A teenage civilian who used his drone to help Ukraine‘s armed forces locate and destroy a huge Russian convoy bearing down on Kyiv in the early days of the war has been hailed as a ‘real hero of Ukraine’.
Andrii Pokrasa, a 15-year-old boy who lives on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, was approached directly by the military to help them find the convoy, which was trundling along the E40 highway between Kyiv and Zhytomyr.
Authorities approached Pokrasa as they knew he had purchased a consumer mini-drone last year and became a highly proficient pilot, Global News reported.
Pokrasa duly took his drone into a nearby field under cover of darkness and successfully obtained photos and GPS co-ordinates of the oncoming convoy, which his father forwarded onto Ukrainian military via social media.
Minutes later, Ukrainian artillery rained down on the highway near Berezivka and obliterated the convoy roughly 23 miles away from Kyiv city center.
The approach was so successful that the military handed the teenager the controls of a high-grade drone with a longer range and went on to destroy several Russian tank units and armored vehicles as a result.
‘[Pokrasa] was the only one who was experienced with drones in that region,’ Yurii Kasjanov, the commander of a territorial defense unit that liaised with the teenage drone pilot, said.
‘He’s a real hero. A hero of Ukraine.’
Pokrasa described the experience as being ‘very, very scary’, but said he wanted to prevent the Russian forces from attacking his home town.
‘[The territorial defense force] provided us information on where approximately the Russian column could be.
‘Our goal was to find the exact coordinates and provide the coordinates to the soldiers… I gave them the coordinates and photos, and after that they targeted the location,’ the teenage pilot said.
Ukraine’s deployment of drones has been an integral part of their success in repelling Putin’s forces from around its capital, and continues to be a highly-effective approach to fighting the invaders in the eastern Donbas region.
Military-grade drones, such as the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2, have helped Ukraine’s armed forces to inflict major losses on Russia’s motorized units since the war began.
But even simple consumer drones have proven invaluable in tracking Russian troop movements to inform military strategy calls and direct artillery fire.
Commander Kasjanov said his territorial defense unit offered as much protection to Pokrasa and his family as they could while the teenager carried out his vital work.
Pokrasa told Global News he was aware of the risks involved and was afraid, but said he knew ‘I can’t do it any other way’.
The hotshot drone operator is one of many teenagers in Ukraine who are too young to join the military, but have contributed to the war effort by passing information to territorial defense units and working as lookouts.
‘They feel themselves free people in a free land so that’s why they want to be part of it,’ Kasjanov said.
Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians volunteered in their local territorial defense units in the days leading up to the Russian invasion, and many more were later enlisted when martial law and conscription were introduced.
But Ukrainian civilians not involved directly in fighting Russian troops are able to contribute via crowdfunding.
Hundreds of crowdfunding initiatives – both government-backed and independent – were set up in Ukraine following the invasion, and have since been bolstered by an outpouring of international support.
A Ukrainian colonel recently told German media organization DW that crowdfunding campaigns are ‘of critical importance’ to Ukraine’s war effort, and said the funds are typically used to purchase and maintain high-end equipment like armored vehicles, drones and surveillance systems.