Tag Archives: Ukraine

Ukraine’s invasion could trigger an agricultural crisis. What can be done?

The ongoing war in Ukraine has thrown a new wrench in the well-oiled machine that is the global community. Disruptions caused by these events build upon the previous upheaval caused by the pandemic in sectors such as public health and energy security. However, a new threat now looms on the horizon: rising food prices and a serious risk of global food shortages.

Image credits Valdemar Fishmen / Flickr.

The three countries most involved in the conflict — Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus — are heavily involved in the global production of crops and fertilizers. War in this region is bound to send a sizeable shock throughout the world’s supplies and price of food.

Russia and Ukraine, combined, account for one-quarter of the world’s exports of wheat, and around half of all sunflower and sunflower products (such as cooking oil) exports. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn. One of these countries is being invaded, while the other is being hit with international sanctions as a response; in other words, neither of them can realistically speaking put the same amount of these staple foods to market as previously.

Furthermore, Russia and Belarus together account for a large proportion of all the world’s exports of potash, a vital ingredient for agricultural fertilizers. With both of these countries embroiled in a war, hit with sanctions, and quite willing to get back at those who imposed the sanctions, we can see trouble ahead for the agricultural sector.

Empty tables?

The areas that rely heavily on Ukrainian and Russian wheat exports (mainly the Middle East and Africa) will be directly impacted by the ongoing hostilities and will be affected to the greatest extent. Analysts say that these areas should prepare to see increases in the price of everyday food items virtually across the board. Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Yemen are the single largest importers of wheat globally and stand to be the most affected.

However, most or all countries around the world should expect to see a similar increase in the price of foodstuffs due to the prices of packaging and shipping being impacted by the war, as well as due to the greater economic disruptions that the conflict has caused. The impact of the war on the fertilizer industry is especially concerning.

Talking to the BBC, Svein Tore Holsether, the CEO of Yara International (one of the world’s largest producers of agricultural fertilizers), explains that the situation is quite grim. Fertilizer prices were already high due to recent increases in the wholesale prices of natural gas, which is essential for the production of ammonia, a key component of nitrogen fertilizers. The added impact of the war in Ukraine is likely to cause a real crisis, he explains.

“Half the world’s population gets food as a result of fertilizers (…) and if that’s removed from the field for some crops, [the yield] will drop by 50%,” Mr. Holsether said. “For me, it’s not whether we are moving into a global food crisis – it’s how large the crisis will be.”

“We’re getting close to the most important part of this season for the Northern hemisphere, where a lot of fertiliser needs to move on and that will quite likely be impacted.”

The Norwegian-based company explains that it is not directly affected by sanctions leveled at Russia, but that does not mean it is immune to them, either. These measures have caused immense disruptions in the shipping industry which affects every level of the economy, so shipments are very hard to secure. The Russian government has also advised domestic producers of fertilizer and fertilizer-associated materials not to export their products as a retaliatory measure against the sanctions imposed on them.

Furthermore, Yara is having trouble setting up alternative sources of raw materials for its fertilizers on short enough notice for the upcoming spring. Apart from natural gas, the West also relies heavily on Russian and Bielorussian potash and phosphate.

“We’re doing whatever we can do at the moment to also find additional sources. But with such short timelines it’s limited,” Mr. Holsether added.

Shortages of fertilizer could translate to higher operating costs for farmers together with lower yields — leading to food insecurity and significant rises in the cost of staple grains and a wider pallet of goods.

Agriculture under pressure

Climate change and freak weather are already placing farms under increased stress, as is the growing number of people on the planet. This is not a good background against which to have food shortages — and if there’s anything we’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s that our globalized world isn’t immune to shortages.

Still, where globalized supply chains stand to be heavily impacted by the current war, they also hold some promise to address the situation. Romania, an EU member state and neighbor of Ukraine, is also a strong exporter of grain and traditionally considered part of Europe’s breadbasket. Romanian Agriculture Minister Adrian Chesnoiu recently told reporters that the country is expecting no trouble covering its internal demand for wheat and even has a sizeable surplus for export that can be used to partially compensate for the expected shortage. This excess production can help cover some of the demand and ease the blow of the Ukrainian war on food markets.

“Traditionally we are an exporting country because we produce more than we consume,” FiancialPost quotes Chesnoiu as saying. “On a good year, Romania produces over 11 million tons of wheat while domestic consumption is somewhere around 4.3 million, that’s why I said Romania is not in the situation of the other states which are trying to ensure their internal consumption.”

“From the assessments we have made at the ministry so far there is no risk that the population cannot be supplied.”

Nearby Poland is in a similar spot, as a traditional exporter of wheat. Apart from Russia and Ukraine, the United States, Canada, France, and Australia are also important net exporters of wheat.

The real crux of the issue is how agricultural production will fare in the case of a wide-scale shortage of fertilizers. Industrial fertilizers are produced using potassium salts mined from deposits deep underground, and they have precious few alternatives — and virtually none of them can take over in such a short amount of time.

