EDITOR’S NOTE: It has come to our attention that the author of this article submitted photos that misidentified which military the soldiers were from. The author was in the Ukraine and his other photos were of the unit he was working with, and he submitted two photos that were not his, and were misidentified, along with his main photos. We sincerely apologize for the error.
Events in the Ukraine have shocked the world and have had a major rippling effect. The Russians have invaded and taken Crimea and threaten to continue into the Ukrainian mainland. Ukrainian forces have massed and engaged Russian troops in the eastern and southern regions of the Ukraine. After being under Soviet rule during the USSR government, the Ukrainian people do not want to live under the oppression of the Russian rule again and are willing to fight for it. The Ukraine is at a severe disadvantage and is a true underdog in this conflict. Almost all of their weapons are pre-1991 Soviet produced weapons they received while under the rule of the USSR. There were only two munitions manufacturing facilities available to the Army, one in the Ukraine mainland and the other in Crimea. However, the one in Crimea is now under Russian control. There is now only one and it does not produce nearly enough ammunition to sustain a war with Russia. There are limited quantities with obviously no resupply by the Russians. The Ukraine has begged for NATO and UN intervention. The sanctions put on Russia are hurting the Russian people but not the Russian military. Like the times of the USSR, Putin is putting a majority of the finances of Russia into the military and leaving its populous to suffer. The threat to the security of the Ukraine is no less than pre-sanctions.
The Ukrainian army is purely conscript, same as their Russian adversary. All males at the age of 18 are required to serve. This time, they generally receive their training and head to the troubled eastern and southern regions of the Ukraine to deal with the enemy at the gate, Russian troops. As of this writing, the Ukrainian Army has suffered more than 5,000 casualties and the Russians have been minimal. Low supply of ammunition and aging weapons is a major hurdle for these freedom fighters as well as the pre out-datedness of much of their military equipment compared to that of the Russian troops.
This author spent some time in the Ukraine in December of 2014 working with the Army on small arms maintenance with Otis Technology in an effort to prolong the life of their current fleet of small arms as well as increase durability and reliability. Getting a firsthand look at their equipment, their entire fleet seen is older Soviet-era small arms. Although durable and reliable many were tired to say the least.
The primary small arm for the army is the AK74-series rifle chambered in 5.45x39mm. They do have some old stocks of 7.62x39mm rifles in storage but the primary weapon is the 5.45x39mm model. The standard AK74 with wooden furniture and a polymer pistol grip were the most common. This 16.3 inch chrome lined bore and chamber barrel is topped off with an extremely effective muzzle brake. The magazine holds 30 rounds of 5.45x39mm ammunition. The magazines are either made of a Bakelite material or of a polymer (later produced magazines). The cycle rate is approximately 650 rounds per minute. This can be slightly affected by temperature conditions. The reliability is excellent and on paper to bolt weights to velocity show to be a more balanced and reliable mechanism than its 7.62x39mm granddad. The overall length of the rifle is 37.1 inches. On the range, we were hitting targets at 300 yards but not much beyond that. This is significantly better that the 7.62x39mm AKM rifles. Many tested did not continuously hit targets at 200 yards.
The AKS-74 was also quite common, the only difference between this and the AK74 is that it possesses a folding stock making it more compact and easier to deploy out of armored personnel carriers and other sorts of vehicles. These tended to be more in use by combat troops and the older AK74 rifles were used in training. With the stock extended the rifle has an overall length of 37.1 inches and with the side folding stock closed an overall length of 27.2 inches.
Combat units also were equipped with the newest AK-74M. This is a modernized AK74 with several improvements – the most notable change is the furniture is now made of black, glass-filled polyamide. The stock has the same shape as the standard AK74 but folds to the left side. Some other improvements have been a lightened bolt and carrier assembly. The muzzle brake is improved as well as a stronger receiver cover. Also, a redesign of the guide rod return spring retainer that allows the firing of the GP-25, GP-30 and GP34 grenade launchers without having additional receiver cover fastener. All AK-74M rifles are now equipped with a bracket for mounting an optic.
The RPK-74 is also in use. This is a highly strengthened AK-74 rifle with a more durable receiver. The magazine well is reinforced with steel inserts. The recoil spring and spring guide has been updated as well. The barrel is a longer 23.2 inches. This boosts the muzzle velocity from 2,953 feet per second in the AK-74 to 3,149 feet per second in the RPK-74. The barrel is topped off with a flash suppressor rather than a muzzle brake. The normal magazine for this rifle is a 45-round magazine but the standard 30-round AK-74 magazine is perfectly compatible. This weapon also fires at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. The overall length of the fixed stock version is 40.9 inches with the side folding stock variations 71.7 inches with the stock extended and 33.3 inches with the stock folded. The various models weigh between 10 to 11 pounds.
