Displaced Ukrainians make remote-controlled stretchers in family workshop

An ELECTROStretcher remote-controlled medical evacuation vehicle carries a soldier during a presentation by Ukrainian manufacturers, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, at an undisclosed location outside Kyiv, Ukraine, May 28, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Anna Voitenko Reuters

Ukrainian teenager Yelisei Mamonov dreams of attending his country’s top technical university one day.

For now, he is gaining valuable experience at a family-run workshop making remote-controlled stretchers to rescue wounded troops as Russia’s invasion grinds on and Kyiv seeks more innovative battlefield solutions.

Working under his father Dmytro, 52, a former factory manager, and alongside his 10-year-old sister Yesenia, the 14-year-old has already put dozens of such devices into use.

“We need to scale it up. We want as many as possible to be at the front, so that every unit, every company has one,” Mamonov said, as a prototype whizzed down a dirt track at a training ground outside the capital Kyiv.

The Mamonovs fled the eastern city of Sloviansk shortly after Moscow’s February 2022 attack and set up production in central Ukraine, far from the cluster munitions that once rained down on their street.

During a recent visit by Reuters to their workshop, they showed off two models: a lightweight, foldable stretcher and a heavier-duty tracked vehicle, called a TerMIT (Tracked Modular Infantry Transporter).

The sound of sparks and clanging of metal filled the green- and white-walled space, where electronic and mechanical components were splayed about.

Yesenia, who by now has learned to connect electrical parts, adjusted the wheels on the smaller model, which costs about $1,900 to make. The TerMIT’s production cost is about $5,200.Construction workers in Albania are busy transforming a former military air base into an Italian-run reception camp that will house thousands of migrants picked up at sea.

Business is booming, said wife and mother Oksana, 41, who was also pulled into the project, called the Tank Bureau, to field orders for front-line troops.

She brushes off criticism from family members and others that her kids are missing out on an ordinary childhood.

“I think that, on the contrary, when they grow up they’ll be thankful because they’ll have more skills than others.”

Drones and myriad other hi-tech devices are playing an increasingly pivotal role in the war, and top Ukrainian officials have acknowledged the need to step up domestic production.

The Mamonovs’ effort has been funded by a Ukrainian defence tech accelerator run by the government. But more may be needed to achieve Dmytro’s vision: a battlefield where robotics like his family’s are as widespread as first-aid kits.

“That means mass production, that means we need a proper plan,” he said. “But in order to reach this, we need a radical leap forward.”

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