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IT Volunteers in Army SOS

This article was published in Pravda.com.ua, by Galyna Tytysh. 
Translated by NovaEuropa.

Unlike many other volunteer centres, Kyiv’s office of “Army SOS” is not like a bustling anthill, where a bunch of people are running around. It is rather a hub, where in the first room IT volunteers build drones, in the second discuss future developments. While in the room nearby other volunteers are taking orders from fighters and sorting food collected near the supermarkets. And outside the new cars from abroad being examined and sent for repairs and tuning before being delivered to the ATO (Anti-Terrorism Operation).

 

Team “Army SOS” has fifty volunteers with offices in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa, and diaspora groups from Europe, USA and Canada. Latest find and centrally buy things at private auctions of military property, or directly from manufacturers, and pass it to Ukraine.

 

But apart from conventional humanitarian aid, volunteers of “Army SOS”  help the military with their hi-tech developments.

 

Programmer Yuriy Dobronravin says that he joined the IT volunteers when his brother went into the army as a volunteer: “I could not sit still. So I immersed full-time in volunteering. It turned out that there is more than enough problems to work on.”

 

Yuriy Dobronravin
Yuriy Dobronravin

 

In “Army SOS” he coordinates a group of 10 volunteers. The last two months they have been developing an “electronic tablet of the officer of the artillery.” Now hundreds of such tablets have replaced the old inaccurate paper maps for the intelligence and artillery.

 

The advantage of the tablet is a set of unique ballistic programs developed by Yaroslav Sherstiuk from Zaporizhia, as well as detailed and accurate electronic topographic maps.

 

These are the tablets that volunteers pass to the front, beforehand installing programs designed by “Army SOS”. The core of these programs - special ballistic calculator for gunners.
These are the tablets that volunteers pass to the front, beforehand installing programs designed by “Army SOS”. The core of these programs – special ballistic calculator for gunners.

 

“How does a tablet work? A senior officer of the artillery makes the definition of the enemy’s firing positions, and sets the labels. In addition, there is an integrated portable weather station, data from which is transferred to the tablet. Therefore, we have a definite target with accurate coordinates, and the meteorological information. Hence, the artillery can work much more accurately and faster.“- says Dobronravin.

 

He says that there is no any serious military secrets. Similar artillery complex has NATO and Russians.

 

“So now we are closing the technological gap. However, to buy these tablets abroad would cost a lot of money. This is the case when it is cheaper to do it ourselves. The most expensive would be a programmer’s time, but here it’s free” – says Yuriy.

 

A portable weather station that transmits data via Bluetooth to the tablet.
A portable weather station that transmits data via Bluetooth to the tablet.

 

Indispensable thing in war that costs in little over a half thousand Hryvnias ($96). That is is the price of the tablet.

 

Volunteers are also showing a secure radio station, worth about 670 dollars. Currently, the “Army SOS” has only one such station, the funding is a problem. Also, there is a mobile communications system acquired from abroad, its data is hidden and encrypted.

 

mobile communication system
mobile communication system

 

This group of volunteers are actively working on the automation of routine work in the outdated army. For example, reducing the work of signallers from half a day to 20 minutes.

 

I ask Yuriy how active is the general IT community in helping with the developments for the military.

 

“This is the case when nine women will not deliver a baby in one month. That is why IT projects are not about quantity. We do things that can not be done in a few days. If we could organise ourselves into a structure that will work in an office, then the effectiveness certainly would increase “, – says Yuri.

 

Yuriy is engaged with “Army SOS” every day. It helps to have some savings at such times. But many his colleagues combine work and volunteering, coming in the late afternoon and staying at the hub until late night. As, for example, the makers of drones that are stationed in two rooms in a nearby building of Army SOS.

 

“Do not torment them with questions, they are tired after work” – gently asks one of the founders of the community Yuriy Kasyanov, as we are checking out the drones. We ask a volunteer Kostya about the details of their production.

 

Kostya does not want to disclose his last name and doesn’t want to be photographed. Whether for a joke or not he says: “I have relatives and friends in Russia, and do not want them to see me.”
The guy is in the “Army SOS” for over a month. After seeing Kasyanov message on Facebook that Army SOS is looking for IT engineers who can build drones, he came with his own developments. He says it is his hobby to make drones. He has already built seven of them for the army.

 

“Our backbone are those engineers who are able and have the experience of building drones. We have three such engineers. However, there are many other volunteers who are well versed in this, and assist with simpler tasks,” – says Kostya and points on the wall where there is a list of volunteers with their contacts.

 

A plane in development
A plane in development

 

Late in the evening the volunteers glue, solder, and attach microchips
Late in the evening the volunteers glue, solder, and attach microchips

 

microchip

 

A drone’s antenna
A drone’s antenna

 

The guys are working on the amateur equipment that anyone can buy at the store.

