Young Ukrainians risking their lives building deadly kamikaze drones to hunt down and kill Russian soldiers

We’re racing across town in battle-torn eastern Ukraine, trying to keep up with a battered BMW driven by an 18-year-old with his 21-year-old mate urging him on; but they aren’t joyriding youngsters. They’re soldiers in the military and part of a special unit, and they’re taking us to their headquarters.

We had met an hour or so earlier when we pulled up outside another small house they operate from, long since abandoned by its owners after a year of continuous shelling from the Russian forces.

It’s the same across much of the Donbas – the civilians have moved out and the army has moved in.

We can’t film outside as their location is secret, but we’re led into a gloomy corridor and through a curtain.

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Inside two boys are working, one with a soldering iron and another tapping furiously on a computer, data and codes scrolling up the screen.

Beside them, an AK-47 has been leaned against the wall.

In a glass-fronted cabinet are rows of sealed plastic tubes, next to the stacks of batteries and covering an entire shelf, piles of neatly stacked drones – the type you’d buy in a high street shop.

This secret base is home to the 93rd brigade’s kamikaze drone team, known as the Seneca unit.

Their job is quite simple, but the danger is acute.

The team stationed here take donated drones, reprogramme them so they can’t be detected in flight, attach explosives to them using cable ties, go to within one or two kilometres of the frontline in Bakhmut, and using virtual reality goggles, fly the drone into the Russian lines.

It’s crazy – but it works.

Anna is the commander of this group of four. “I’m just a very little commander,” she tells me.

She’s just 23 but she looks younger. She is an expert at logistics and has been put in charge of the three boys.

I ask her what her family thinks of her being here.

“They worry. But they can’t say anything because I am an adult, and they may agree or disagree, but they do agree to help us,” she says.

She tells me her mum and dad send them care packages and collect donations for them to buy more equipment.

Anna reveals she got married during the war, and so I ask her where her husband is.

“He’s just outside,” she says, laughing. He is also serving.

“We are fighting for our land, for our history, for our culture. We are fighting for our freedom, serenity and fighting for our people. Russia has stolen everything that is Ukrainian, is Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian history, unfortunately,” she says.

Anna hopes that when this war ends, it will be the end of conflict with Russia for good.

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She tells me when it’s over, she has plans for a new life.

“I’m keen on CrossFit, maybe after this, or maybe something else with sport, or maybe I’ll have some children, I don’t know…”

With the call sign “Miami”, one of the operators is just 18. He’s from here in the Donbas, and his father is fighting as well.

To them, the Bakhmut battle is an attack on their actual home.

“Miami” was just nine years old when Russia first invaded in 2014, and he says although it’s sort of been normal for him to live through the conflict in the Donbas, he didn’t expect to see full-scale war on these streets.

“It feels very strange maybe because not many time ago I walked on the streets, walked in this place. It’s not just about Konstantinovka, Chasiv Yar, Novodmytrivka, Bakhmut. It’s very strange to see this place at war.”

Mark, 21, says he joined up a few months after the Russian invasion started last year. He says he’s learnt the art of making and priming the kamikaze drones on the job.

He motions for me to sit down and shows me in detail how he sets the explosives up. He attaches wires, tiny batteries, and a simple triggering device that blinks a red light, before turning solid, signalling the charge is set.

“It’s like Hollywood,” he tells me, laughing.

Holding the tube, he slowly moves it in the air, simulating it is flying, and then smashes it into the wall.

I jump.

It may not be armed but it’s still a tube of high explosives and fragments.

He, just like the others watching on as we chat, says they have no choice but to fight even if it’s a bit scary.

“You have the explosions in your hands, just like this blinking LED, and you know, this can just like boom in your hands and just like that, it sends you to the grave,” he tells me.

“But I’m happy, it’s like absurdity of our life because it’s scary, and everyone who tells you that it’s not scary, it’s like b******t.

“It’s scary, it’s scary to attach the bomb, scary to just, like, land and just like do all these things. But you know your motivation, you know what’s behind you is just like a nightmare.”

The dedication, determination and complete absence of fear are all the more disturbing to me because I can’t help but think that they’re mainly younger than my own children, yet every day they risk their lives to kill Russian soldiers.

At their headquarters, a young woman in her early 20s with dyed-blue hair stares intently at her computer.

Above her and on three walls are large monitors with a mosaic of screens.

They are live drone feeds of the Bakhmut battlefield. They pass real-time information to the soldiers fighting on the ground. They can see the Russian soldiers and they can warn the Ukrainian units of their movements.

We can’t film the feeds because of operational security, but one of the soldiers, Artem, shows me what is happening – and explains Russia’s tactics as we watch.

“The main purpose now is to make sure that we can hold the city, and we won’t give up our flanks because Russians are trying to come around, you see here?” he says, pointing at the screen.

“They are trying to breach us everywhere, like their tactics right now is to constantly attack from every direction.”

When artillery or mortars can’t be used because of the danger of friendly fire they call up Anna’s team and send them to the front to carry out a focused hit.

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This is a full-on military unit involved in a deadly war, yet one can’t forget their age.

While we filmed, I could smell a bag of popcorn heating up in the microwave. Like any youngster anywhere in the world perhaps, they like munching on popcorn while working away.

It really is heartbreaking to me.

This generation is now at war and shouldn’t be, but then again, everyone in Ukraine is now.

Stuart Ramsay reports from eastern Ukraine with camera operator Toby Nash, and producers Dominique Van Heerden, Artem Lysak, and Nick Davenport.