April 1, 2023

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Ukraine's teenage drone champion 'happy we destroyed someone'

Ukraine’s teenage drone champion ‘happy we destroyed someone’

Andrey Pokrasa, 15, lands his drone on his hand during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 11, 2022. Andrey is welcomed to Ukraine for a stealth aerial reconnaissance that he and his father did at work in progress. war with Russia. They used their drones to help the military discover, locate and destroy Russian targets in the early days of the Russian invasion.

Natasha Pisarenko | AP . photos

As Russian tanks and trucks rush near their village, a Ukrainian teenager and his father stealthily launch their tiny drone into the air.

Working as a team, they took sweeping pictures of the armored column moving towards Kyiv and determined its coordinates, and soon transmitted the valuable information to the Ukrainian army.

Within minutes, artillery batteries rained down on the invading forces with shells that were deadly.

Andrei Pokrasa, 15, and his father, Stanislav, were welcomed to Ukraine for their volunteer aerial reconnaissance work in the early days of the invasion, when Russian forces rushing in from the north made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seize the capital and bring the country to its knees.

For an entire week after the invasion on February 24, the pair made repeated overflights with their drone—risking capture, or worse, if Russian forces knew of their intrusion.

“These were some of the scariest moments of my life,” Andre recounted as he showed off his leadership skills to a team of Associated Press reporters.

“We have provided the photos and the website to the armed forces,” he said. “They narrowed down the coordinates with greater accuracy and transmitted them by walkie-talkie, in order to adjust the artillery.”

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His father was happy to leave the leadership to the boy.

“I can operate the drone, but my son does it better. We decided right away he would,” said Stanislav Pokrasa, 41.

They are not sure how many Russian targets have been destroyed using the information they provided. But they saw the devastation of the Russian convoy when they later put the drone back over the charred hulls of trucks and tanks near a town west of Kyiv and off a strategically important highway leading to the capital.

“More than 20 Russian military vehicles were destroyed, among them fuel trucks and tanks,” the father said.

While Russian and Ukrainian forces were fiercely fighting for control of the suburbs of Kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers finally urged the Pokrassa family to leave their village, which was later occupied by Russian forces.

With all adult men up to the age of 60 under government orders to remain in the country, Bukrassa the Elder was unable to rejoin his wife and son when they fled to neighboring Poland.

They returned a few weeks ago, when Andrei finished his school year.

“I was glad we destroyed someone,” he said. “I was glad I contributed, because I was able to do something. It’s not just sitting around and waiting.”