 

“Tushky” – so here are called airplanes’ “fuselage”  – are being stuffed with electronics right in the office of “Army SOS”. Then glued, weld and devices are ready to work on the front. Piled in special boxes, one for the battery and the camera, the other for the ground station which is required to control the drone.

 

Such devices are flying over enemy positions and in real-time transfer images of the area.

 

“When Debalcevo was taken, the copters were used, showing where the firing positions of the enemy were. The artillery completed the task in one day, although the plan envisioned that several days will be necessary. It became possible to avoid hitting civilians.” – explains Kasyanov.

 

Sometimes copters were showing no militants on positions. It saves nerves and reduces the work for the artillery. Or the opposite happens, and it shows the ambush of the enemy and their precise positions.

 

However, the enemy also has UAV.

 

“Russians have not only drones, but specialised devices too. In Russian army, there are around 900 air devices. Each squadron has it. We also were under fire, when at first the copters were in the sky, and then the shooting began”, – remembers Yuriy Kasyanov.

 

In Ukrainian army, there wasn’t anything like it. So now the volunteers are trying to fill this gap.

 

But this situation happens not only because of lack of funding, although, of course, because of it too. One UAV costs around fifteen hundred dollars (more complex and larger models more, sometimes 5-6 thousand dollars).

 

However, it also matters that one need to know how to control the UAV. It’s not too complicated with  copters, but planes have to be operated by pilots. It takes more than a month to teach a person to fly a (remotely piloted) plane. However, without it the device would crash.

 

“For a normal, long distance plane, one week is not enough. It’s like learning to switch on the engine in a car”, – explains Kasyanov. The flight distance of a good spy plane is around 15 – 30 km, they can show where the rockets vehicle is. But the copters fly on a shorter length, up to 10 km.

 

Plain base - “Tushka”
Plain base – “Tushka”

 

To shoot them is very difficult (at an altitude of 120-200 meters to get to a small moving target is not easy), but drones can be knocked down by “REB”, a radio fight. Then copters get dropped, and the planes get off course, sometimes they can be returned, but not always.

 

Knocked copter, now being repaired by the volunteers
Knocked copter, now being repaired by the volunteers

 

Yuriy Kasyanov shows the box with drones. The ground station is required to control the UAV.
Yuriy Kasyanov shows the box with drones. The ground station is required to control the UAV.

 

A copter along with the battery and the camera can transmit data to the military.
A copter along with the battery and the camera can transmit data to the military.

 

Yuri shows boxes with ready or half-ready devices, which then are sent to the ATO.
Kasyanov talks about the high-tech developments of his community without pathos, but with obvious pride: “Perhaps it will grow into something that will be needed for the army in the future.”

 

The components for UVA, from Canada.
The components for UVA, from Canada.

Kasianov

 

Kyiv's office of Army SOS
Kyiv’s office of Army SOS

 

 Office

 

“Friday nights are crowded and noisy. Because we load the cars and send to the front”, – says a volunteer Dmitry, as we stand in the yard near Kiev’s office of the “Army SOS”.In front of us – two cars delivered by volunteers from abroad, ambulance and SUV. After some tuning, they will also go to the front.

 

SUV

 

Ambulance

 

It is hard to say how many cars from abroad delivered to Lutsk, and then to Kyiv, passed through the hands of volunteers of “Army SOS”. But we are talking about tens.

 

Dymtro shows a storage of clothing, footwear, and sleeping bags for military
Dymtro shows a storage of clothing, footwear, and sleeping bags for military

Storage

 

Food
This storage is not for food really. Although right at the entrance the bags of potatoes can be seen.

“They were delivered with machines. You know, people from the West of Ukraine could not let us go without food.“ Dmitry laughs and shows clearly sorted shelves with ankle boots and clothing, warm clothing, sleeping bags, stoves (which will heat water for soldiers in winter).

Furnaces, shovels, toilet paper, etc.
Furnaces, shovels, toilet paper, etc.

Storage

“The food storage” of Army SOS. Inside, the packages of products that volunteers collect at the supermarkets, and then sort using a “canned / grains” system.
“There is no detergents. Because there is a problem with water at the front” – says Dmitry.

 

We notice a car at night, fully loaded with stuff. It’s not a Friday, but the car goes to the 80th devision, and takes warm clothes for the military.

 

We notice a car at night, fully loaded with stuff. It’s not a Friday, but the car goes to the 80th devision, and takes warm clothes for the military.

 

This article was published in Pravda.com.ua, by Galyna Tytysh. Translated by NovaEuropa.

 

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