War effort: Ukrainians make makeshift bulletproof vests

The war in Ukraine could go on for months and maybe years. The United States has sent over $3 billion in military aid to the Ukrainians since the start of the war and is preparing to send another $20 billion over the next five months.

Even so, Ukrainians still suffer from a lack of essential material. We’re not just talking about night vision equipment, electronic warfare or artillery systems, but something much simpler: bulletproof vests.

When I arrived in Ukraine, early in the war, I noticed the apprehension of many fighters of the international legion about the lack of vests. When asking the military authorities for equipment, they were advised to remain calm, as they would receive the equipment when they arrived at the battlefront.

Police officers and members of the Territorial Defense Forces (a kind of militia formed by Ukrainian volunteers and conscripts) also rarely had access to vests. Both Ukrainians and international volunteers rushed to specialized stores, and the item disappeared from private stocks both in Ukraine and in most European countries.

In London, the queue to buy the item it was one month. In Poland, sellers told me in early April that ballistic vests and helmets were out of stock in the first days of the war. The only option available was old WWII steel helmets kept for collection.

The Ukrainians then set out to the only solution they could find: making their own bulletproof vests. Locksmiths and clothing were converted into factories and production began. Only one factory I visited in Zaporizhzhia was capable of producing 150 pieces per day.

Today, according to Ukrainian sources, practically all the fighters, both on the front line and in secondary defense positions, have access to the protection item.

But handmade bulletproof vests have some disadvantages. The main one is weight. Industrialized vests are made with ceramic and kevlar plates. The handmade ones are thick steel plates coated with rubber and placed in a plastic and nylon cover. They end up weighing two or three times as much as the industrialized ones.

The other disadvantage is that the quality tests are quite simple: when receiving a batch of steel, the Ukrainians cut a piece at the sawmill and shoot in it with the weapons they possess. Nothing too scientific. War empiricism prevails: if the projectile sticks to the plate, the lot of steel is returned.

A handcrafted vest is worth around R$ 900. The industrialized products can reach R$ 3.7 thousand. But the Ukrainians are manufacturing them to donate to fighters on the front. The handmade vest protects against rifle shots, caliber 7, 62 and 5, 56. However, it is not very effective against shrapnel and bombs. It only protects part of the chest, abdomen and back of each soldier from bullets.

At least, despite its weight, the handmade bulletproof vest is giving more courage to the fighters. And they will need it a lot.

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