In Ukraine, where underfunded and poorly supplied soldiers and citizens are fighting a war with a major military power, enterprising patriots have cobbled together weapons from almost every kind of ordinary consumer product. That includes some products very familiar to Vaping360 readers.
While disposable vapes have become ubiquitous around the world, and have created mini moral panics in some countries, they’re now serving a valuable function in Ukraine, helping that country’s effort to repel the Russian invasion.
There are, of course, Molotov cocktails—the traditional low-tech explosives made from soda or wine bottles filled with gasoline or homemade variations on napalm. The wick is a gas-soaked rag stuffed in the opening of the bottle. You light the rag and toss it toward any nearby fascist invader. They’re actually very effective.
Ukrainian citizens destroy 2 Russian tanks with molotov cocktails(Petrol, Gasoline) in Kiev. They are using the guerrilla war tactics to counter russian army in their capital. Salute your courage✊ #Ukraine #RussiaUkraineWar pic.twitter.com/lszsUyN6bl
— Mayuresh (@mayuresh2110) February 26, 2022
In addition to explosives, Ukrainians have constructed all sorts of tire-shredding objects and makeshift barriers using scrap materials like rebar from destroyed buildings. They’ve also devised a grenade launcher that’s powered by a shotgun, and another described as a crossbow made from scrap metal and bed springs.
There’s no shortage of ingenuity in Ukraine, and the country’s improvised weaponry has helped the Ukrainian military drag Russia into what may be an extended quagmire. It’s worth remembering that Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24, and many experts—including advisors to Russian President Vladimir Putin—thought the conflict would be over before March.
While devising war materials that don’t require moving parts or electronics is relatively easy, getting needed electronic products—and powering them—is more difficult. Delivering anything to Ukraine during the war isn’t easy; airports are closed, ports blockaded, and normal supply chains have been severely disrupted.
Batteries are expensive and hard to get—especially the rechargeable lithium ion cells needed to run power-hungry electronic products. That’s where disposable vapes fit in. Even though disposables are intended to be single-use vapes, their power sources are the same kind of rechargeable lithium batteries used in refillable vaping products.
The reason is that high-power/high-amp single-use batteries aren’t common and don’t put out as much voltage for as long a period as equal-sized lithium batteries. A single-use AA alkaline cell only produces 1.5 volts, but a rechargeable lithium ion 14500 cell—which is the same physical size as a AA—is rated at 3.7 volts, as are most other small lithium ion batteries, like 18650s.
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When volunteers building devices to help Ukraine’s soldiers looked for batteries, they discovered there weren’t many options, and what was available was very expensive. But some of those volunteers were vapers and they thought of a workaround: the disposable vapes they had stored for recycling.
As in most other European countries, disposable vapes have taken over the Ukrainian gray and black markets that supply many vapers, partly because open-system products like mods and tanks are difficult to sell in convenience stores where self-service and quick transactions are the order of the day. Being semi-legal, disposable manufacturers often offer options not available in strictly legal products—like a wide variety of flavors. Ukraine banned e-liquid flavors other than tobacco last July.
Ivan Volynets and a group of friends who mostly work in the IT industry have begun repurposing disposable vape batteries to make power banks for front-line soldiers to charge cell phones and other small electronics.
“We thought that e-cigs contained disposable batteries that could not be re-charged,” Volynets told Euromaidan Press. “We took one apart and discovered that was not the case! So, we removed the batteries from the e-cigarettes and created protection modules for them. Thus, by saving money on batteries, we could buy many more components and build many more power banks for our soldiers.”
Posting his group’s work on social media (see his Instagram post above) has brought more disposable vape donations than Volynets and his team can handle, but they’re building power supplies as quickly as they can.
Perhaps the most interesting use of disposable vape batteries in Ukraine is the work being done by engineer Maksym Sheremet and his organization called Drone Lab. They’re using vape batteries to power the release systems attached to the bottom of consumer-grade drones that enable the drones to drop supplies to Ukrainian soldiers—or explosives onto Russian soldiers.
The release mechanism allows a drone to hover directly above a Russian tank or vehicle and accurately drop a grenade. Sometimes (see the Twitter video below) the drone operator, watching a video feed transmitted from the drone, can even deliver the explosive directly into a tank’s open hatch.
The Drone Lab crew makes the release systems using 3D printers, and sends them to the front lines, or attaches them to either drones they build from scratch or commercial models donated to the group. So far they’ve built more than 4,000 release systems.
Sheremet told the Independent that Drone Lab started using disposable vape batteries because the cost and availability of new batteries had skyrocketed. Sheremet, a Ph.D student and teacher at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, set up collection boxes at the university where students and staff who vape can drop off their used disposable devices.
Full video of T-62 pic.twitter.com/e7Q1FI5oJz
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) July 8, 2022
“Lithium batteries used to cost $1 each but went up five times in price [after Russia invaded Ukraine] adding significantly to our costs,” Sheremet told the British daily. “So we started powering dropping systems from the batteries in disposable e-cigarettes. It’s free, easy to repurpose and environmentally friendly because we are recycling.”
Sheremet says there are 60 volunteers working at Drone Lab, with half of them dedicated to connecting the disposable vape batteries to charging ports and attaching them to drones. “We have students, engineers, volunteer programmes,” he told the Independent, “it’s very easy to solder this stuff, it is not a difficult job.”
Ukraine has used small drones for surveillance, delivering supplies, and to drop grenades and other incendiaries on Russian troops. The Ukrainian military has asked private citizens to donate their own drones to the war effort, and has crowd-funded purchases of others. Other volunteers have designed related tools, like a plastic casing with fins that allows drone operators to deliver grenades more accurately at targets below.
The work being done by the Drone Lab volunteers is helping Ukraine. “In the last 20 days, we’ve made 100 drone dropping systems using e-cigarette batteries and have another 100 in progress,” Sheremet added. “We have 2,000 orders in the pipeline.”