A silver lining of this crisis is that it may very well force us towards new and more sustainable sources of fertilizer for our crops. Compost is an age-old option, which has the potential to be used on an industrial scale, as is manure. Other more exotic options include insect-sourced fertilizer, mixing different types of crops that can support the development of each other, or developing the extraction of potassium from fresh sources. Biochar could also have a part to play in fattening our crops.

Still, implementing new approaches, especially on an industrial scale, takes time, and spring is upon us. Hopefully, the world will have time to adapt, or this war ends and things go back to normal before our grain supplies really start to dwindle. Because nobody wants to go hungry.

Rumble in the concrete jungle: what history teaches us about urban defense

Given ongoing events in Ukraine, the age-old adage that offense is the best defense is being put to the test. So far, throughout the country’s towns and cities, the answer seems to be “not so much”.

Urban Urban Design Landscape Desing Qom Iran

With that being said, history gives us ample examples and wisdom on how best to handle urban combat in general and urban defense in particular. Fighting in such environments is a very different beast to combat in other types of landscapes, and it raises unique challenges, as well as offering its own set of options and opportunities. Many of these are related to the huge availability of solid cover and line-of-sight denial. Others arise from the way cities naturally funnel pedestrian and vehicle traffic, constraining them to known and predictable avenues.

So today, we will go through wisdom gathered painfully, at great cost of human lives and material damage over history, on how defenders can best employ built environments against attackers.

Erzats fortresses

In olden days, architects would design fortresses so that the defenders would have as much of an advantage over attackers as possible. The first and most obvious advantage is the physical protection afforded by thick, sturdy walls.

While most buildings today aren’t built to repel invaders, they do offer sturdy bases that defenders can use when bracing for an attack. Structures erected from concrete and rebar are especially tough and can act as impromptu fortifications. Most government buildings, apartment blocks, and office complexes are ideal for this role, as are banks.

If defenders have enough time to dig in, such buildings should be reinforced with materials such as lumber, steel girders, or sandbags. Such elements should be used to protect the structure from direct damage, help maintain integrity after damage is inflicted on the building, or cover areas through which attackers can enter the perimeter. Ideally, combat engineers would carry out reinforcement works, but if they are not available, civilians can fill the role partially.

Mines, barbed wire, and other physical barriers can also be used to deny attackers entry points into the building and make it hard for them to approach the site. Furniture, rubble, barbed wire, and mines should also be used to block or limit access to stairways and elevators; even if these do not neutralize any of the attackers, they can still delay a fighting force massively. Such makeshift defenses require a lot of time, effort, and resources (such as explosives and specialized combat engineers) to remove.

Inside the building itself, reinforcing materials should be used to create bunkers or similar fighting compartments that break a building’s open floors into multiple areas of overlapping fire.

Like for ancient fortresses, however, the key to picking the right building to fortify is location. Strongpoints should have a good command of their surroundings (direct line of sight for soldiers to fire). Several close-together buildings can be fortified to ensure overlapping fields of fire that the enemy cannot hide from. Whether fortified alone or in groups, these buildings should be surrounded by obstacle courses that prevent attackers from simply bypassing them, or isolating the strongpoint from support from other defending units.

Heavy weapons such as rocket launchers, guns, automatic cannons, and heavy machine guns can also benefit from an elevated position from which to fire. Such weapons can be disassembled, carried to upper floors, and reassembled for use. Equipment such as this can allow defenders to halt entire armored columns.

A single fortified building can completely blunt even an armored assault, or at least stall it. One such building — known today as “Pavlov’s House” — became famous during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. A platoon led by Sergeant Yakov Pavlov held out in this house against the German army for 60 days, repelling infantry and armored attacks. The soldiers surrounded the building with barbed wires and mines, broke holes through the interior walls to allow for movement, dug machinegun emplacements in the building’s corners, and used the top floors to lay down anti-tank rifle fire on advancing tanks. When artillery would fire on the building, they retreated to the safety of the cellar, only to re-emerge and continue fighting.

Such stories illustrate just how hard it can be for attackers to negotiate a single fortified building. Still, modern battlefields involve systems that were not available during World War II, so one extra element should be considered:

Concealment

The advent of modern surveillance systems such as drones, satellites, and reconnaissance planes, together with the precision weapons in use today, means that strongpoints are at risk of precision strikes. Concealment saves lives, so defenders should take steps to hide their exact position and activity as much as possible.

Citizens embroiled in the Syrian conflict would routinely hang large pieces of cloth, tarps, or sheet metal in between buildings to hide personnel from snipers and aircraft. Such measures are disproportionally effective compared to their simplicity. Soldiers rely on sight heavily on the battlefield and don’t generally shoot unless they have reliable knowledge of where the enemy might be. In the case of heavy weaponry such as tank- or aircraft-mounted munitions, this is even more true. A pilot is much less likely to drop a bomb without a clear sighting than a soldier is to fire a single shot.

Even if the enemy chooses to fire, concealment measures still bring value to defenders. A weapon fired at an empty emplacement is effectively wasted, and cannot be used against an active defender — contributing to the so-called ‘virtual attrition’ of the attacking forces.

