When Ukrainian forces won back control of Rudnytske, a small village 40 miles east of Kyiv, the Russians left them a gift: Three tanks and an armoured personnel carrier.
On the other side of the capital, as Ukraine’s troops pushed to recapture the bitterly contested town of Irpin, they collected a highly-prized BMD-4M: An amphibious infantry fighting vehicle among the pride of Moscow’s military.
The Ukrainians have bragged in recent days of also seizing a secretive advanced electronic warfare system, sophisticated missiles, tanks and other armoured personnel carriers, as well as rocket launchers and scores of rifles.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia has become one of the main suppliers of arms to their enemy
‘We have a lack of supplies but the Russians are providing us with many weapons,’ said Mamuka Mamulashvili, leader of a group of foreign fighters who participated in Sunday’s Rudnytske assault alongside local forces.
His words echo the mischievous claim of President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia has become one of the main suppliers of arms to their enemy. ‘They could not imagine such a thing in a nightmare,’ he said.
In a weekend interview, he pleaded with Western allies for more ‘aeroplanes, tanks and armoured personnel vehicles’ but admitted that his forces were taking ‘a lot’ from the Russians.
Mr Zelensky told The Economist that Ukraine had commandeered ‘12 or 17 tanks’ the previous day alone – and astonishingly, thanks to this battlefield booty, the defenders may now have more tanks and armoured vehicles than at the war’s outset despite their own heavy losses.
Yuri Butusov, a well-known Ukrainian military journalist, believes the country is gaining more tanks than it is losing. ‘Putin is supplying Ukraine with more military hardware than the West,’ he says.
Butusov says Ukrainians have captured more than 1,000 pieces of military equipment, including at least 120 tanks, that were either undamaged or are reasonably easy to repair.
Butusov says Ukrainians have captured more than 1,000 pieces of military equipment, including at least 120 tanks
‘Some of the equipment needs small repairs, but a lot of the vehicles are fine and our soldiers just take them and drive away,’ said the journalist, who has posed on social media with a captured Kornet anti-tank guided missile.
Other analysts documenting the conflict, using photographic or video evidence to verify equipment losses, believe that Ukraine is capturing almost three times as many tanks and armoured vehicles as the invading forces. But such data is difficult to confirm.
And of course, Russia is also pushing propaganda about using weapons captured from Ukraine.
Certainly, Ukraine is fighting back fiercely against an army that started with far greater firepower – including more than four times as many tanks in its armoury.
Ukraine is fighting back fiercely against an army that started with far greater firepower
As part of the national resistance effort, from major industrial factories through to small car workshops, many Ukrainian companies are adapting sites and refocusing staff in order to repair and repurpose military equipment captured from Russian forces.
‘To fight, the country has to work, everyone in their place,’ said defence minister Oleksii Reznikov. ‘Then, finally, the enemy will be killed by their [own] weapons.’
Yesterday, state-owned defence firm Ukroboronprom claimed to have ‘mastered the repair of Russian trophy equipment’ with factories now working ‘around the clock’ to get anti-aircraft missile systems and multiple rocket launchers back onto the battlefield. It is also offering a $1million reward for any aircraft it receives.
In cities such as Kyiv and Zhytomyr, mounted machine guns have been stripped from damaged armoured vehicles and handed to car repair shops for conversion into mobile weaponry that can be used by Ukrainian infantry troops.
‘We will remake the weapons so the barrels will be directed at the enemy’s side, not ours,’ said Oleksandr Fedchecnko, a garage owner in the capital.
A special unit of the territorial defence force is also repairing captured equipment in a Kyiv junkyard, painting the Ukrainian flag over Russian insignia.
Yuri Golodov, the unit’s deputy commander, claims to have been responsible for 24 Uragan missiles fired back at Russian forces. ‘Everything that we take away from the Russian army, we transfer to the armed forces of Ukraine,’ he says.
Such ‘battlefield scavenging’ has long been a feature of wars. In both the Second World War and Falklands War, British soldiers turned captured heavy machine guns on the enemy. More recently, Islamic State captured substantial quantities of US-made equipment after the 2014 fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.
Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: ‘The Ukrainian military seems to be celebrating their success at being able to seize armoured vehicles and rapidly press them back into service.’
Yuri Butusov, a well-known Ukrainian military journalist, believes the country is gaining more tanks than it is losing
Barry, a former British army brigadier, says such tactics are common when troops in combat use the same equipment. Although Russia has spent heavily to modernise its military under Putin, both sides often still rely on Soviet-era equipment. Captured artillery and military vehicles can also be cannibalised for spare parts and ammunition, relieving pressure on hard-pressed supply chains.
Ukrainians have also taken great delight in sharing videos of farmers towing away Russian tanks.
Last week, meanwhile, it emerged that retreating Russian forces from Kyiv’s outskirts failed to destroy a Krasukha-4 command module, which can jam drones and low-orbit satellites as well as track Nato aircraft. Reports said it would be flown to the US for examination.