Also seen were the RPK-74M, which like the AK-74M uses furniture now made of black, glass-filled polyamide. The stock has the same shape as the RPK stock but folds to the left side. These too are equipped with a side bracket for mounting optics. This was the model seen at the training range in Kozelets’kyi rayon training base.
The Ukrainian Army relies on the firepower of the PKM to fulfill the purpose of general purpose machine gun role. This is a Kalashnikov design that fires the 7.62x54mmR round from non-disintegrating belts. This was particularly challenging design for Kalashnikov since most modern machine guns push the round through the link to load. This could not be done on the PKM due to the fact the 7.62x54mmR cartridge has a rim on it. He had to make the design so it would pull the cartridge out of the belt and reroute it to the chamber. He made the needed changes to make a reliable and durable machine gun. The machine gun has some pretty unique quirks about it. First, most modern machine guns feed from the left and eject from the right. The PKM feeds from the right and ejects to the left. The belts hold 25 rounds and the belts can be linked together to whatever the desired length may be. The ejection port has a cover that opens only when the cartridge case is ejected. The cocking handle is on the right side of the machine gun receiver. There is a standard AK-pistol grip with a thumb safety on the left side. The barrel can be easily changed by sliding the lock lever inward, and then by grabbing the handle on the barrel, the barrel can be pulled free of the receiver.
The operating system of the machine gun is identical to that of an AK-type rifle, just upside down. The gun fired from the open bolt position. This is highly desirable due to the severe heat of the gun due to rapid fire. By having an open bolt the cartridge only enters the chamber long enough for the bolt to lock and the round to be fired. This eliminates the possibility of a cook-off like you would encounter in a closed bolt weapon. There is a bipod mounted onto the front of the gun but no lower handguard. The lack of the lower handguard makes the machine gun difficult to fire from a standing position. This has always been a major critique of the machine gun.
The barrel is 25.4 inches in length and chrome lined. The rear of the barrel is externally chrome plated for easer cleaning, installation and removal from the receiver. There is a flash suppressor on the end of the muzzle.
The weight of the PKM is 16.53 pounds with the bipod. The overall length of the PKM is 46.9 inches with a cyclic rate of 650 to 750 rounds per minute. Due to the heavy power of the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, the maximum effective range is 1,000 meters. Belts come in 100, 200 and 250-round boxes. The ammunition box may be attached to the bottom of the machine gun’s receiver. The belts can be reduced or extended to whatever length the machine gunner requires. The machine gun can use either iron sights or be mounted with various optical or thermal type sighting systems. There are no tools required for disassembly for cleaning.
The PKM machine gun was seen mounted to trucks, on top of tanks, inside helicopters as well as carried by Ukrainian machine gunners. The soldiers seem to like the gun and are very confident in the reliability. Like many before them the gunners wished for a handguard so the gun could be more easily fired while standing. The PKM fired by this author was an older Soviet produced one with no way of knowing how many rounds have been through it. The machine gun experienced one malfunction where the cartridge was pulled out of the belt, but when moving forward in the receiver got jammed in place. The malfunction was not quick to clear. However, looking at the belts that are used over and over in training could have been the culprit as they showed extreme wear.
Ukrainian sniper/sharpshooters mostly depend on the SVD Dragunov. This rifle was designed by Yevgeny Dragunov and put into service in 1963 as a squad support weapon. It does not possess the long range accuracy of a M110 or L129A1 sniper rifle.
The rifle is a short stroke piston operated rifle that fires from the closed bolt (three locking lugs). From outward appearance it looks like a Kalashnikov but upon closer examination it is different. Accuracy can potentially be improved by going with a short stroke piston rather than a long stroke piston. Also, weight can be decreased as well as recoil, especially with such a long powerful cartridge as the 7.62x54mmR. The rifle has a two position gas regulator.
The stock provides a pistol grip and is what is referred to as the “skeleton” stock. There is a cheek piece that can be folded away to enable use of the iron sights. The stock is short for anyone of large stature. This author has long arms and found it uncomfortable to shoot. The safety is the same type as the AK-type rifle but only has a safe and fire position. One of the most notable changes is that when the last round is fired, the bolt remains locked to the rear. This is unlike the AK-series where you hear a click from the hammer falling to tell you the weapon is empty. To reload, the empty magazine is removed, a loaded magazine is inserted and the bolt is pulled to the rear and let go to chamber a round.