Concealment measures should be used in conjuncture with fortifications to hide the defenders’ movements and decrease the efficacy of enemy fire. Even so, a big fortified apartment building is hard to hide, and will undoubtedly draw some heavy ordinance its way. So another element should be considered to ensure the safety of defending soldiers.

Tunnels, mouseholes

Mouseholes are openings cut out to allow soldiers easy access through the interior as well as exterior walls of a building. They have been a mainstay of urban combat ever since the advent of gunpowder weaponry. Mouseholes can be created using explosives or simple tools, and should comfortably fit a soldier so as not to clog traffic during a tense situation. In the case that a building should be run over by the attackers, defenders can also use mouseholes as chokepoints to contain the enemy’s advance by covering them with machine-gun fire or personal weapons.

Tunnels, on the other hand, are dug underground. They require significantly more work than mouseholes but have the added benefit of concealing and protecting troops that transit them from fire. Due to their nature, tunnel networks are hard to set up, so they should be used to allow strategic access to important sites and give defenders safe avenues of reinforcing strongpoints. Whenever possible, defenders should work to build extensive tunnel networks to give troops safe avenues of passage on the battlefield.

Underground transportation avenues and infrastructure, such as metro lines or sewage lines, can also be used as tunnels and bunkers. German soldiers used them to great effect during the Battle of Berlin in 1945 to cause great pain to Soviet soldiers moving into the city. Such infrastructure is usually roomy enough to also be usable as hospital and storage space, is extensive enough to act as a communications network, and offers an ideal setting to set up ambushes, bunkers, or counter attacks. Some can even allow for the passage of armored vehicles. They are also sturdy enough — and dug deep enough underground — to withstand most artillery and airstrikes.

But what about other areas of the city?

Rubble

As daunting as fortified spaces can be, the fact of the matter is that not every building can be fortified. There simply isn’t enough time, manpower, and material available when preparing a defense. But not every area needs to be fortified to help stop an attack. Sometimes, it’s as simple as tearing buildings down.

Defenders have the advantage that they can use the terrain in their favor to a much greater extent than attackers. They are the first of the two sides to hold a position, they know the land, and can take up the best spots to punish any invaders. Rubbling buildings can help in this regard on several levels.

First, rubble presents a physical barrier that an invading army will have difficulty navigating and removing. This is especially true for concrete or brick rubble produced by demolishing buildings. It forces attackers to move through pre-determined areas, where defenses can be set up to stop their advance. It also prevents them from using all their firepower on a single objective as it prevents direct fire. Rubble serves to also block line of sight, thus limiting the ability of an attacking force to keep tabs on what the defenders are doing.

Rubbling is, understandably, a very damaging process and thus quite regrettable to use. But it does bring huge benefits to defenders by allowing them to alter the landscape to their purposes.

Barricades

Although less effective than rubbling at containing an enemy’s movements, barricades can be surprisingly effective at stopping both infantry and armored vehicles. Furniture, tires, sandbags, metallic elements, and wire all make for good barricades.

Urban landscapes are also very rich in objects that can be used for barricades such as trash containers, cars, manholes, industrial piping, and so forth. These should be used liberally and ideally set up in areas where defenders can unleash fire on any attackers attempting to navigate or remove them.

Concrete barriers

These aren’t very common in cities, but any checkpoint or protected infrastructure site might have some of these barriers. If you have time and concrete to spare, makeshift barriers can also be quite effective. They usually come in 3ft / 1 m tall anti-vehicle walls or 12ft / 4 m tall wall segments used by the military to reinforce strategic points.

These are essentially portable fortifications. They are made of rebar and concrete and are exceedingly hard to destroy directly. Use cranes and heavy trucks to move them, as they weigh a few tons each.

Supply

Another important advantage defenders have is that the attackers have to come to them — so there’s not much need to carry supplies to the front line.

Pre-prepared ammo caches can be strewn throughout the city to keep defenders in the fight as long as possible. Urban landscapes offer a lot of hidden spots where ammo or weapons can be deposited discretely. Food, water, and medical supplies are also essential, so make sure these are distributed throughout the engagement zone as well.

Strongpoints should have designated rooms for storage of such supplies. Smaller items such as magazines or grenades can be distributed in smaller quantities throughout several points of the building, to ensure that soldiers always have what they need on hand.


Attacking an urban environment is a very daunting proposition even for the most well-trained of military forces. It gives defenders an ideal landscape to set up ambushes, entrench, deceive their attackers, and launch counter-offensives. Making the most of the terrain, and preparing carefully, can give defenders a huge upper hand against their foes while making it hard for attackers to leverage their strengths. such landscapes can level the playing field even against a superior attacking force. The events in Ukraine stand as a testament to this.

Saint Javelin: how do Ukraine’s anti-tank weapons work?

“Saint Javelin”. Image via Reddit / USMC.

Wars have always been a scientific wrestling match just as much as a brutal confrontation in the field. Soldiers rely on science to give them an edge over their opponents and nowadays, firefights are settled by work done in labs, design bureaus, forges, or universities long before the first shot is fired.

