What were you doing when you were fifteen years old? I’ll bet you weren’t out conducting aerial reconnaissance hoping to use that information to destroy enemy Russian troops heading to your town. At least you weren’t unless you were part of the fictional account in the movie Red Dawn.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has called on his people time and time again to do all they can to “repel the occupiers.” In numerous ways, civilians are playing critical roles in helping protect their homeland and taking the fight to the Russians. Fifteen-year-old ninth-grade drone pilot Andriy Pokrasa and his father, Stanislav, residents of the greater Kyiv area, were among the earliest to answer the call to duty.
The summer before the war began, Andriy worked to earn enough money to buy a small drone. Little did he know, he’d be putting it to great use. In an interview with Global News, he noted, “I’m afraid of heights, but I love flying,” he says. “I like taking pictures from up high.”
After the February 24th invasion, the Pokrasa’s village of Kolonschina found itself in the way of the Russian push to Kyiv. Tanks and other military vehicles were headed their way in large numbers. To get an idea of exactly how many troops were on their way and where they were coming from, the government put out the call for drone pilots. GN interviewed the owner of a drone shop, who told them that at the time of the invasion, Ukraine’s military lacked short-range, ultra-maneuverable drones.
Have Drone, Will Travel
The shop owner did what you do in the 21st century; he took to Facebook and asked if any Ukrainian civilian drone owners would be willing to help out and gather video intelligence on Russian troop movements. He categorized the response as “overwhelming.” According to ABC News, Andriy posted that he had a drone and knew how to use it. He told them that Yuri Kasyanov of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) had responded to his post. At the time, the CDF was not aware he was a teenager.
The CDF asked Andriy and his father to take the drone to the village of Makariv, not far from Kyiv. Andriy is quoted as saying,
“There were fuel trucks, tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, I tracked them on a drone, they were in my picture. And then I opened the tab with the map on the drone and put a mark on it and the coordinates appeared there.”
As they made their way to their covert observation point, mom back home was a nervous wreck. She told GN she had no way of contacting her family and was worried sick.
Before long, however, the Pokrasa family was rewarded with images such as the one below. This is an example of what you call “actionable intelligence.” Andriy gave the data to Kasyanov, who sent it forward to a Ukrainian artillery battery, who promptly wiped out the column of equipment. Andriy told ABC that he and his dad were close enough to the potential impact area that they had to be evacuated. “Yuri organized a green corridor for us – a convoy,” he said. “We went from this area to the Zhytomyr highway, which by that time had already been cleared.”
Their heroic actions could have very well saved the entire town. It most certainly was a great help to the region.
The press has taken to referring to Andiry as “Drone Boy.” He told ABC News reporter Britt Kleinette, “My mom was very scared at first, but now she is proud that we did well, that we are healthy and that we are able to help.” After spying on the Russians, however, mom thought it would be a good idea to leave the country for a while, and she and her son temporarily relocated to Poland. Stanislav, according to Ukrainian law, had to remain in the country. Mother and son have since returned home.
When Andriy first told his friends how he helped the military, they didn’t believe him. And then, months later, his story appeared on local TV. After that, he says, “My friends are very happy that everything went well, and I am fine. I had to help because I could.”