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We are from Ukraine: how mechanics and former cooks repair cars from landfills for the military

The Page is continuing its special We Are from Ukraine project by revealing the stories of Ukrainians who came together to help bring the victory in the war with Russia closer.

Before the full-scale invasion, Hennadii Khramov, an off-roading enthusiast from Kyiv, was preoccupied with developing the local 4x4 club. Now his garage is busy repairing cars for the military, both vehicles imported through the western border and battle-scarred warhorses returning from the frontline.

In the first days of the invasion, the team created the so-called technical vehicle equipped for doing repairs in the field, which came in handy a few times to fix broken cars in the battle zone.

Khramov's team prepares 3–5 cars for the front every day

Khramov's team prepares 3–5 cars for the front every day

Cars started coming in late March, Hennadii says, but there were much fewer of them than now.

The family sent away, the team brought in

Gennadiy is sure that he is the most useful for victory when doing his job

Gennadiy is sure that he is the most useful for victory when doing his job

Khramov says he realized early that the full-scale invasion was about to happen, so he prepared a car for evacuation. On the morning of February 24, his family departed for the west while he stayed and brought together a team to help the army keep the wheels turning.

At the same time, Khramov admits that managing people isn’t his favorite job, as he prefers working with cars himself.

Quote"But if you want to do something you like, you may need to build a team that can work independently, giving you the opportunity to pick the job you like," he explained.
Sofia used to work as a hair colorist, and now she is an administrator of a garage

Sofia used to work as a hair colorist, and now she is an administrator of a garage

Sofia, the garage administrator, previously worked as a hair colorist in Kyiv’s Obolon residential area, but since the invasion, she’s been helping Hennadii, taking most of the administrative responsibilities, as they were numerous.

Quote"We maintained checklists to not lose track of cars; we had to communicate with the military and charity foundations, draw up certificates, and give detailed accounts," she says.
Vlad used to work in the kitchen, and on February 24 he was supposed to be on shift

Vlad used to work in the kitchen, and on February 24 he was supposed to be on shift

Sofia wasn’t the only one to change jobs. For example, Vlad, who is now working in the garage as a painter's assistant, was a cook before February 24, the day when he was meant to be at work at 6:00 in the morning. Now he’s doing his best to help the team.

Everyone wants their car to be repaired against the clock

All cars for the front must be checked on the road

All cars for the front must be checked on the road

When a car comes from abroad, you need time to figure out how to get it into gear, Hennadii explains.

Quote"We know nothing about it, and neither about the landfill in Europe it was taken from. There is no owner. And now we have to make it move somehow, then do a test drive to see how it goes, how the suspension and shock absorbers work, and whether the car pulls off the road at high speed," Khramov says.
Hennadii must conduct a test drive of all cars for the front

Hennadii must conduct a test drive of all cars for the front

According to him, the garage repairs 3 to 5 cars a day, although, naturally, the clients want him to work even faster.

Quote"Everybody wants it against the clock, and everybody thinks I can tell them when it can be done without knowing the condition of the car," Hennadii complains.

He says that diagnostics takes a lot of time, and then he needs to scrape up spare parts, which is problematic in today’s Ukraine, especially for European car models.

Where do the cars for the frontline come from?

Cars arrive from European countries, often from landfills

Cars arrive from European countries, often from landfills

The cars are given by people from Ukrainian diasporas in various countries: the U.K., Belgium, France, Germany, Poland — people everywhere do whatever they can to help, says Vitalii from the Charity Foundation of Serhiy Prytula.

Sofia said that there’s little left in Ukraine. For example, there was a case when a man brought his own Lada Niva and asked to paint it, take it to the frontline, and thereafter, if it survives, give it back. However, most people have already given everything they could. At the same time, although a car can burn in a week, it nevertheless saves dozens of lives.

The Ukrainian diaspora helps to get cars for the front

The Ukrainian diaspora helps to get cars for the front

As a rule, Khramov says, those who bring the car, like the Prytula’s Foundation, also pay for spare parts. However, it can also happen that people have no money, in which case the garage can help them provided that they have the necessary parts. Otherwise, the team has to ask the clients to look for the parts themselves.

For some military units, Hennadii’s team does the full cycle of work: looking for the car, raising money to buy and transfer it, repairing it, and even bringing it to their positions.

Artillery war and a car-mounted machine gun

Now the number of machines at the front is important

Now the number of machines at the front is important

The situation now differs greatly from that in 2014, with urban warfare dominated by firearms, Khramov explains. Back then, the armor on a car was crucial, but its maneuverability wasn’t. On the contrary, the main things about a car today are the way it goes and the number of these cars on the frontline.

Quote"Today we have a whole other war, an artillery war. Of course, it’s much better to have an armored car, but the number is more important today," he emphasizes.
From time to time Dmitry has to weld a machine gun to a car

From time to time Dmitry has to weld a machine gun to a car

Dmytro, a mechanic, says that the most interesting task he was given was to weld a mount for a 50-kg Browning machine gun on top of a car. After the first such case, the military makes him the same order from time to time.

Quote"The more you work, the closer the victory," Hennadii believes. "Here, I can be the most useful. There’s another option, but I think I’m doing the best for the victory here."

The publication was prepared as part of the We Are from Ukraine project initiated by the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.

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