Viktor Shevchenko, co-initiator of the project, logistics officer at the headquarters of the Command of the Armed Forces of the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and co-owner of the logistics group ZAMMLER, discussed how the idea for “Trucks on Tracks” came about, what types of vehicles are needed on the front lines, how much repairs cost, and who is involved in the process.
Viktor, can you tell us how and when the idea for the project was born?
Actually, I started thinking about this at the end of spring. That’s when new battalions started forming and going to the “front lines.” They needed to travel, but there weren’t enough cargo trucks. With time, this need became even more acute. So we consulted with the command of the Armed Forces of the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and decided to use old military vehicles. Usually, special repair brigades in the Armed Forces of Ukraine handle the restoration of such vehicles. But they didn’t have the physical capacity, as they were already busy with other work, and we were dealing with old “trucks” as well. Therefore, we had to involve civilian car repair shops. Eventually, the entire process from the first conversation about finding vehicles to repairing the first GAZ-66 took a month and a half. During this time, we worked out all the formalities, looked at vehicles, and found civilian repair shops and mechanics who helped us.
Why specifically GAZ-66, what are its advantages on the front lines?
It’s simple. It’s a military truck, and it’s also undemanding and suitable for any conditions: dirt, swamp, mountainous terrain. It can carry both cargo (up to 3 tons, like some civilian trucks – but civilian trucks usually drive on asphalt) and personnel in the covered bed. And if you remove the bed, you can install an artillery installation.
Moreover, it’s relatively easy to repair. Mechanics joke that in field conditions, this truck can be “assembled from what’s at hand.”
What other vehicles are you modernizing?
In addition to the GAZ-66, it can be the ZIL-131, various “Ural” and “Kamaz” trucks, and armored personnel carriers (APCs). For the front, it is essential that these vehicles are four-wheel drive.
But on the war, you can’t waste time, how long does it take to repair one car?
It depends on the condition. Usually, one car takes from 14 to 20 days. And half of this time is the search or waiting for spare parts. Previously, parts from Russia or Belarus were used for these cars, but now, you understand… We search for Chinese parts everywhere.
As of today, we have already repaired and put 17 cars “on wheels,” and another 21 cars are in planned repair. But, in fact, this is not so much. With joint efforts, we want to reach a total of 1,000 vehicles. And the urgent and global need is for 4,000 cars.
You say there is a problem with spare parts, where do you get them at all?
Wherever we can: at specialized markets, we look through many private ads. These cars have typical “diseases”: problems with braking, fuel systems, and clutch. Therefore, we have to choose spare parts considering these problems.
Now we are looking for ways to large Ukrainian companies that manufacture spare parts – so that they join in the restoration of cars. Among the most expensive (if the engine is working) is special rubber. You cannot put a set from civilian vehicles on military trucks. And one wheel for the GAZ-66 costs from 20,000 hryvnias. Sometimes there are 10-12, but only if they give a discount to the Armed Forces. And you need four wheels and a spare for that. And for “Ural,” “Kamaz,” and “ZIL” – six in total, plus a spare.
Why do you “pump” old military trucks instead of buying those that are “on the go”?
It’s a matter of cost. The average cost of repairing one old truck from the supplies of the Armed Forces is $3,000. And the price of one used military vehicle, for example, at an auction in the United States, is at least $15,000. Add to this the cost of delivery, repairs (which are also needed), filter replacement, etc. Therefore, it is more profitable and faster to repair what is available.
What is the average lifespan of a car on the front?
It is difficult to say unequivocally here – there are too many unpredictable factors. For example, a civilian ambulance can break down in a few months, but a military truck can last for years if it is properly maintained and used.