In days long past, technical differences pitted obsidian-wielding Incans against musket-armed conquistadors. Shipbuilders shaped empires. Those who knew how to build chariots trampled over those who did not. Shock cavalry ruled the battlefield of medieval Europe due to the simple stirrup, inherited from Asian invaders. Today, research and technical capability have never been as important in wartime.

Courage and grit keep people fighting, but aren’t much use against a 50-ton tank. Anti-tank missiles, however, are great against them. Big guns, too, tend to do the job. So while we dearly hoped that such weapons will never be necessary, looking at the situation in Ukraine… they still are. So here’s a rundown of the science behind modern anti-tank weapons, from simple cocktails to the more high-tech ones.

First off, the tank

T-90A main battle tank at the 2013 Victory Day Parade in Moskow, Russia. Image via Wikimedia.

To blow up a tank, you first need a tank.

There is no shortage of photographs or videos in the news today showing some type or another of armored vehicles using the blanket term ‘tanks’. Strictly speaking, this isn’t accurate. Tanks are specialized vehicles meant to perform certain tasks. A tank is defined by what it does and how it’s supposed to do it, not by its components or appearance. Broadly speaking, a tank has tracks, a big, long gun, a really big turret, machine guns poking out of it or on the turret.

Tanks are tracked, heavily armored vehicles, typically carrying heavy primary armament in an enclosed fully-rotatable turret, with secondary armament co-axial to the main weapon. Their role is to engage well-protected targets, other vehicles (especially other tanks), and exploit weaknesses in enemy lines using their mobility.

They do not perform any other role — they do not carry infantry or supplies, they do not provide indirect fire support, they do not work as combat taxis. Generally speaking, they do not carry missile launchers externally. These requirements necessarily inform the shape of tanks, imparting them with their advantages and their drawbacks.

This is not a tank, even if it has tracks, armor, a gun, and a turret. It is a Russian BMP-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Image via Wikipedia.

Let’s start with the advantages. Tanks carry the thickest armor and heaviest armament among military vehicles today. They are exceedingly resistant to non-specialized weaponry and pack a mighty punch. Tanks can effectively engage any type of target in battle due to their range of weapon calibers and ammunition types. They are able to traverse virtually any type of terrain, they’re quite scary to anyone and everyone, and typically protect their crews from environmental hazards such as gas weapons.

As far as disadvantages go, tanks are very complex machines with a lot of moving parts. They require extensive and specialized maintenance procedures, crews, and parts. Tanks rely on a vast logistical network for fuel and ammo without which they are completely useless. They generally require extensive maintenance of their drive train after driving a relatively short distance on their own power and need a complete repair/replacement of said drive train after a few of these extensive maintenance procedures. Due to their extreme levels of protection, tanks offer exceedingly poor visibility for their crews, especially at very close distances. Because of this, tanks rely on infantry for defense and are completely helpless against close-in opponents without it. Their tracks are relatively delicate (compared to the rest of the tank) and vulnerable; tanks become immobile if even one of their tracks is broken or jammed. They are also expensive to produce, maintain, and use.

Now that we’ve seen what a tank is, let’s see how we can blow it up.

Kinetic weapons (tank guns)

The main type of kinetic shells used against tanks today is known as Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds. It’s a mouthful, but it’s hella effective.

However, because of the recoil they generate when firing and the size and weight of the explosives used to propel them, kinetic rounds are only used with guns, usually mounted on tanks. They are rods made of very hard, dense metals, such as tungsten or depleted uranium alloys. They are fired from a tank’s cannon and rely on speed and toughness to push through steel plates.

These shells are usually much thinner than the bore (diameter) of the gun they’re fired from, so they are mounted in supports called sabots, which are blown away upon firing. The fins keep them steady in flight to maintain accuracy.

APFSDS (bottom) used on Japan’s Type-90 tanks. The black collar is the ‘sabot’, made out of two halves that break apart after firing. Shell on top is a HEAT round. Image via Wikimedia.

Their working principle is quite simple: push a piece of harder metal through a plate of softer metal using high force (speed). The shells bounce around the tank doing a lot of damage after penetration. They also break apart the inside faces of the armor plates they hit (a process known as ‘spalling’), creating high-speed fragments that rip through crew and internal systems. APFSDS rounds do not carry any explosives; all the damage they do is caused by impact between the shell, armor fragments, and the soft insides of the tank.

Tanks today have their armor plates angled to promote APFSDS bouncing on impact. Other types of defense, such as explosive reactive armor (ERA), are also effective against the shells. Their main drawback is that they lose energy in flight and become less effective with distance.

Sabot releasing the shell after firing. Image via Gfycat.
Note the back of the sabot, used to transfer energy to the shell (push it) through the higher-diameter barrel. Image via Gfycat.

Still, they are the least high-tech weapons useful against tanks and still effective due to their simplicity, reliability, and the immense forces they bring to bear against targets. Ukraine’s tank corps uses this type of ammo on its armed vehicles, as most likely do Russian tanks, as well. Although many varieties are in use, as far as costs go, the US’s M829A3 APFSDS costs around $8,500 per round.

