How Ukraine Refurbishes Its Cold War Era Tanks for Modern Warfare

As Ukraine grapples with its worst political crisis since a pro-European uprising dislodged its Kremlin-backed leader in 2014, the nation's armed forces remain occupied by war in the east. Challenged by budgets and battle, the state-owned Ukroboronprom company is building military hardware at a furious pace to support Ukraine's hard-pressed army. Here's a look at the refurbishing of Cold War-era battle tanks and the manufacture of new armored personnel carriers at the Lviv Armor Vehicle Factory. Photographs by Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg

  1. NATO Standard

    NATO Standard

    Ukraine is upgrading its antiquated T-72 tanks to meet NATO standards by fitting them out as the PT-91 "Twardy," Poland's main battle tank. It features advanced armor and a more powerful engine. Although the tanks are not in Ukrainian army service they are used in reserve.

  2. Turret Danger

    Turret Danger

    The aim of upgrading is to enhance the combat characteristics of earlier produced T-72 tanks. A direct hit on the manned turret often causes the shells within to explode, killing the crew. 

  3. Decades Old

    Decades Old

    Thirty-year-old machinery is in need of a major overhaul, despite being one of the most successful of the post-WWII battle tanks. It's been used in numerous conflicts over the years and has been exported to 40 countries. In 2015 Russia also announced plans to modernize some of its older T-72 models.

  4. Heavy Metal

    Heavy Metal

    Rolled-up steel tank tracks ready for fitting.  The maximum road speed of the old T-72 is thought to be around 40 miles per hour.  It is considered light at around 41 tonnes. An upgrade adds more weight.

  5. Rebel Army

    Rebel Army

    Russia has more than 15,000 tanks, more than any other nation, but the vast majority of these are ancient T-72s and T-80s. Russia unveiled its new supertank, the T-14 Armata, last year. 

  6. Tried & Tested

    Tried & Tested

    Ukrainian mechanics reference Soviet-era manuals during the refurbishment of the machines, which entered production in 1971. The Russians used outdated machinery, including the 30-year old T-72s, in its invasion of Georgia in 2008. The onslaught was so overwhelming that Georgia's ill-trained military had to capitulate.


  7. Fitting Out

    Fitting Out

    A worker fits out the interior of a Dozor-B light armored vehicle. The Dozor is a new four-wheeled armored vehicle intended for use by the Ukraininan army and special forces.

  8. Welding Shop

    Welding Shop

    The welded steel body shell of a Dozor-B 4x4 vehicle sits in the military workshop before being fitted with a chassis. It is designed to resist anti-tank mines and small arms fire.

  9. Engine Rebuilds

    Engine Rebuilds

    The massive diesel engines used in the tanks require complete rebuilding and refitting in the Lviv workshop. 

  10. End Of The Line

    End Of The Line

    After Russia presented its state-of-the-art Armata battle tank last year, Ukrainians ridiculed it on social media. "This is a coffin on treads," blogger Mikola Gritsenko wrote on Facebook.  Ukraine plans to sell its rival tank, the BM Oplot, for $4.9 million to overseas clients. The price tag on an Armata is about $7.8 million, although no export customers have been lined up. The first exports are planned for 2020, according to Russia's Military Industrial Commission. 

  11. Tank Graveyard

    Tank Graveyard

    Among the hundreds of abandoned military vehicles sitting in a Lviv scrapyard are numerous T-72 battle tanks awaiting repair. Stretched budgets and the growing demand for battle-ready hardware means refurbishing rusting hulks is a viable option.

  12. Past Times

    Past Times

    Ukrainian mechanics pass beneath a Cold War-era mural celebrating the air force, army and navy of the former Soviet republic as they exit the machine shop after finishing their shift.