Fr, 2.12.2022

POSTIMEES IN UKRAINE ⟩ Commander of a Ukrainian reconnaissance platoon: we work like a McDonald‘s cash register

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
Commander of a Ukrainian reconnaissance platoon: we work like a McDonald‘s cash register
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At the Madjar Birds headquarters, several pairs of eyes monitor the situation on the half-hundred-kilometer section of the southern front around the clock. One of the members of the unit shows to Postimees epic footage of how the combat mission is completed - an explosive charge on a careless Russian tank team machine sends the self-confident orc sitting on the dome flying into the sky.
At the Madjar Birds headquarters, several pairs of eyes monitor the situation on the half-hundred-kilometer section of the southern front around the clock. One of the members of the unit shows to Postimees epic footage of how the combat mission is completed - an explosive charge on a careless Russian tank team machine sends the self-confident orc sitting on the dome flying into the sky. Photo: Olga Sošenko
  • Magyar’s Birds perform several missions at once: organizing air strikes and security.
  • The group unites entrepreneurs, cultural figures and members of several other professions.
  • The main tools of Magyar’s group are reconnaissance and attack drones of various capabilities.

Reporters of Postimees had the opportunity to spend a day on the southern front to observe the activities of the tactical air reconnaissance platoon, or aerorozvidka, of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The group of a few dozen pilots is led by a 47-year-old second lieutenant called Magyar.

The headquarters of the reconnaissance platoon is located in the immediate vicinity of the front line. The distance is sufficient to react to all kinds of situations without delay: teams of a few members use specially converted minibuses and other technical means to travel on reconnaissance or combat missions.

Magyar’s Birds is well known for the video footage which the unit commander posts on the eponymous Telegram channel and other social media. There is another aspect why they differ from other reconnaissance units – the platoon has been self-sufficient during all eight months of the war: it has bought drones and other equipment either for personal savings or money donated by volunteers.

These men have become the fear of the Russian infantry sitting in the trenches on the approximately half a hundred kilometer section of the southern front running through Mykolaiv and Kherson region.

A musician, a lawyer and top athletes

The Magyar Birds perform several important functions at the same time, because in addition to organizing air strikes, the security of fellow combatants must be ensured. Each additional pair of eyes helps to spot and prevent possible attack attempts by the occupiers in time and determine the movement and location of their combat equipment. “Our job is to find everything in real time, put it on an electronic card and transmit it," explains Magyar. The commander of the group notes that since the moment when the war started and they volunteered to defend the homeland, the group has remained at the front all the time. This is because no member of the group has wanted to rest. In this way, the commander, as well as his subordinates, can only see their loved ones via the Internet. Eight months!

The commander of the air reconnaissance group called Madjar is holding the so-called Ukrainian people's drone. His unit alone needs three hundred of these to destroy enemy soldiers and military equipment within a month.
The commander of the air reconnaissance group called Madjar is holding the so-called Ukrainian people's drone. His unit alone needs three hundred of these to destroy enemy soldiers and military equipment within a month. Photo: Olga Sošenko

The unit includes representatives of business, culture and many other fields of life. Among them are a top lawyer, several top athletes who have won European championships in aikido, ju-jitsu, taekwondo and kickboxing. A soldier with the call sign Svyat made rock music in his "previous life" and performed with a band in Estonia a few years ago. "More than that, we even have an expert on Russophobia here. A specialist who knows everything about Russophobia down to the smallest detail. A real expert in katsaps,” Svyat, who introduces his brothers-in-arms, jokes about the soldier called Yarema, who at the same time monitors the situation on the trench line on the headquarters' large TV screen.

Svyat scrolls from his computer to one of the videos captured in early September, which he is particularly proud of until this day – an enemy tank in a village street is firing at the Ukrainian positions, a careless crew member is sitting on the hatch of the tank. A few moments later, the same machine takes a precision hit from the Javelin, and the tanker flies skyward in a burst of fire. “We still do not know who is the author of this work of art, but these are some of the most beautiful shots I've seen,” Svyat praises the eagle-eyed Ukrainian fighter. The coordinates of the tank were transmitted to the infantry by Magyar’s Birds. “The body parts of this tanker are still there. I noticed it on one of the reconnaissance flights,” says Yarema.

