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EXCLUSIVE War in Ukraine

Arms Maker: Plants Taken, Destroyed in Numerous Russian Attacks

Martin Brest (Oleh Boldyrev) has, in an interview with Kyiv Post journalist Aleksandra Klitina, described the workings of state-owned Ukroboronprom, a strategic manufacturer of weapons and military ha

Aug. 25, 2022

Martin Brest (Oleh Boldyrev) has, in an interview with Kyiv Post journalist Aleksandra Klitina, described the workings of state-owned Ukroboronprom, a strategic manufacturer of weapons and military hardware in Ukraine, during the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion. He said there have been more than 120 attacks by Russia on Ukroboronprom’s facilities, with some plants taken by the enemy or destroyed. He also revealed how the arms maker has changed its strategy, about practices it uses against traitors, and discussed the possibility of producing analogs of HIMARS weaponry in Ukraine. The following is the text of the interview with Ukroboronprom manager and spokesman Oleh Boldyrev:   

Ukroboronprom encompasses 118 enterprises that operate in the development, manufacture, sale, repair, modernization, and disposal of weapons, and special equipment and ammunition and which are involved in military-technical cooperation with foreign states.

[Klitina] Good afternoon. We have Oleh Boldyrev with us today, an employee of Ukroboronprom, and a veteran of the Anti-terrorist Operation in 2014 (ATO).

[Boldyrev] Good afternoon.

[Klitina] How did you start working with Ukroboronprom? You have a very colorful biography – you served in the ATO, are a veteran, and also a writer. Why did you choose Ukroboronprom, and how did this happen?

[Boldyrev] I always wanted to be involved in the defense industry. I met with the manager and found common values I shared with him. Then I passed a polygraph.

[Klitina] Polygraph?

[Boldyrev] Everyone who comes to work must pass a polygraph once a year. I have already passed it twice in eight months of my work.

[Klitina] Do all employees pass it?

[Boldyrev] Yes, without exception. It takes about three and a half to four hours.

[Klitina] Can you tell me which questions the lie detector includes?

[Boldyrev] The questions are directed to the extent to which a person provides accurate information in a resume or interviews, about work with various organizations, and to the extent of the importance of financial leverage for a person’s work.

[Klitina] Has taking the polygraph always been the practice at Ukrobonprom?

[Boldyrev] I began my work at Ukroboronprom when Yuriy Husyev was the head, and I don’t know if this practice existed before.

[Klitina] That is interesting. I know that this is a very effective practice.

[Boldyrev] There are people that I know who did not pass the polygraph and were not hired, or their contract was not extended. The polygraph should be mandatory in the security and defense sector.

[Klitina] I agree. Logically, Russia would want to introduce its agents into the enterprises that belong to Ukroboronprom and the concern itself. Therefore, checking out your employees, including via a polygraph, is essential.

[Boldyrev] We have the General Director for Security, and he has a reasonably robust department that processes all information with our country’s special services.

[Klitina] Can Ukroboronprom’s enterprises work effectively when in  danger of strikes from Russia or active sabotage that may also take place? Is it possible to work effectively during a full-scale invasion?

[Boldyrev] For the first time, only in May, the President awarded 16 employees of Ukrobonprom, five posthumously. I will not comment on how effectively we work – but the missile cruiser Moskva was somehow sunk.

[Klitina] Has Ukroboronprom’s strategy changed? What is the focus of the concern, if you are able to answer?

[Boldyrev] I can try to answer in general, because when talking about the defense sector, a minimum of information should be released for reasons of secrecy and moral and ethical reasons. I joined Ukroboronprom in December, and the full-scale war began two and a half months later. I understood the main areas of work – where we were going and what we planned to do. In the first weeks of the invasion, we tried, first and foremost, not to lose Ukroboronprom.

Dozens of directors did not know what to do, or instead, they knew but did not have time to see if the enemy was at their gates. Also, in cases when the Armed Forces of Ukraine or territorial defense asked for weapons – the directors didn’t know what to do in such situations.

All the production chains of enterprises are connected with foreign and local suppliers, and it was necessary not to lose them. I was at Ukroboronprom from February 24 and stayed there. We lived there for a while. The general director and his deputies were also there. That’s why we didn’t miss anything or lose anything.

We have a main tank, the T-64, some of which we have repaired several times, and they still drive, shoot, and fight, judging from the front line, as we have had half a year since Russia’s full-scale invasion began.

Ukroboronprom’s enterprises carried out a significant part of these repairs. How has our work changed? We need to highlight various areas. There are new initiatives that we didn’t even think we would move forward with, but I cannot divulge the details yet.

[Klitina] Have the principles of work with our Western partners changed? I know there was cooperation in the past, but not on a large scale. Has anything changed now?

[Boldyrev] There are different types of cooperation – supply, joint development, and production. If we consider collaboration with the governments of other countries, then everything has speeded up, and cooperation with some allied countries is very effective. As for private companies, there is active cooperation outlined by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

In overall terms, international cooperation has become different. I will give you an example: we are currently involved in the biggest war in Europe since the Second World War. For Western defense companies, Ukraine is, in a certain sense, a training ground. We can test and conduct experiments with weapons, which benefit our partners and us too. However, the main subject of our cooperation remains joint development and production. We are not focused on manufacturing ourselves, not on purchasing and using technologies.

