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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How A Private UK Market Helps Get Used Tanks To Ukraine's Frontlines

Even as Ukraine's Western allies are sending much needed military hardware, there is an unofficial market for used equipment — from armored vehicles to drones and satellites — that has been vital for Kyiv. But how do these second-hand goods make it from Britain to the front?

A T-72 tank is pictured during the training of Ukrainian tank crews for offensive operations, Ukraine.

A T-72 tank is pictured during the training of Ukrainian tank crews for offensive operations, Ukraine.

Dmytro Smolienko/ZUMA
Bohdan Miroshnychenko

KYIV — Satellite systems, pickup trucks, drones. Individual volunteers have been busy buying hand-me-down gear for Ukrainian forces since early in the war. Now, they've set their eyes on the British market of armored vehicles, buying up anything that could be used to fight Russia.

Old armored personnel carriers have been available at auction in the UK for many years. Weapons are removed from them, but the heavy tracked equipment are still in demand as "expensive toys" for businesses or simply to settle in collectors’ garages.

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Visiting Ukrainian volunteers had a difficult task: to find working armored vehicles in the UK, buy them from private owners and deliver them to Ukraine on their own."

The advertisement on UK website "Tanks A Lot" reads: "We have a lovely little FV103 CVRT Spartan tank for sale. We've driven it around the yard and it's a very nice car. It handles well off-road and can be registered for UK roads."

After the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the country's defense ministry began reducing its army and selling off armored vehicles. Cannons, "Spartans," "Sultans" and other armored vehicles are now being sold at auction.

Armored vehicles, bought with a click

According to the Army Technology portal, more than 150 units of tracked armored vehicles were put up for auction in Britain in 2022 alone. Many of them went to Ukraine.

In previous years, buyers were often businessmen who found peaceful uses for military equipment.

You can get together with the boys, take an armored car and play war.

One British company offers customers a ride on a Spartan tank for $280. There are also those who rent an armored car for birthdays, weddings, funerals, rallies and filming.

"We saw places where these armored vehicles were used for paintballing. You can get together with the boys, take an armored car and play war. We were embarrassed then, because we are looking for equipment for the front line, and for them these are toys," says Andriy Potichniy, the director of the Ukrainian World Congress’ Unite With Ukraine initiative.

There are professional companies on the market that buy equipment at auction, repair, paint and send them off in large batches for export. Ukrainian charitable foundations cooperated with these firms to acquire the old tanks.

The Sun wrote about British businessman Nick Mead, the owner of the company Tanks A Lot, which has already delivered 100 units of armored vehicles, including tanks, to Ukraine. "It was funny to me to watch politicians applaud President Zelensky in parliament when they agreed to send 14 Challenger-2 tanks," Nick Mead told reporters.

Volunteers, many of them Ukrainian refugees, combed through advertisements for armored vehicles in the UK. Like cars, quality and prices varied, and not every machine was suitable for combat. The foundations had to hire people to assess the condition of each vehicle.

The Ukrainian World Congress brought with it to Britain officers from the logistics department of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces to check the quality of armored vehicles.

"Visually, you can always see when the vehicle was taken care of, and when it had been lying in a field for 30 years. It was better not to take equipment that was used as an attraction, because it would have a high mileage. It was best to buy armored vehicles from collectors or professional suppliers who repair them and understand the conditions where they will be used," said Potichny.

Image of \u200bUS tanks and helicopters arriving in Bremerhaven, Germany, with the cargo transporter ''Endurance."

US tanks and helicopters arriving in Bremerhaven, Germany, with the cargo transporter ''Endurance."

Lars Klemmer/ZUMA

Collecting donations

Used British armored vehicles were purchased by at least three organizations: the Serhiy Prytula Charitable Foundation, the Petro Poroshenko Foundation and the Ukrainian World Congress.

In total, 155 units of armored vehicles were purchased from Britain.

The Serhiy Prytula Foundation collected money last November during the attacks on the energy infrastructure, sourcing UAH 236 million ($6.3 million) in donations in under two days, which they used to buy 101 vehicles.

Petro Poroshenko financed half of the purchase at his own expense, and half at the expense of fees from his fund, buying a total of 14 vehicles.