The magazine holds 10 rounds of 7.62x54R ammunition. This feeding mechanism posed a challenge for the designer Yevgeny Dragunov. It is very difficult to get cartridges with rims to function in a magazine though he was able to do it and get it to function reliably. The magazine is manufactured from steel. It is inserted in the same rocking fashion as that of the AK-family of weapons. In trying to reload the SVD, the author found it quite awkward and time consuming. Perhaps one who is trained on the SVD can do this magazine change with much more speed and ease but it was challenging compared to the American M16/AR-10-type rifles.
The barrel length of the standard SVD is 24.4 inches in length. The barrel profile is quite thin to save weight. The bores have been seen both chrome and non-chrome plated. According to most documentation, the original twist on the SVD was 1 turn in 12.6 inches. According to a Russian Dragunov manufactured in 1965, this author measured 1 turn in 13.25 inches. In the 1970s the twist rate was changed to accommodate newer heavier projectiles. The twist rate was changed to 1 turn in 9.4 inches. This author measured a Russian Tiger carbine and this rifle had a 1 turn in 9.6 inches. If these barrels are button cut, that may explain some of the differences but if broach cut, there really is no explanation from the measured rifles versus the specification. The faster twist was required to force new munitions such as tracer, armor piercing and armor piercing incendiary ammunition. This did have an adverse effect on the use of the standard sniper ammunition. Supposedly the long range accuracy was reduced by 19%. The barrel is provided with an excellent flash suppressor that would assist the shooter with concealment in low level or dark conditions by hiding his flash signature.
The rifle has iron sights similar to that of an AK but are designed for back up use only. The optic is put in a mount that attaches to a rail on the left side of the rifle. The standard issue optic is a PSO-1 optical sight. This scope has neither focus adjustment nor parallax compensation control. The optic features a bullet drop compensator for the 7.62x54mmR round in 50 meter or 100 meter increments out to 1,000 meters. The bullet drop compensator must be matched for rifle and ammunition combination by the factory. There is a floating element designed in the optic to help the shooter determine distance. This is called a stadiametric rangefinder. This optic would be considered primitive compared to the optics in use today by the U.S and NATO countries.
The SVD is not in the class of rifles with the M110 or the L129A1 rifles or most other modern semiautomatic sniper systems. Its potential fills more of a designated marksman role than that of an actual sniper. The SVD has significantly more recoil than most of the semiautomatic 7.62x51mm rifles in the industry. But at shorter ranges, this is a weapon to be reckoned with. The Ukrainian Army makes heavy use of these rifles.
The standard pistol for the Ukrainian Army is the 9x18mm Makarov pistol. The pistol is designated as “PM” which is translated into English as Makarov’s Pistol. This pistol entered service in 1951. The 9x18mm cartridge is about has high power as one can go with a blowback operated pistol in this size.
The pistol fires the 9x18mm cartridge. The cartridge case is manufactured from steel and fires a 94 grain ball cartridge. They can be found in copper or steel jacket. The round produces a muzzle velocity of 1,030 feet per second compared to a 9x19mm firing a 124 grain projectile at 1,185 feet per second. The pistol’s magazine holds 8 rounds of
The pistol fires from the straight blowback method of operation. The barrel is 3.68 inches in length and chrome plated (mostly). The barrel is secured into the frame of the pistol. The trigger is a double action/single action trigger meaning with the hammer in the forward position and safety off, the trigger pull will have a long heavy pull; then when the pistol extracts, ejects, chambers and feeds a new cartridge into the chamber the hammer will be in the shorter and lighter single action mode of fire.
The slide has a decocking lever and manual safety. On the left side of the slide is a lever. When pulled to its downward position the hammer will safely decock and the safety is engaged. By flipping the safety upward, the safety is disengaged. The trigger can be pulled through or the hammer cocked. When the safety is on the hammer cannot be manually cocked back.
The pistol weighs a light 26 ounces with an overall length of 6.36 inches. The width of the pistol is 1.16 inches. The sights are a fixed blade front sight with a rear sight adjustable for windage. It is drift adjustable. The maximum effective range of the pistol is 50 meters to one very proficient with the pistol. Though replaced in 2003 in Russia by the Yargin PYa pistol (Grach) chambered in 9x19mm (17 round capacity) the Makarov remains in service by many countries. In the Ukraine, many officers carry the pistol but several others were seen with these as well. It did not appear there was any specific rule as to who had them.
The Ukrainian Army does have weapons that are proven to be among the best in the world for many years. Many go back to the late 1940s and up to the early 1990s. However, their weapons are older and have not been updated since the fall of the Soviet Union and they have not received the updates found in many Russian weapon systems that have modernized their current systems. The real crisis relates to ammunition in the Ukraine. With only one functioning ammunition facility they are buying munitions from foreign countries. Hopefully they will be able to get the needed weapons and be able to keep the Ukraine a free and independent nation.