The Ministry of Defense has recently become a lot more open about arms deliveries to Ukraine. But that does not mean that everything can be filmed just like that at the Vriezenveen Defense Complex, just outside Almelo. Here, mechanics prepare written-off military vehicles for use by the Ukrainian army.
For the first time, Defense shows NOS how that works, and what the ‘cast-offs’ can still do:
From mortars to minesweepers are on the list published by the cabinet of sent equipment and military assets, but not everything is completely public. For example, a number of large, partly mossy bridge sections on the site in Vriezenveen are not on the list. So rather not film this bridge-laying equipment, despite the new transparency.
“Not for us, but for the Ukrainians, they would rather not do that,” says Lieutenant Colonel Harry Jansen of the Defense Materiel Organization. He is charged with, among other things, making equipment that has been disposed of by the Dutch army ready for combat again.
Until recently, filming was prohibited here at all. But the rules have now been relaxed. “The government considers this step to be of great importance for maintaining support and for conducting a social debate about the continued military support for Ukraine,” said a letter to the House of Representatives last week.
The West is supplying more and more military equipment to Ukraine, as it turned out on Friday at the donor conference in Ramstein, Germany. The Netherlands is also doing this, now for more than a billion euros. And that amount will grow.
Harry Jansen has been working on it for almost a year now, with a small club of dedicated mechanics. Two months after the Russian invasion last February, the first armored tracked vehicles were already on their way. These are so-called YPRs, which were used by the army until 2008. They are intended for the transport of soldiers on the battlefield.
The best vehicles went first. The workshop is now full of copies, some of which have been mothballed for up to twenty years. “Then it takes a hundred man-hours to fix them up. Everything has to be made normal again. New batteries always have to be installed. And we put benches in at the Ukrainian request.”
There will also be armament on top, but that is not on that list, so details are not given. The mechanics also clean them, of course: there are entire bird nests in some vehicles. Furthermore, all license plates and other lettering will be painted over.
‘They are doing very well’
But aren’t they hand-me-downs? Is it still responsible to enter the battlefield with this? “Initially we had our doubts whether they would make it. But they are doing very well,” says Jansen. After a year of hard fighting, about 10 percent have been knocked out: of the approximately 200 YPRs, about twenty have been destroyed by the Russians. Jansen doesn’t think that’s a bad score.
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Former colonel and former member of the Ukrainian General Staff Oleg Zhdanov agrees. According to him, the commanders in the field are very enthusiastic about the Dutch tracked vehicles. “They may be old, but they are still younger than our Soviet armored vehicles.”
Zhdanov laps up the benefits. “They have automatic transmission, which we didn’t have before. They are very manoeuvrable and have a small turning radius. In a short turn, a Soviet armored vehicle runs off its tracks, this one doesn’t. And the armor is good too. It can handle a heavy machine gun and even a small anti-tank missile. The soldiers call it a battlefield taxi.”
The former colonel knows that the Dutch YPRs also serve in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bachmoet, where there is now heavy fighting. “Those are the toughest conditions, they can even withstand shrapnel.”
Zjadnov is also very pleased with the number delivered. Only the Americans supply comparable quantities, according to him.
Commander Jansen is proud of his work. “It’s good that we can contribute to the Ukrainians. But it’s also a bit double. Because you know boys will die in these vehicles.”