BBC News

Ukraine army gets help from classic car restorers

By Vitaly Shevchenko and photographer Yuri Tatarenko
BBC Monitoring

Related Topics
  • Ukraine conflict
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko

The war in eastern Ukraine has prompted a group of classic car restorers to put their hobby aside and help the army instead.

They are now busy fixing military kit - some of which is vintage, like the cars they usually repair.

The enthusiasts work at the privately-run Phaeton museum in the city of Zaporizhya. It is just a few hours' drive from the front line, where Ukrainian troops are battling Russian-backed separatists.

The museum lies in the city's sprawling industrial district, next to enormous chemical factories and steel mills that belch fire at night.

But once you've made it past the hulking warehouses and trucks clattering down dusty roads, you realise that it was well worth the trek.

image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionThe museum has several large halls full of classic chrome, fins and camouflage
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionIt is Ukraine's largest collection of classic and military vehicles - mostly Soviet, but some Western-made
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionMany exhibits, such as this Skoda 1201, were bought as barely recognisable wrecks then restored by museum staff
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionA vintage car bonnet decoration
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionAn old Soviet Volga police car

But now, with hostilities in eastern Ukraine in their second year, all car restoration projects at Phaeton have been put on hold. Instead, the museum's restorers are focusing on a completely different kind of kit - armoured personnel carriers and army trucks.

Ukraine's impoverished army desperately needs such hardware. After decades of underfunding, it is struggling to fight the separatists, who appear to have access to a plentiful supply of hi-tech weaponry from Russia.

As a result, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry has to use vehicles which would be more at home in a museum than on a battlefield.

Semen Musher, who helps run the museum, is outraged that previous governments neglected the army's needs. "We spent more than 20 years since independence thinking we won't have to fight. Unfortunately, we do now. So much time has been lost," he says.

image caption"I'd send all the previous prime ministers and defence ministers to court for not developing the army," museum employee Semen Musher says

Staff at the Phaeton see it as their patriotic duty to help the military in this time of war. "I'm too old to join the army," says Vyacheslav Zaytsev, 57. "I'm more use here, helping to fix military hardware," he says.

Only part of the work is funded by the military, which also helps the Phaeton with components. That help falls far short of covering all the repair costs, and a significant contribution is made by the museum itself and other volunteers.

image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionThe museum has restored six armoured personnel carriers (APCs) for army use - they had been in storage for decades
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionTwo of the old APCs restored for the Ukrainian army; behind them is a restored Swiss Saurer-2DM truck
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionA fuel truck under repair after its power-train was damaged by inexperienced army drivers. Next to it is a World War Two T-34 tank destined for the collection
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionA Saxon armoured personnel carrier (left) was delivered to Ukraine from the UK this year - but needs a repair
image copyrightYuri Tatarenko
image captionThis hardware is too old even for the Ukrainian army, and will form part of the museum's collection

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Topics

More on this story

  • Ukraine country profile