But they’re not what militia or the infantry would use when defending against such vehicles. The shoulder-mounted weaponry you see in videos from Ukraine rely on:

Chemical rounds

Anti-tank rockets and the infamous RPG work on a different principle. Instead of relying on mass and speed to pierce through armor, they use explosive warheads arranged in a certain way — known as ‘shaped charges’. Because they derive their energy from explosives, not mechanical force, they are also known as ‘chemical rounds’ as opposed to ‘kinetic’, speed-based, rounds.

HEAT round used for the Leopard 2 main battle tank (middle two). Note the hollow copper cone inside the warhead, with explosives (yellow) packed behind it. Image via Wikimedia.

These devices are used in civilian applications as well, but they were originally invented, and still used to, defeat tank armor. In military speak, they are known as high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds.

Shaped charges work using the Munroe/Neumann effect, which describes how energy from a blast can be focused into a single point. They contain an explosive mass behind a shaped copper cone. When detonated, the cone focuses the explosion into a narrow space. The explosive, in turn, pushes the copper out at extremely high speeds. The shape of the cone is calculated so that the end result is a beam of molten copper shooting out in front of the weapon. Basically, these rounds create a laser beam of molten copper in contact with armor.

Although they are called HEAT, they do not melt armor. The copper jet pushing out of the weapon creates immense pressure which simply digs through armored plates.

Shape charge during detonation. Via Makeagif.

Their main drawback is that the jet generated by such weapons is only effective over a small distance. As such, ERA is very effective against shaped charges, as is spaced armor and, to a lesser extent, sloped armor. Even sandbags or metal sheets can be effective in stopping such shells, by forcing them to detonate prematurely. Still, since HEAT rounds don’t need to go fast or be really big to be effective, they are widely used for anti-tank weapons for infantry, land and air vehicles, and drones.

Tanks can also fire HEAT ammo. The cost varies greatly depending on caliber and manufacturer. A US High Explosive Anti-Tank- Multiple Purpose round may cost between $1,500 to $4,000, depending on several factors.

RPGs

The infamous RPG is the simplest type of shaped-charge weapon in use today, the single most widely-produced anti-tank weapon on the planet, and has served in virtually all conflicts since being designed by the Soviet Union in 1960. The RPG-7 is currently in production and in use with some 40 countries around the world and total production, figures are estimated to be close to 10 million units.

Image via min.news.

The RPG-7 is a shoulder-mounted, portable, reusable rocket-propelled grenade launcher (basically, a bazooka). It fires an unguided rocket-propelled projectile that can carry anti-tank, high explosive/fragmentation, or thermobaric warheads, in a low arc. They are very simple, very cheap, plentiful, and very rugged weapons — each launcher is a steel tube with iron aiming sights and a grip.

This weapon sees extensive use in Ukraine on both sides. It is easy to use, easy to care for, and useful for a wide range of situations, including tank-busting. Its simplicity, although a major advantage, also means that the weapon is more easily countered. It’s also the most widely-used weapon of its type, so it represents a sort of benchmark. Designers know that every tank will face an RPG eventually, and put a lot of effort to protect these vehicles from it specifically. Still, it is more than capable of downing even a heavily-armored modern tank in the right situation and is more than capable of piercing any metal plates that are not protected against shaped charges.

Schematic of an RPG round detonating in contact with an armored plate. Image via Gfycat.

The simplest RPG-7 warhead can pierce through 500 mm of tank armor and is relatively accurate up to 200m / 660 ft, although it can shoot up to a distance of 500 m / 1,640 ft. With a cost of only between $500-2000 per launcher and $100-500 per rocket, the RPG-7 is definitely the way to go if you’re blowing up tanks on a budget.

NLAWs

The Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon was a joint British-Swedish project started in 2002 to modernize Cold War-era infantry anti-tank weapons.

Its main advantage over weapons such as the trusty RPG is that it uses guided munitions. Another advantage it has is that it can be fired from enclosed spaces.

NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon) firing at the Otterburn ranges. Image credits Royal Navy Media Archive.

RPGs fire a big grenade with a rocket engine strapped to their back. These are not guided and the blast from the launch generates huge pressure behind the weapon, meaning it could seriously injure troops if fired inside a confined space. NLAWs fire actual missiles that have fire-and-forget guidage systems. This means that the weapon uses a passive tracking system — ‘predicted line of sight targeting’ — which points the missile to the predicted position of the target. The missile is first launched using a ‘low-powered ignition’ system, to make it safe to use indoors.

Unlike the other weapons on this list, the NLAW is not designed to ever touch its target. The rocket flies above an enemy tank and detonates one meter above it, sending a powerful pressure wave down on the vehicle. While that might not sound very damaging for the tank, it’s more than enough to pulp the crew inside. This approach allows the NLAW to target even vehicles that are completely hidden behind the cover.

According to reports in the field, it seems to be working quite well against Russian tanks.

Test firings of the weapon.
Testing of the damage produced by the weapon.

