 3D printing entrepreneurs, suppliers, manufacturers, and enthusiasts. It was a huge success, with 901 visitors; about 30% were defense-related. For security, a secret location was necessary.

DRONES

At the end of summer 2022, there were more than 200 different new drone projects that were a response to the invasion.

At the second Kyiv Maker Faire, we had established FPV drone shows and competitions. From the first days of the war, people from this drone community started to use their skills to fly standard consumer drones to understand battlefields, and then switched to professional units. Now they produce a lot of FPV-kamikaze drones.

Consumer drones were outfitted with 3D-printed grenades. Jury is an engineer who lives near the front lines and despite power outages, keeps doing this work and connects with the Armed Forces daily. He repairs drones and night vision goggles, and develops new mechanisms to release grenades.

Two ex-hackerspace engineers, Pavlo Shelyazhenko and Mykola Palamar, started Keep Robotics to build a multipurpose electric ground drone. They modify agricultural equipment to build a defense platform for evacuation, intelligence, and delivering ammo.

IMMERSIVE TRAINING

Before the war, Serhii Nezhinsky was engaged in a rare profession for our country: a digital curator. As co-founder of X-Platform and founder of the METΛCVLTVRE project, he worked to integrate new technologies into business and creative industries. “I believe that culture is the first line of defense of the country,” said Serhii, “and that virtual art can be transformed into absolutely real security.”

In 2022, Serhii volunteered for the army and now works in the Ministry of Defense where he is engaged in planning combat training and after-action review. Serhii is working on a dream project. “It is an immersive media (VR) training ground with a system of interconnected simulators of weapons, equipment, and aviation. That will make it possible to train on real locations, scanned to the smallest detail, and to plan operations in real time.” The project has the potential to serve as a magnet for more creative talent like Serhii in the army.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS

Makers have also been involved in rebuilding efforts in de-occupied territories and addressing the needs for shelter, heating, light, and food for the people who live there. A lot of the work is helping more people learn new skills.

CARGO BIKES

Last-mile cargo bike by Kyiv maker Danylo Braverman

Maker Danylo Braverman started to produce cargo bikes for last-mile food delivery to unoccupied regions where infrastructure was damaged. These bikes helped locals deliver food, stoves, and clothes in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions.

TOLOCAR: MOBILE MAKERSPACES

Overhead view of Tolocar mobile makerspace van with its contents

Toloca is an old Ukrainian word meaning “communal work.” In early spring 2022, we developed the Tolocar project with funding from the German government’s Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and deployed a fleet of four mobile makerspaces for humanitarian relief. These vehicles look like STE(A)M Trucks in the USA. They visit makerspaces and technical colleges, bringing equipment and tools as well as teaching workshops.

“Such workshops most often involve people (kids and adults) who have never done any making before,” explained Olga Ivanchenko, who works with a small team in Kyiv to operate the mobile makerspace and teaches 3D printing. “In this way, we try to show them new opportunities for technical creativity and interest them in science. We think that crafting has a great positive effect on the psyche of people and can distract from the horrors of war, give impetus to new activities, and strengthen the economy of our country.”

Because of frequent blackouts, lighting is a big concern. “We developed a small, powerful flashlight for emergency lighting,” said Olga. A workshop at Hacklab Kyiv walked people through the flashlight project. “Together with volunteers, we assembled emergency lights for three different animal shelters and then we started going to women’s shelters and organizations supported by the International Medical Corps and doing emergency lighting for them,” added Olga. The flashlight is an open source project. The people who took the classes said that it helped them feel more capable, creative, and supported by the community.

Olga along with Volodymyr Babii have worked with various organizations. They developed a heating efficiency upgrade and made an emergency power system for Hacklab Kyiv. They worked with the Bobry (which means “beavers” in Ukrainian) workshop in Sumy to make a spot welding machine together so that they could independently weld batteries and make power banks.

Tolocar can help people feel like someone really cares because they invest time, share skills and knowledge, and stay in touch afterwards. I also hope that it will help people recognize the value of having such a space in their community to get additional support and training.

NEW SKILLS TO SURVIVE

Learning new skills is necessary to survive or to stay in business. Julia Yalanzhi runs Yalanzhi Objects, a small manufacturing business in Kyiv that produces eco-friendly lamps. She says her project is a “combination of art, handicraft, and utility using ceramics and recycled paper.” Because all the men who worked in her business were mobilized by the army, she took it upon herself to learn how to weld and to solder. “The war tore our family apart,” said Julia. “My husband went to the AFU, and I went into manufacturing. New times forced me to learn new skills.”

As for my family, Svitlana remains in Germany with our two children and I remain in Kyiv. The war is lasting much longer than we expected and there is no clear path for it ending. We will continue to have a huge need for small batches of civilian and defense products, for makers and small industries to come to the rescue to help solve problems quickly with the help of innovative technologies. We will continue to need makers. 

Success: working flashlights

UKRAINIAN MAKER ASSOCIATION

Since 2015, Svitlana and I have worked under Maker Hub NGO. Now, it is time to gather all the beneficiaries and develop a platform to support makerspaces and makers all around the country. Late last year, we established the Ukrainian Maker Association to raise funds and build structures to help makerspaces and makers — those that are already established and other spaces that are starting up.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Tagged
Yuri Vlasyuk

Yuri Vlasyuk and his wife, Svitlana Bovkun, have organized Maker Faires in the Ukraine and manage the nonprofit MakerHub.org. Yuri is chairman of the board of the Ukrainian Maker Association.

View more articles by Yuri Vlasyuk

ADVERTISEMENT

FEEDBACK