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Ukraine Ramps Up Spending on Homemade Weapons to Help Repel Russia

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By: Hanna Arhirova

Ukraine needs any edge it can get to repel Russia from its territory. One emerging bright spot is its small but fast-growing defense industry, which the government is flooding with money in hopes that a surge of homemade weapons and ammunition can help turn the tide.

The effort ramped up sharply over the past year as the U.S. and Europe strained to deliver weapons and other aid to Ukraine, which is up against a much bigger Russian military backed by a thriving domestic defense industry.

The Ukrainian government budgeted nearly $1.4 billion in 2024 to buy and develop weapons at home — 20 times more than before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

And in another major shift, a huge portion of weapons are now being bought from privately owned factories. They are sprouting up across the country and rapidly taking over an industry that had been dominated by state-owned companies.

A privately owned mortar factory that launched in western Ukraine last year is making roughly 20,000 shells a month. “I feel that we are bringing our country closer to victory,” said Anatolli Kuzmin, the factory’s 64-year-old owner, who used to make farm equipment and fled his home in southern Ukraine after Russia invaded in 2022.

Yet like many aspects of Ukraine’s war apparatus, its defense sector has been constrained by a lack of money and manpower – and, according to executives and generals, too much government red tape. A more robust private sector could help root out inefficiencies and enable factories to churn out weapons and ammunition even faster.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Russia controls nearly a quarter of Ukraine and has gained momentum along the 1,000 kilometer (620 mile) front line by showing a willingness to expend large numbers of troops to make even the smallest of advances. Ukrainian troops regularly find themselves outmanned and outgunned, and this has contributed to falling morale.

“You need a mortar not in three years, you need it now, preferably yesterday,” said Taras Chmut, director of the Come Back Alive Foundation, an organization that has raised more than $260 million over the past decade to equip Ukrainian troops with machine guns, armored vehicles and more.

Kuzmin, the owner of the mortar factory, fled the southern city of Melitopol in 2022 after Russia invaded and seized his factory that mostly made spare parts for farm equipment. He had begun developing a prototype for mortar shells shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, when it illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Kuzmin took over a sprawling warehouse in western Ukraine last winter. His long-term goals include boosting production to 100,000 shells per month and developing engines and explosives for drones.

He is just one of many entrepreneurs transforming Ukraine’s weapons industry, which was dominated by state-owned enterprises after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Today, about 80 percent of the defense industry is in private hands — a mirror image of where things stood a year ago and a stark contrast with Russia’s state-controlled defense industry.

Each newly made projectile is wrapped in craft paper and carefully packed into wooden crates to be shipped to Romania or Bulgaria, where are loaded with explosives. Several weeks later, they’re shipped back and sent to the front.

“Our dream is to establish a plant for explosives,” said Kuzmin, who is seeking a partner to make that happen.

(AP)

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