The weapon is not reusable, however. Once the rocket is fired, the launcher is disposed of. It offers a similar level of penetration to the RPG — 500 mm, up to a range of 1000 m / 3,300 ft). This makes its cost of roughly $26,000 / €24,000 quite a hefty proposition. However, considering that tanks generally cost in the millions, it could be a worthy investment.

Javelin

This US-made rocket launcher has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance and is the driving force that inspired this article. This 20-year-old weapon has been in use by the US military, alongside 20 allied nations. A lot of them have been supplied to Ukraine as military aid following the onset of hostilities, and more are planned to be sent there. Ukraine has received thousands of Stingers from countries all around the world to help it defend from Russian invaders.

US soldiers training with the Javelin missile launcher. Image via Pixabay.

Although no different in working principle than other anti-tank missiles, the Javelin is one of the most potent weapons of its kind currently employed in the conflict. What sets it apart from other portable launchers is that the Javelin missile is launched in a high arc, and programmed to slam down into enemy tanks from above.

Tank armor is thickest at the front and sides, where most shots are likely to impact. However, to keep the vehicles down to an acceptable weight, concessions have to be made somewhere — so designers put thin armor on their back, with extremely thin protection afforded to the undersides and the top of tanks. The Javelin’s trajectory is meant to take advantage of this design feature.

The explosion here is caused by ammo detonating inside the target. Quite devastating.

The missile is also guided, so it can track moving vehicles and ensure high hit probability. Like the NLAW, it is a fire-and-forget system: the soldier using it fires the weapon and can then scramble for cover to avoid return fire. Javelins also have an impressive effective range of up to 4 km / 2.5 miles, which helps a lot.

Live firing of the Javelin during exercises in Quatar, 2017, showcasing its use and range. Skip to 2:55 for the launch.

All of this, however, comes at a cost. A single Javelin system comes in at an eye-watering $80,000 / €71,000. This is very expensive for an infantry weapon, meaning they would be prohibitively expensive to field on-masse. In the arithmetic of war, one such missile is vastly cheaper than the tank it takes out. But this remains the most expensive anti-tank weapon a single soldier can carry into battle in the conflict, severely limiting its use.

The Molotov cocktail

A Molotov cocktail is essentially a bottle filled with fuel and an adhesive — it’s burning liquid that sticks to things.

While not technically an anti-tank weapon, Molotovs can be used against tanks and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has told civilians to make Molotov cocktails to fight Russian tanks. The defense ministry even distributed a recipe for producing Molotov cocktails to civilians.

Molotovs were extremely efficient against tanks used in World War II but may have a harder time against more modern tanks, which are sealed better and more resilient. However, even if the Molotovs would leave the tank relatively unscathed, they could still be devastating to the driver on the inside of the tank.


We don’t often talk about weapons here on ZME Science, and it’s most definitely not a subject that brings us joy. In an ideal world, these weapons would only belong in the museum. However, we feel that given the ongoing situation, this is worth talking about.

These weapons are definitely not the only ones being used in the fields and cities of Ukraine. But they are among the most impactful. Although it’s tragic to see science embroiled in armed conflict and used to cause death and destruction, there is value in learning about the particular set of circumstances that conflict creates and the solutions we can develop to address them — even as we fight the realities of war and try to prevent such conflicts from happening.

For now, military technology and the science behind it are, unfortunately, a current subject. Hopefully, not for long.

Elon Musk: Starlink terminal is now active in Ukraine

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to rage on, the war is being fought on multiple fronts — and one of these fronts is the internet. Russian forces have severely disrupted internet functionality in Ukraine, and there are legitimate concerns about the country (or large parts of the country) being essentially severed from the internet.

In desperation, Ukrainian First Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted to Elon Musk for help with his Starlink fleet.

Remarkably, it worked. Within hours, Musk replied: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”

Fedorov tweeted his thanks to the billionaire, with the country’s official Twitter account @Ukraine also acknowledging Musk’s actions, tweeting “Thanx [sic], appreciate it”.

While costly to deploy, satellite technology can provide a much-needed internet source for people who live in remote, rural, or disrupted areas. The technology could also serve as a backup in the case of a natural or man-made disaster — which is exactly the case in Ukraine right now.

Starlink satellites are able to provide broadband Internet connections from space, and having the satellites deployed above Ukraine means parts of the country may enjoy internet connectivity without the risk of Russian interference.

Yes, but

This does not mean Starlink internet is live for all of Ukraine. The move can only provide internet to those with Starlink’s special receivers — these are the “terminals” Musk was referring to.

We could not verify how many such terminals are in Ukraine right now or how many more are “en route”. This remains a key question, and it is unclear whether Starlink can make a significant amount of terminals available to Ukraine on such short notice.

Without too many terminals, this is quite possibly a symbolic move rather than one that will make a major difference, but with Ukrainians with their backs against the wall, it could at least make a difference for some people.

Meanwhile, the situation of embattled Ukraine remains critical, and having Internet connectivity and ensuring vital communication is quite possibly crucial for the fate of the country.

