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“We never sleep! says a drone operator who paralyzed a Russian convoy | War in Ukraine


At night, a small group from the Aerorozvidka unit of the Ukrainian army then decided to approach the 60 km column by mountain bike. We sent reconnaissance drones to observe it.says the operator Mykhailo, to whom we spoke through the WhatsApp application. We came back during the night, and we bombarded it. We also provided the exact coordinates of the convoy to our artillery.

A satellite image showing dozens, if not hundreds of vehicles.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a Russian convoy near Ivankiv, northwest of kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 28, 2022.

Photo: Associated Press

The column was then broken up and attacks were carried out on food and fuel reserves. The man, who refuses to give his surname for fear of being identified by the Russians, is careful not to reap the honors of this operation. It was not we who stopped the convoy, by ourselves, but the lack of provisions. But we made them drool!

The Aerorozvidka unit was created in 2014 by a group of volunteers to counter the Russian invasion of Donbass and Crimea. Some are students, computer scientists, we even have a doctor of philosophy and an architectsays Mykhailo, a peacetime entrepreneur.

They then used commercial drones, the same as amateur videographers. Today, they fly dozens of self-made devices that they use for both surveillance and combat.

These eight propeller drones are able to drop bombs and grenades on the enemy. In addition to the Russian convoy, Aerorozvidka claims hundreds of attacks on Russian targets.

A dozen drones.

The Aerorozvidka unit flies dozens of self-made craft that they use for both surveillance and combat.

Photo: Aerorozvidka

computer war

Drone operators have their boots on the ground, but they also wage computer warfare against the invader who has significant technological means. To deploy, they must thwart communications jamming attacks (jamming) and identity theft (spoofing) Russians who can locate resistance fighters thanks to the electronic signature they use.

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The founder of the Aerorozvidka unit, ex-banker Volodymyr Kochetkov-Sukach, died in action in 2015. It’s always been difficult for us to operate because of Russia’s cyberattacksemphasizes Mykhailo. It is all the more risky as one must enter deeply into the territory where the invader is to attack him.

However, Ukrainian drone operators can now rely on satellite Internet service terminals star link delivered by billionaire Elon Musk at the start of the Russian invasion.

It would be very hard to work right now without this technology.adds Mykhailo. It is used in particular to connect different units of the forces in the field. For example, reconnaissance officers can thus communicate with the artillery.

An aerial image of a destroyed vehicle.

The Aerorozvidka drone operator unit claims hundreds of operations against Russian forces.

Photo: Aerorozvidka

Aerorozvidka’s computer scientists also created a situational recognition system called Delta, which today works thanks to Starlink. It is a network of sensors located on the front lines which feed a digital map to identify potential targets. Every day the Russians try to attack this platformsays the drone operator.

The unit still lacks military and computer equipment that would allow it to be more effective. It also relies on crowdfunding to operate. We need equipment that is restricted from export, such as modems, digital matrices or thermal camerassays Mykhailo.

Convincing the more conservative elements of Ukrainian forces to use civilian drones in armed conflict has also been a challenge. The unit was also dismantled by the Minister of Defense in 2019, to resume service last October.

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The legacy of the Soviet Union is still very present in our armylaments Mykhailo. Some generals don’t understand our job and what we want to accomplish. But, since the beginning of the war, the situation has improved a lot.

romantic unity

Assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, Jean-François Ratelle reminds us that Aerorozvidka is a drop in the bucket in the Ukrainian war effort. It’s the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger storysays the military expert specializing in the Caucasus. The army has outfitted all of its artillery units with drones, but there is still a reluctance to overuse commercial gear.

However, he does not question the contribution of volunteer drone operators. It’s part of a new repertoire that is offered to resistance fightershe observes. It is a way of waging war asymmetrically. It democratizes the sky.

The romantic portrait of fighters who control civilian drones in the face of Kremlin tanks marks the Western imagination today. It is the image of the ordinary individual who uses a non-military technology which one can buy in a big box to fight one of the largest armies in the world. She truly represents the contribution of every Ukrainian to the defense of the nation. In the long run, Russia may have a technological and numerical advantage, but in the long run, you cannot win a war against an entire population. That’s what this unit refers to.

Aerorozvidka is now preparing for the announced Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. As for the daily life of the unit’s operators, to the question of whether they take advantage of the day to rest when most operations take place at night, Mykhailo’s answer could not be clearer: We never sleep!

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