In Ukraine, volunteers are making body armor from old cars At a warehouse near the front lines in southern Ukraine, volunteers are making bulletproof vests, fixing shattered car windows and helping people escape from Russian-controlled areas.

In Ukraine, volunteers are making body armor from old cars

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Across Ukraine, people are volunteering to help in the war effort. Some are signing up for the security forces. Some are preparing meals. Others are helping people who evacuate from Russian-controlled territory to find transportation and places to sleep. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from a warehouse near the frontlines. It's a place where Ukrainian volunteers are doing a different kind of work.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: On the ground floor in what used to be a car repair shop in Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine, men are cutting pieces of scrap metal into strips. They then weld them together to make protective plates for bulletproof vests.

ALEKSII SIMCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: A welder who gives his name as Aleksii Simchenko describes how the pieces of metal are formed into a breastplate. Across the room, sparks fly as other people grind the edges of the plates. Vasyl Busharov - who, before the start of the war in February, was an event planner - now coordinates the volunteers who show up at this warehouse each morning. Busharovsays they're using metal from junked cars for the vests.

VASYL BUSHAROV: The used cars, old cars we make. And it is work. It's work. I can assure you we shot in all the plates and have a good result.

BEAUBIEN: They even brought in some soldiers to shoot at the body armor and make sure it works. Up a steep set of stairs from the metal shop, a dozen sewing machines surround a large work table.


BEAUBIEN: Here, women sew the canvas vests that will hold steel plates. Elena Grekova, a local fashion designer who usually sells her clothes in boutiques in Kyiv, oversees producing the bulky camouflage vests.

Had she ever designed a bulletproof vest before this?

ELENA GREKOVA: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Never - only clothes and shoes.

BEAUBIEN: Grekova says her team produces between 20 to 25 bulletproof vests every day. The warehouse also serves as a hub for volunteers who drive into Russian-controlled areas less than an hour from here near the besieged city of Mariupol. They're trying to evacuate people who can't get out on their own. This place is also a distribution point for humanitarian supplies for evacuees. There are rooms filled with donated canned food, pasta, shampoo, diapers. One problem for many of the people emerging from the intense fighting, Busharovsays, is auto glass.

BUSHAROV: (Through interpreter) There is a special division here of guys who help to fix their car windows because almost all the cars that get in here have broken windows.

BEAUBIEN: Russian forces have been bombing areas heavily before moving in with ground troops. The bombs can blow out all the windows of any car park near the explosion, so the mechanics here help patch up the evacuees' vehicles and replace their windscreens if they can. Most of the people fleeing Mariupol and other areas that have been pounded by the Russian invasion don't stay here. Many want to get as far away from the frontline as possible, some even saying their goal is to get all the way to Poland. Busharovsays hundreds of volunteers show up every day at the center. Mechanics work next to business consultants packing sandbags. Teachers coordinate delivery schedules.

BUSHAROV: (Through interpreter) Yeah, you can see the big difference between people who are afraid and people who are eager to help. And this time, I have seen so many people that will - they will probably be called my best friends in future. They are doing incredible things here.

BEAUBIEN: For him, he says this war has brought out the best in a lot of people. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, in Eastern Ukraine.

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