Russian video was released showing a lancet suicide drone, costing at least $20,000, obliterating what they thought was a $13 million leopard tank, provided to Ukraine by Germany.
That video and other photos and videos posted by Ukraine, were purporting to show Russian strikes biting on similar "bait," but it can’t be independently verified. They comport with a strategy known to be employed by both sides: trick your adversary into wasting their limited supply of artillery, kamikaze drones and missiles.
And in Ukraine, where so many citizens look for ways to contribute to the war effort, they can shop and donate directly to the front lines at the "smart war" store. A man, who asked Scripps News to call him Ivan, serves as a "customer service" rep.
"This mortar is made the actual size. Of course, if you stand very close, you can see that it is wooden, but it looks like a real one from a drone," said Ivan.
Ivan showed us wooden machine guns, anti-tank rockets and mortars. The prices marked showed that an anti-tank grenade launcher, for example, can be purchased for around $80. Speedy delivery is assured, not to the customer’s home, but to a military unit on the front line.
"My task is people come and ask 'what kind of device is this?' I say this is a mock-up of an anti-tank weapon. I tell them why it is needed, how it is placed and whom it will help. Here are infantry weapons, as well as mortars and anti-tank guns," said Ivan.
Like the decoys he’s peddling, Ivan himself isn’t what he appears to be.
SCRIPPS NEWS' JASON BELLINI: So are you a salesman?
IVAN: No, I have no financial interest. I am not a manager and I am not a salesman. I just want to help somehow. If they’d just let me go to the front now, I would.
Since 2014, he has said yes to dangerous missions, as a senior marine sergeant who fires anti-tank weaponry. At the start of the full-scale invasion last year, his unit fought to defend, but ultimately lost, the city of Mariupol. The Russians captured him. After nine months in captivity, he was released in one of the prisoner exchanges. Since then, he has been in Kyiv receiving rehabilitation — for what injuries, he won’t specify.
He says the military doesn't think he is ready. For now, this is how he contributes to the war effort.
"As a child, I vacationed with my father at sea. And on the way to the beach there was a big banner that said, 'the best rest is a change of activity.' I'm not someone who'd want to change my field of activity, even on vacation. So I've ended up here in a military establishment," said Ivan. "If I can help during these couple of months that I am in Kyiv for rehabilitation — then why not. Everything for the victory."
The decoys here are relatively small. The big guns Ukraine is using to attract Russian cruise missiles are inflatable purchased from Inflatech, a Czech company that says a fake tank can be inflated, and ready for the Russians to blow up, in 10 minutes. Among their dozens of offerings are decoy versions of HIMARS rockets.
BELLINI: If you had decoys like these a year ago in Mariupol do you think that could help you avoid getting captured?
IVAN: At the time when I was captured, there was only one way to escape capture — to die. If we had such decoys, we would have killed more Russians. Perhaps we could have held out longer. Decoys were needed.
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