The Russian units have a lot of infantry on the front section controlled by Magyar’s Birds, but they are poorly provided with vehicles, Svyat notes. Therefore, finding and destroying the armored vehicles of the occupiers hidden in the positions makes them feel especially good.

The main tools of the Magyar group are reconnaissance and attack drones of various capabilities, as well as simpler disposable kamikaze drones. The latter are used at an average rate of three hundred per month. It is a so-called people's drone of Ukrainian origin, which is bought piece by piece, adjusted and made ready for combat on the spot.

One drone carrying a 700-gram explosive charge costs $250 to $300. The most expensive one, a spy drone of Dutch origin, costs $300,000.

A soldier of the tactical air reconnaissance group Magyar's Birds with the callsign Svjat. In his "previous life" he was a musician in a rock band, now his energy is spent on creative work aimed at enemy positions.
A soldier of the tactical air reconnaissance group Magyar's Birds with the callsign Svjat. In his "previous life" he was a musician in a rock band, now his energy is spent on creative work aimed at enemy positions. Photo: Olga Sošenko

Simpler kamikaze drones can operate within a radius of up to seven kilometers, which means that the pilots and the escort team are essentially operating next to the enemy, where they are in constant danger of coming under mortar or artillery fire. The Russians are hunting drone pilots with particular zeal, and the Magyar reconnaissance team has not managed to avoid losses either: five fighters have been killed and 13 wounded since the beginning of the war.

Two minutes to destroy

Drone pilots make 1,500 reconnaissance flights and about 300 attack flights in a month. “It is very important for a soldier that he can not only spy and observe, but also fire at the enemy. These processes are important for us because they add fighting spirit. Boys are thirsty for it,” says Magyar. Their fighting spirit is enhanced by the knowledge that the enemy outnumbers them by eight times in terms of the number of drones, but the skills of Russian drone pilots are inferior to those of the Ukrainians.

According to Magyar, the Ukrainian radio-controlled attack drones are broadly divided into three classes depending on how large an explosive charge they are capable of carrying: grenades are attached to the smaller ones, mines weighing up to 14 kilograms are attached to the medium ones, and bombs of up to 1.8 meters are attached to the large ones. “A mine is enough to destroy a tank,” he notes. “Kamikaze drones with explosive charges are a separate category; their pilots use special masks to control them. These drones are capable of traveling at speeds of over 100 kilometers per hour and are equipped with explosive charges instead of grenades. Since these are disposable weapons, the use of grenades is simply not practical.”

Reconnaissance work goes on non-stop because there are several spy drones in the air at the same time. “It takes a maximum of two minutes from noticing the target to attacking it. At the same time, it takes up to fifty seconds to deliver the explosive charge to the right place,” explains Magyar. “Depending on the target, we also deal with fire control, we transmit the coordinates, and then it is for them to decide whose range of fire is better and response is quicker – either artillery or mortars – and who is not threatened by the enemy's counterfire. We work like a McDonald's cash register: information comes together through us, and others act on it. Adjusting the fire can take ten minutes, but it can also take an hour. It all depends on the opportunities and the number of opponents. Besides, you need not always hit them the first time. The ammunition also varies widely, right down to the GPS-guided precision projectiles. The latter is very expensive. One projectile costs more than 100,000 dollars and you simply cannot miss with it.”

Magyar’s Birds need support

The drones of Magyar’s Birds tactical reconnaissance platoon performed 1,513 sorties during September. Nine drones were lost during that time.

According to the commander of the platoon, they experience an urgent need for kamikaze drones despite their apparently good technical state. The Ukrainians cannot purchase the Chinese Mavic drones suitable for this purpose straight from the manufacturer and therefore have to buy components all over Europe.

Those able to help Magyar’s drone platoon can make contact with its commander through his Telegram website.

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