Make science, not war. Russian scientists and journalists speak up in open letter

“Yesterday I was detained during an anti-war rally,” one researcher who signed the letter told ZME Science.

Amid anti-war rallies in Moscow and other cities in Russia, many have decided to speak up against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – including scientists, science journalists, and public figures. Several open letters are already circulating with hundreds of signatures from prominent researchers, while a group of media outlets also declared their opposition to the war.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Over 600 Russian scientists and scientific journalists signed an open letter against Russian military action in Ukraine, which they described as “unfair and frankly meaningless.” It’s a fatal step that is causing human losses and undermining the foundations of international security, with Russia solely to blame, they argued.

“There is no rational justification for this war. Attempts to use the situation in Donbass (a region in Ukraine) as a pretext for launching a military operation do not inspire any confidence. It is clear that Ukraine does not pose a threat to the security of our country. The war against her is unfair and frankly senseless,” the letter reads.

The scientists and journalists said Ukraine is a close country to them, with relatives, friends, and colleagues living there. Starting a war because of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions means betraying the memory of Russians and Ukrainians who fought together against Nazism. All problems between countries can be solved in peace, they wrote.

Russia is “dooming itself to international isolation” and to the position of a pariah country,” they argued. For the scientists, this means that they won’t be able to do their jobs normally anymore. Doing science research is impossible without full cooperation from colleagues from other countries. Russia’s isolation will lead to cultural and technological degradation, they wrote.

Anna Dybo, a Russian linguist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences who signed the letter, told ZME Science that it’s “an extremely bad and dangerous idea to bomb Kyiv, Mariupol, or Voronezh (all cities in Ukraine currently attacked by Russian military) in order to stop the shelling of Donetsk.” Dybo, who was detained during an anti-war rally yesterday, said “shooting tends to diverge in circles for a long distance and for many years.”

Further calls for peace

Elena Chernenko, a business reporter at the Kommersant (a daily newspaper), collected at least 100 signatures from fellow journalists in an anti-war petition, distributed through the Telegram messaging service. The signatories include journalists from state-run Russian media outlets TASS and Russia TV, as well as from private ones such as Snow, The Bell, and Novaya Gazeta.

“We, Russian media correspondents and experts who write about Russia’s foreign policy, condemn the military operation launched by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. War has never been and never will be a method of resolving conflicts and there is no justification for it,” the letter reads, which is still open for further signatures.

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2021, posted a video on YouTube questioning the war and announcing the newspaper’s next edition will run in both Russian and Ukrainian. “Only the anti-war movement of Russians can save life on this planet,” Muratov said on the video.

Simultaneously, a group of 30 independent Russian media outlets published a declaration opposing the “massacre” started by the Russian leadership. They promised to “be honest” in their reporting and wished “resilience and strength” to Ukraine people “resisting aggressions” and to those in Russia resisting “military madness.”

“Pain, anger and shame are three words that reflect our attitude to what is happening,” they wrote. “This will bring grief to the families of thousands of people in Ukraine and Russia. The world has never been so close to a global catastrophe. We hope the funeral won’t come to your house. But there can be no certainty.”

Artists have also expressed their rejection of the war. Yelena Kovalskaya, director of the Meyerhold Theater Center, resigned from the state theater, writing in a Facebook post that “it’s impossible to work for a murderer.” Meanwhile, renowned author Sergei Lebedev said the “soviet crimes went unpunished in Russia, and so they recur.”

All is loud on the eastern front: Ukraine is getting bombarded with fake videos

Everyone’s eyes are set on battered Ukraine right now after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to invade the Eastern European country in the early hours of Thursday. According to American sources, Russian forces began their attack with an onslaught of over 100 missiles from both land and sea, along with 75 fixed-wing bombers, targeting arms and ammunition depots, air defense systems, military headquarters, airports, and other strategically-significant targets.

But as if the bombs raining down from the sky weren’t enough, terrified Ukrainian civilians have to deal with another type of bombing: fake news through the airwaves.

These include false videos shared on social media and messaging apps like Telegram, a popular instant messaging service in Eastern Europe, meant to sow confusion about the reality on the ground.

Both sides are employing the usual wartime propaganda, but the Kremlin seems to be more active and effective at spreading false information.

Many of this fake footage is posted by anonymous social media users, which could be either agents directly connected to the Kremlin or internet trolls that get off sowing chaos and racking thousands of likes. The information war is now in full swing, with propaganda operations mustered well before the war started as Russia filmed and shared staged provocations meant to paint Ukraine as an aggressor to the Russian public.

Fake: Russian paratroopers

One of the most widely shared videos featured what looked like hundreds of Russian soldiers parachuting over Ukraine. The video, however, is from 2016, part of a Russian military exercise. However, this didn’t stop the video from raking over 22 million views in its first day making the rounds on Twitter and TikTok.

Like other fake videos, it has been picked up by legitimate international news outlets which should have known better before publishing unverified footage.

https://twitter.com/Shubham_RSS_/status/1496812048868515847

Video game posing as wartime footage

One of the widely shared videos since the conflict began supposedly shows live attacks on Ukraine Russia, with a jet dodging heavy antiaircraft fire. But the footage is actually from Arma III, a realistic video game. This particular fake video was shared over 25,000 times before it was taken down from Facebook and Twitter, although it keeps popping up from various sources.

