Ukrainian welders convert donated vehicles into military transport

LVIV – A strawberry-scented air freshener hanging from the last Ukrainian army vehicle to go to war.

At a welding shop in the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, workers were adding steel plates to a donated van so that a volunteer could drive it up front.

“Our victory depends on us,” said Ostap Datsenko, a welder who is part of a huge volunteer effort playing a role in the Ukrainian resistance, with support from the diaspora.

But he hadn’t expected to see so much war, or its shrapnel, so soon.

He was standing on the truck rushing to finish the job before sunset on Saturday when he heard a noise, looked up and saw an object whizzing through the air.

“It was pretty big, but I had never seen rockets before,” he said. “Then I heard a huge explosion.”

The Russian airstrike hit a military-linked factory and the explosion knocked Datsenko down. Dazed, he rushed into the garage’s makeshift bunker in the grease pit.

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The next day he was back at work putting the finishing touches on the truck before it was driven to eastern Ukraine on Monday, along with three other vehicles.

The truck’s camouflage paint job was complete. The welders put bars on the back to help support a machine gun.

Datsenko, 31, his clothes streaked with oil, said he was ready like all Ukrainians to be called up for battle. But he had no combat experience, which means his time is yet to come.

Until then, he said, “I do what I can.”

The Ukrainian army appears to have fought the much larger Russian army to a stalemate on some fronts, which surprised many observers. One of Ukraine’s weapons is a parallel army of volunteers who are busy raising funds and supplies ranging from body armor to cigarettes. Others make military connections.

In Lviv, which was relatively far from the war until Saturday’s airstrikes, the welding shop looked for ways to help. It began by making “hedgehogs,” or metal barriers placed at checkpoints and around certain sensitive facilities. Then they heard the cars calling.

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“All vehicles are in high demand on the front line” by commanders, said Artem Pastushyna, a 27-year-old welder with metal nuts gleaming in his earlobes.

Only a small number of vehicles were fitted with steel plates and camouflage, he said. The need is too great and there is little time.

“Many cars from Europe are driven straight to the front line,” Pastushnya said.

The truck was the first vehicle the welding shop adapted, he said, and he hopes they will make many more.

Until then, the welding shop is paying renewed attention to its grease pit after Saturday’s airstrikes. They had expected an attack at some point, but not that big, Datsenko said.

In the pit-turned-bunker, reached by a wooden ladder, an empty pizza box indicated that the workers had spent more time there than usual.

“Until yesterday it was just a basement,” Datsenko said. “Now we realize it would be wise to have more stuff there.”

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