ODESA, Ukraine — At a sprawling open-air market near the Black Sea, shoppers walk in and out of rusting shipping containers that have been converted into makeshift army surplus stores, scanning row after row of uniforms , boots and tactical equipment.
Some are Ukrainian soldiers stocking up on supplies for the battlefield. Others, like former taxi driver Dmytro Kazmirchuk, are volunteers who take on the task of equipping frontline troops who still lack the basics.
“Ukraine was not ready for this war. We never thought that our neighbour, who turned out to be our enemy, would resort to a full-scale invasion,” Kazmirchuk says as he chooses camouflage goggles, gloves and t-shirts for six servicemen that he sponsors in Donetsk. “Therefore, not everyone has everything.”
Ukraine’s loudest pleas to its allies have been for fighter jets, air defense systems and long-range weapons to defend itself. The United States and its allies have responded to many of these calls by providing billions of dollars worth of rockets, tanks, drones and artillery.
Yet, as Russia’s war nears the six-month mark, Ukraine is also burning through its stockpiles of necessities that most modern militaries take for granted. Now President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian troops and their supporters are looking for creative solutions to fight their way through the war.
Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Zelenskyy’s top advisers, told NBC News that the Ukrainian military needs continuous resupplies from its allies of food, first aid kits, vehicles, protective equipment, small arms and ammunition. At the height of the Russian offensive, he said, it was firing up to 60,000 rounds a day, forcing Ukraine to respond as well.
“Companies in some partner countries do not fully understand the level of intensity of the war in Ukraine,” he said in an interview at the presidential office in Kyiv. “It’s a massive war; it is not just a minor regional conflict.
Part of the challenge in keeping Ukrainian forces supplied is the growing number of people participating in the fight.
As war approached, Ukraine’s armed forces numbered just under 200,000 active duty troops, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based security think tank. Russia had more than four times that number, he said.
Just hours after the Russian invasion on February 24, Zelenskyy signed a decree ordering a “general mobilization” of the public, recently extended by the Ukrainian parliament until November. Since then, hundreds of thousands of reservists, members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces and others have joined the battle.
“There is also the police, and the National Guard (serves) also at the front,” said Yevheniya Kravtchouk, an MP whose husband is in the national police. “They basically have the same needs as our military.”
In May, Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s armed forces had grown to 700,000. In the same month, he launched a nationwide crowdfunding campaign, United24, to provide donations of cash, medical equipment and defense supplies, audited by Deloitte Ukraine.
Through an online portal, donors are invited to sponsor specific items that, once purchased, are shipped to the frontlines: $4,000 for a metal detector to assist with mine clearance; $80,000 for an armored ambulance.
The project is also trying to acquire a “drone army” to help the Ukrainian military monitor the 1,200-mile long front line. The campaign includes a drop-off site just outside New York where donors can drop off their own hobby drones to send to Ukraine.
With emergency medical supplies also increasingly needed, the project recently said it purchased 35 mechanical ventilation units, which will be used by paramedics and doctors working around the clock to evacuate troops and civilians. wounded near the front lines.
As he practiced intubating a medical dummy in his ambulance at an Odessa hospital, Dr Eduardo Kika said the devices had helped save the lives of patients injured in landmine blasts, and people suffering lung failure or traumatic brain injury who cannot breathe on their own. .
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough devices. We have a shortage of ventilators,” the emergency physician and anesthesiologist said through an interpreter. He added that tourniquets, bandages and haemostatic sponges to control bleeding were also in short supply. “When it comes to the front line, our soldiers need painkillers.”
Some Ukrainians who have joined the fight are turning to family, friends and colleagues to help fill the shortages.
On the main thoroughfare of the bustling capital, Kyiv, Georgia restaurant tables overflow with khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread), khinkali dumplings and traditional Georgian wine. But the owner, Chef Alexander, is nowhere in sight.
He serves on the front line and the restaurant declined to provide his last name to protect his safety on the battlefield.
Alexander was deployed without much of the basic equipment he needed, restaurant manager Olga Rogozina said. The restaurant now spends 10% of each bill on the purchase of his equipment: first, night vision goggles, then a Volkswagen to transport him and six of his troop mates.
“All Ukrainian people are helping our army,” Rogozina said. “And if they’re looking for a way to help, they have that way.”