Inside A Ukrainian ‘Monster Garage’ Where Volga Sedans Turn Into Battle Wagons
We exchanged some some shop talk with a Ukrainian engineer who is behind one of Ukraine’s wildest battle buggies.
The War Zone’s relationship with Alexander Darushin began with a Volga sedan.
This wasn’t just any Volga sedan, though, as the model in the demonstration video that started circulating online earlier this month was a Soviet-era GAZ-24-10 Volga with a remote-controlled KPVT 14.5 mm heavy machine gun mounted onto its back. The bizarre technical, that you can read all about in our original post here, was engineered specifically for Ukrainian forces as they defend the country against Russian invaders and looks like something that could have come straight out of the Mad Max universe.
Both the Volga and the KPVT machine gun are designs that were originally introduced in the Soviet Union, offering Ukrainians a semblance of poetic justice being that units are now using them to counter Russian attacks. The KPVT machine gun affixed to the vehicle's rear is a vehicle-mounted variant of the KPV machine gun that was first introduced in the 1940s. While mounting machine guns to the backs of vehicles is an inherent aspect of many of these weapons' designs, doing so with a Volga is definitely a rarity. The Volga itself, originally introduced in 1985, also required quite the makeover in order to sustain the KPVT's firepower. Thus, a new set of off-road tires, a significantly lifted suspension, and a front-mounted bull bar were all added to the sedan's chassis. The ingenuity is undeniable, and The War Zone jumped at the opportunity to showcase it.
A day after the article went live, The War Zone was contacted by Darushin through email who revealed that the gun-toting vintage vehicle was the brainchild of an organization called SteelTec Group. A line of correspondence was then opened and Darushin revealed that he and his colleagues are metalworkers, mechanics, engineers, and welders who have since come together to form Ukraine’s wartime body shop under the leadership of Dmitriy Albul, who founded SteelTec Group as part of his United States-based business Advanced Metal Structures (AMS).
Judging by the mission statement on its website, AMS seems to be largely focused on developing more aesthetically pleasing metal products like fences and gates for civilian environments and leaves most of the improvised tactical development for Ukrainian forces up to SteelTec Group. However, SteelTec doesn’t appear to have an official website. Instead, Darushin provided us with a link to an Instagram account, and the bio reads: “Ukrainian engineering and construction company that provides design and production of metal structures for every taste!”
Among the photos shared to the account, many of which are progress pictures of the Volga’s evolution into a fortified battle buggy, is a shot of one of SteelTec Group’s newest projects: a Fiat Brava. The caption explains that this is the group’s third car to be donated by supporters and then repurposed for the Ukrainian Army, and if it ends up looking anything like the Volga did, it will surely pack a punch. While technicals and crowdsourced materials have certainly proliferated throughout the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, SteelTec Group is evidently making a name for themselves by combining both.
After exchanging a couple of introductory emails, Darushin volunteered to answer a few of our questions about SteelTec Group and all that he and his colleagues are working on in order to supplement Ukrainian ground forces. Below are the questions The War Zone asked and the answers that Darushin provided over email.
Emma: Could you explain who you are and your role in the conflict with Russia?
Alexander: Before the invasion of the troops of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, we were engaged in engineering, fabrication of building structures for civil and industrial use, sports equipment, decor, etc. But on February 24, 2022, everything changed, we decided to keep the workshop working and switched to fabrication of products needed for military units, territorial defense, police, and volunteer organizations. These were anti-tank hedgehogs, spikes and thorns against tires, helped to produce a batch of plates for bulletproof vests, as well as various gratings, fortifications, and so on.
Emma: What's your official title? Who do you work for, and what do yout think your future will hold?
Alexander: Dmitriy Albul is the founder and CEO of those companies, I oversee operations. In process were involved our shop crews - the head of production, welders, mechanics, a painter, and a machining treatment specialist, as well as a team of mechanical engineers.
Emma: Do you have any way to verify your identity?
Alexander: Our Chief Crew recorded a short video. Let me know if this is sufficient or if other confirmations are required.
Emma: Why did the team decide to use the Volga? Is it out of necessity or preference?
Alexander: The situation at the front is rapidly changing, our assistance must meet current needs, so, quite spontaneously, this project began. In collaboration with the local administration, the military, and volunteers, we have found some parts for future projects.
From the available, our mechanics chose the Volga. Literally the next day they fired it up and we decided to use this base for a pilot project. This decision was dictated by the quick availability of spare parts, compatibility between models of this era, and, most importantly, speed of implementation.
Emma: What other vehicles have you or your colleagues turned or planned to turn into technicals?
Alexander: Ukrainian defenders need transport, it must be reliable, passable, and easy to maintain. We can work with any base; we have several cars in the works that were given to us by volunteers.
Here is one of the interesting vehicles we obtained recently. A GAZ-67B.
Also, our engineers proposed to manufacture a light military vehicle based on a welded frame using factory parts in terms of chassis and transmission.
- Maximum power – 90 horsepower
- Rear Driving Axle
- Number of seats - 2
- Length/width/height in mm - 3800/1900/1540
- Base - 2700 mm
- Front/rear wheel track in mm - 1530/1510
- Ground clearance (clearance) - 350 mm
- Suspension travel - 280 mm
- Curb weight - 600 kg
- Tire size - R15 65/195
Author's note: Battle buggies have been a staple for Ukraine throughout the conflict with Russia, which you can read more about here, and explains why creating such a vehicle would be one of SteelTec Group's ambitions.
Emma: Do you make these technicals for a specific unit of Ukrainian forces? In other words, where do they go once you and your team are done with them?
Alexander: This Volga is intended for a certain military unit. Also, other military and volunteers have already shown interest.
Emma: My colleagues and I are really curious about the remote-controlled aspect of the Volga technical's gun, could you explain how you pulled that off and what the technology is behind it?
Alexander: Currently this car is passing firing tests and we will share more details once everything is set up. But this can be done with a 12v hydraulic power pack, 3 valves, hydraulic cylinder, hydraulic motor (or large gear pump), preferably gear and chain drive. Easy to do but too much experimenting.
Emma: What is in high demand for engineers and welders during this time?
Alexander: We will be grateful for any help. For the implementation of this and future projects, we will gladly accept donations in a convenient currency or metal, engines, chassis parts, wheels, or consumables and tools. Dmitriy has a Private Charitable Foundation, any donations made to it will be tax-deductible. Also, you can contact us if anyone would like to help somehow.
Emma: What do you and your team need?
Alexander: Peaceful sky above our heads and the opportunity to continue doing what we love.
Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com