The Ukrainian World Congress was able to buy and deliver a batch of 25 armored vehicles. The money was raised at various rallies organized by the Ukrainian diaspora in 70 countries. A second batch of 15 cars is also being prepared for shipment.

In total, 155 units of armored vehicles were purchased from Britain.

Shady prices

Until 2022, prices for armored vehicles were stable and not extortionate. For example, a Spartan tank had an average market price of $35,000. But when Ukrainian volunteers came with public money, the market began to stir. Now, the same Spartan would cost you $79,000.

"As soon as sellers became aware that we were planning to do, they realized that they could make money from it, and low prices became high prices all to quickly. Some companies that knew about our intentions, bought the equipment we needed so that we would come to them," Ulyana Fedoryachenko, procurement manager of the Serhiy Prytula Foundation, explains.

According to Potichny, since the summer of 2022, prices for armored vehicles in Britain have increased by an average of 25-35%. In total, the Poroshenko Foundation spent UAH 18.4 million ($500,000) on the purchase and delivery of 14 vehicles. The Prytula Fund spent UAH 236 million ($6.4 million) on 101 vehicles, and the Ukrainian World Congress spent UAH 100 million ($2.7 million) on 40 vehicles.

Delivery to Ukraine

Delivering the equipment to Ukraine was an equally difficult task. Charitable foundations do not have the same logistical capacities as NATO, and had to make their own way across continental Europe.

The Ukrainian World Congress transported equipment from Britain to Ukraine on trucks. Heavy machines were installed on flatbeds, and smaller ones, like the Spartan, were partially disassembled and transported in vans.

Bureaucratic red tape was a separate challenge.

The trucks were delivered by ferry to the Netherlands, and then driven across Europe to Warsaw. There, the armored vehicles were transferred by cranes onto the trucks of Ukrainian carriers, and only then were they delivered to the brigade commanders. The journey lasted 8-10 days.

Bureaucratic red tape was a separate challenge. It is impossible to simply take dual-use equipment — which can be used for both civilian and military purposes — out of the country and transport it through Europe. It took up to five weeks to get permission to export the vehicles from Britain, and then it was also necessary to get a license to transport into and through each individual country.

The funds note that the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff, Ukrainian and Western regulators have always been accommodating in all bureaucratic issues. "We needed a license to cross France and Germany,” said Fedoryachenko from the Serhiy Prytula Foundation. “Luckily, the French and Germans came to meet us and helped issue the documents quickly and correctly."

Image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, presenting service medals to Ukrainian soldiers as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, center, offering congratulations during a visit to Bovington Camp Armour Centre, February 8, 2023 in Dorset, United Kingdom.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, presents service medals to Ukrainian soldiers as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, center, offers congratulations during a visit to Bovington Camp Armour Centre, February 8, 2023 in Dorset, United Kingdom.

Pool /Ukrainian Presidentia/ZUMA

Back from the 60s

The vehicles were built in the 1960s and 1970s, so they are far from new. But they are still suitable for scouting and evacuation — especially since there are still not many armored vehicles at the front.

The equipment saves lives and keeps the military working smoothly.

"For any tasks, the military uses armored vehicles: evacuation of the wounded, offensive, retreat, raid, exhaustion, ambushes, movement of troops, deployment of reserves. If the armored vehicles run out, the war will end. Armored vehicles must go in a stream of hundreds and thousands of vehicles, and it is necessary to take everything they give,” said military analyst Ihal Levin.

Armored vehicles acquired by volunteer groups are not spread over the entire front, but are handed over to brigades in separate regions. They increase their combat effectiveness many times over and save the lives of the Ukrainian fighters.

"Of course, this equipment is not the same in terms of quality,” said Oleksandr Muzyka, an officer of the Command of the Territorial Defense Forces, which received some of the armored vehicles. “There were certain shortcomings. We talked about this to the British, and now they are sending some spare parts. Our guys know how to repair this equipment, and in case of problems, they have direct contact with the sellers, engineers and mechanics," he said.

“The equipment is already working in the East of Ukraine,” he added. “They can be used to perform so many different tasks. They save lives and keep the military working smoothly. Our fighters are very happy with them.”

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