[Klitina] Usually, for joint production, foreign partners set requirements for transparency and fighting corruption. Is Ukroboronprom implementing such reforms? Is the corporatization of state enterprises planned?

[Boldyrev] With the start of full-scale aggression, we began to work slightly differently than in peacetime. Immediately after the invasion, it was crisis management, then little by little, we started planning: first for two weeks, then for longer. We concluded that planned reform, as stated in draft bill 3822, should be implemented. This reform was designed to implement the principles of corporate governance at Ukroboronprom’s enterprises. After the transformations planned by reform, we will get more efficient production and weapons.

[Klitina] I once met the Ambassador of France, and he complained that at certain levels of Ukroboronprom there was opposition to reforms, but that was a couple of years ago.

[Boldyrev] On February 24, there were 12 of us at Ukroboronprom, including security. On February 25, there were 16 people. For some time, we lived on the premises of Ukroboronprom because of the curfew and shooting on the streets. I got to know my colleagues a lot during this time. I understood what kind of people they are: what they can do, and what they’re thinking about. It was an exciting experience.

Many behaved differently than I expected. I thought that the Ukroboronprom management would evacuate to western Ukraine because 10,000 people work at Ukroboronprom, which needs to be managed, so it was logical for the administration to evacuate to a safe place, but they decided to stay in Kyiv.

There was a lot of work and a shortage of people. We opened the gates for the first three days and handed out weapons from our enterprises and warehouses to the closest military personnel. We disseminated everything from our enterprises as much as possible, so that at least if our enterprises were bombed, the weapons would not be lost, and we armed our military as much as possible.

We organized a voluntary unit at the end of February to act in accordance with the orders of  territorial defense forces. We had 11 more tasks in addition to supervising and management of Ukroboronprom.

[Klitina] It was every person’s choice to either stay or run away – perhaps some fled?

[Boldyrev] Of course, if people escaped with their lives and did not simply evacuate from shelling, there is no time to think about them – we work with what we have. It was necessary to contact and work with every single plant director (Ukroboronprom controls 118 enterprises in total) – to explain what to do and answer all questions. Most importantly, it was necessary to force plant directors to get back to work.

From the first day that fighting began, armored vehicles began to break down – who would repair them? There are certain divisions of the Ministry of Defense and Ukroboronprom. Exactly which enterprise would repair the tanks, how to make it official, and where to get the funds – many questions needed to be answered, and the Ukroboronprom team managed to. We are sitting in the center of Kyiv. Tanks are driving, and the front line is being held.

There were more than 120 attacks on our factories. Some of the factories were captured, and some were destroyed. A great deal happened within the defense complex during this time, and I believe that the employees of Ukroboronprom were underestimated. They lived at these factories in bomb shelters and ensured that work was done.

[Klitina] Do the managers of Ukroboronprom enterprises also have to pass a polygraph?

[Boldyrev] As far as I know, yes.

[Klitina] Does this exclude traitors who are there?

[Boldyrev] The traitor, to betray effectively must, in my opinion, carried out a certain amount of work, even a polygraph cannot give guarantees. But after these six months, I can say for sure that Ukroboronprom is working, and we are standing.

[Klitina] A polygraph is highly effective. Ukrainians need to know that they can be confident in Ukroboronprom’s management, that everything works efficiently, and that employees pass a polygraph. It is excellent news – that’s why I’m asking.

[Boldyrev] Yes, even though I am a project manager, and this is not a management team, I have already passed it twice in eight months. If I hadn’t passed it, I wouldn’t be sitting here.

[Klitina] HIMARS is a very effective weapon. Can Ukroboronprom hypothetically produce analogs of this weapon here in Ukraine?

[Boldyrev] Hypothetically, I read on the Internet, yes. We work and produce a range of weapons and military equipment – precisely because we manufacture a certain number of weapons, this range is not requested from foreign allies by the leaders of our state, and they can focus on ordering HIMARS and the necessary ammunition. The rest of the weapons we either have or are being repaired, manufactured, and can be used.

Western partners allocate a limit of money for aid. For example, the funding of tanks will reduce the volume of HIMARS that are supplied. When Ukroboronprom covers a part of specific needs, Ukraine can get more of other weapons. The assistance is limited to a certain amount of money – say a billion dollars – the more we cover ourselves, the less we have to ask for.

If we get a task to drop everything and produce Ukrainian HIMARS, then we will. Maybe there is such a task, but I don’t know about it.

The number of weapons and their nomenclature is so huge that it would be necessary to inflate staff tenfold. We live in a country with an economy that has been halved due to the war, so Ukroboronprom is also shrinking. A balance needs to be found between funding  opportunities and production opportunities.

[Klitina] Which country helps the most?

[Boldyrev] Only the person who signs the papers knows that. The publicity recognizes that we have been given some weaponry when it is already at the front. The actual volume of weapons provided is not known to the general public. Sometimes the information stated in the press is not correct.

[Klitina] Maybe the types of weapons are also not given completely?

[Boldyrev] Well, who knows what they write on the Internet?

[Klitina] Well, thank you for the interview.

[Boldyrev] Thank you!