From Mykolaiv to kyiv and Kharkiv, used cars, vans and minivans bought in Britain and still bearing the familiar British license plates are on the front lines of the war in Ukraine.
The incongruous sight is due to a fighters fund set up by Serhiy Prytula, 40, a Ukrainian actor and comedian, who made a name for himself with a Little Britain-style skit. Faina Yukraina (Nice Ukraine) but now acts as an alternate quartermaster to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
British vehicles are attractively priced, around half the cost of their equivalent brands in mainland Europe, as the cars on the right are not in high demand internationally, according to Prytula, speaking in its office at its Kyiv headquarters, a six-story office. building taken over for the purpose of acting as a collection and distribution center for donations.
He estimates he currently receives around £7million a month in donations to store and distribute military equipment, ranging from body armor and thermal telescopes to binoculars, drones, medical kits and power generators.
With some of these funds, UK cars are bought from both used dealers and individuals in the UK who will offer them at a reduced price, sometimes accepting cryptocurrency as payment, before buying them. be transported across the English Channel and driven to Ukraine on the back of trucks – a five to six day trip. They are then distributed on the front line where the Ukrainian forces need them most.
Twenty British cars have been sent so far – the vehicles have been dubbed “hell” by volunteers in Kyiv – with another 20 being procured. The Prytula Volunteer Center handed over a total of 60 vehicles from all over Europe to the Armed Forces.
In Prytula’s office, there are fragments of a Russian jet plane, weapons and military clothing stained with blood, including a balaclava and gloves taken from Russian soldiers killed on the battlefield. He described the macabre collection as a “commentary” as to the value of the cars.
He said: “It’s really useful because our units create mobile groups. And behind you you can see a piece of a Russian Su-34 jet. This is exactly a gift from our soldiers. We help them with a pickup and he destroyed that Russian plane and that was something like a comeback for us.
“The first thing they brought here was this shitty piece of Russian airplane and a piece of Russian Kalibr rocket and after that I made a Facebook post and said you can bring anything here whatever you want, ‘But no dead Russians here.’ The next day they brought clothes, a radio transmitter and a hat from a Russian tank driver and after that they started sending everything they had found on the bodies.
Maksym Kostetskyi, who handles vehicle procurement in the UK, said demand for Ukrainian units was three times higher than supply, with units looking for cars, vans and SUVs.
He said: “There is a long waiting list. But we are hopeful to have partners in the UK who donate and supply the vehicles at lower prices.
“Especially for vans and used vehicles mainly. Yeah, and those SUVs are usually £4,000 or £5,000 each. Usually in Europe people don’t buy them because they’re right-hand drive, but during this period of war and in the field, it is the ideal time to buy them.
British cars were also used when Russian forces first invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014. “A lot of Ukrainian soldiers know how to drive this car with the steering wheel on the other side,” Prytula said.
When the cars will be officially taken over by the Ukrainian army, their license plates will be blacked out. But in the early weeks of the war this rarely happened, the priority being getting the cars into action rather than dealing with the paperwork.
Kostetskyi said: “We have partners there who want to help Ukrainians and who want to support all of us in any way they can. And we believe this is one of the best ways that society and the people of the UK could support us, because buying the same cars in other EU countries costs twice as much.