Modern Day

Man Steals Rocket From Ukrainian Battlefield, it Blows up in his Car

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has now been grinding on since February 24th.  Since Russia invaded, the death toll on both sides has been steadily mounting and has caused huge international concern.  Months have gone by, cities have been reduced to rubble, and no clear victory is in sight for either side.

War often leads people to do risky, sometimes downright stupid things. And that truism was evident again in the third week of May.

Two Russians, ostensibly in Ukraine to deliver humanitarian aid, decided to steal a rocket from a battlefield. Whether it was meant for resale or taken as a souvenir is uncertain.

Steals Rocket

However, the ill advised robbery proved injurious to both, because the bomb, stored in their car’s trunk, exploded once they got back to Russia. Seriously injured, both men were hospitalized with wounds, though the exact extent of those injuries isn’t clear at the time of this writing.

Car blown up by a rocket
The man steals rocket launcher, it then blows up his car. Credit: UAWeapons

A Twitter account named Ukraine Weapons Tracker noted at the time, “Why it is unwise to take items from the battlefield,” alongside a photograph of the damaged vehicle and remnants of the rocket on the ground.

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The weapon in question was a Swedish built Pansarskott 86 (AT-4). The explosion occurred in Mytishchi, Russia and resulted in considerable damage to the vehicle. The Pansarskott 86 (AT-4) is an anti-tank rocket.

The two men involved have been identified as 52 year old Viktor Kovtykov and 38 year old Nikolay Podobrazny. Kovtykov is, surprisingly, a retired major from the Russian army.

When police and ambulances arrived on the scene, authorities evacuated nearby buildings until the danger was eliminated and the cause of the explosion discovered.

Steals Rocket for Black Market?

Unfortunately, weapons intended for Ukrainian soldiers do sometimes end up in the wrong hands. Some are stolen on their way to the battlefields, and end up in the hands of what “The Guardian” newspaper describes as the “hidden global economy.” When aircraft are shot down, they too are stripped.

In other words, they wind up in illicit stocks of illegal arms in the hands of criminal organizations that gladly sell them to the highest bidder.

Car blown up by a rocket
Stolen from a Ukrainian battlefield. Locals in surrounding buildings were evacuated from the area. Credit: @UAWeapons/ Twitter

Trackers of these illegal sales, like Interpol, are urging countries to keep records of what has been shipped to Ukraine.

Jurgen Stock, the director at Interpol, asks countries aiding Ukraine to use “track and trace” weapons that can be recorded on a central database. In the event that part or all of a shipment is stolen, Interpol and other organizations can trace where the weapons and ammunition have landed after the war.

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That said little can be done to reduce or wholly prevent one-off thefts like the one in May. Cars still cross the border from Russia and other countries into Ukraine, and if humanitarian aid is the guise used to enter, quick thefts of one, two or even three weapons are almost impossible to monitor. The chaos of war makes for excellent cover.

Rocket launcher laying on the road
The weapon was identified by experts in Ukraine as a Swedish Pansarskott 86 (AT-4) Credit: UAWeapons


But these two Russian men definitely got more than they bargained for.  A device like this could explode for any number of reasons. Improperly storing it in a car’s trunk will be a sure-fire way to jostle it enough until it explodes.

The rocket may even have been defective which is why it was abandoned in the first place. In this case, authorities said, it detonated because alarmingly other ammunition in the trunk sparked and set the rocket off!

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The end result was that two people who should not have had access to it were harmed because they saw fit to take it from the place it was intended – a battlefield.  Pictures of the vehicle show that the back half of it was virtually destroyed in the blast.

Stock told “The Guardian” that, once this war ends, stolen weapons are sure to make their way to new conflicts. “Once the guns fall silent (in Ukraine) the illegal weapons will come… the criminals, even now, are focusing on them.”

Although the war has lasted for several months already, military experts fear it may last for many more. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has braced his people for a long conflict.

You can follow Ukraine Weapons Tracker on Twitter

No doubt during the coming months, weapons intended for Ukraine’s soldiers will end up elsewhere, sold as macabre souvenirs or arms for another deadly fight in another torn-apart country. Such are the legacies of war.