Another viral video shows Ukraine firing anti-aircraft missiles into the night. But in reality, it was another animated footage from the video game War Thunder.

It’s not the first time that a video game has posed as genuine wartime footage. In 2018, Russian Channel One TV aired a program praising the country’s military action in Syria. The program used gun-sight footage of a truck being attacked by Russian forces, but the images were, yet again, from Arma III.

Russian plane downed over Ukraine was actually shot down over Libya in 2011

A video shared on Facebook on February 24 shows a plane falling from the sky and bursting into flame, with the headline “REPORTED AS: Ukrainian army shot down a Russian jet.” The video later made the rounds on YouTube and Twitter, where it generated hundreds of thousands of views.

Although the footage is real, it was captured in Benghazi, Libya, more than a decade ago. “Libyan rebels shot down a warplane that was bombing their eastern stronghold Benghazi on Saturday, as the opposition accused Moammar Gadhafi’s government of defying calls for an immediate cease-fire,” the Associated Press reported at the time.

This destroyed jet has nothing to do with the current conflict in Ukraine.

Another fake image that went viral shows a Russian jet at the exact moment it is being destroyed. It’s a spectacular image, which explains why it was shared thousands of times. But by now you’ve spotted a pattern: this is actually an old picture from 2017 during an airshow accident.

Fact or fiction: more challenging than ever

Although the internet can be a great tool for fact-checking, the reality is that most people exposed to emotionally appealing content fail to do their own research. Seeing hundreds of soldiers parachuting over the sky is a shocking image, and it’s understandable that people feel the urge to share such footage with the world. But that’s the exact behavior that nefarious agents are banking on, looking to dupe unwitting social media users into sharing falsehoods.

This is why it’s important to think critically and assess whether the information in front of you is accurate and comes from a credible source. It always helps to take just a few moments and Google something before sharing it.

Unfortunately, the current online environment leaves a lot of room for sketchy sources to fill the void. For Ukrainian people, this problem is exacerbated by internet outages experienced across several parts of the country. Some of these outages are caused by shelling, airstrikes, and other damages to critical internet infrastructure, while others are part of a concentrated effort by Russian forces to disrupt communications and sow panic.

In order to protect yourself from misinformation, it’s good to remember one thing about social media posts: they’re designed to get a reaction, especially the viral kind. Although footage showing violence and bloodshed is nerve-wracking and tempting to post online for others to share the outrage, it’s better to calm down for a second and wonder: am I just being duped here?

A war rages in Ukraine. Researchers are called to take a stand, neighboring Universities are offering their aid

The Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine is roaring through the local and global research community. Academic activity in Ukraine has been essentially shut down until further notice. Serhiy Kvit, the head of the Ukrainian National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance and former minister of education and science, is also calling for academics around the world to take a stand against the war.

Image credits Ministry of Defense of Ukraine / Flickr.

The flames of war

War between two states in Europe was, arguably, not something many people expected to see, despite the mounting tensions between Ukraine and Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But this is exactly what we are witnessing today. Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, resounds with gunfire and bombs as I write these lines.

As a science journalist, I never expected (or desired) to write about an ongoing war; you, our readers, probably never expected to read about one here on ZME Science. But an event of such magnitude swallows everything in its wake, even the world of science and research. Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declaring martial law in the country in the aftermath of the invasion, higher education in the country has been put on indefinite hold.

Science, it turns out, is not spared of the flames of war.

“[The] academic community can’t keep silence on this unheard-of war. You, academics, know Europe’s history of the 20th century the best, the history of the Second World War and its consequences for Europe and the world,” Kvit told University World News. “We call on universities, academic institutions in Europe and around the world to stand up with Ukraine against Putin’s regime, against ruining the fundamentals of peace, security and democracy in Europe and in the world.”

“It is our joint task – to defend democracy.”

Students and staff at universities across Ukraine have been told to stay at home, and their activity suspended, until further notice. School activity is also heavily disturbed, as families and teachers flee the hostilities. Kvit said that the fighting will invariably involve the death of Ukrainian civilians, from those fighting the invasion to children. Such reports are already coming in, unfortunately.

The suspension of academic life is meant to give civilians the opportunity to keep themselves safe. Kvit explains that the situation is dire, a “real war, the shelling of military infrastructure, airports and multiple peaceful cities around Ukraine […] Putin’s soldiers seizing Ukrainian cities and towns”. Under these circumstances, academic life in Ukraine cannot continue as normal.

He calls on researchers around the world to take a stand and issue messages to international organizations, representatives of governments, other researchers, and the wide public against the Russian government’s invasion.

Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine.

Ukraine’s plea is already being answered in some regrds. Germany’s Foreign Office has “recommended” Universities in the country freeze relations with Russia, “in particular scientific projects”, says Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK).

“This is a deeply depressing day. Our solidarity applies to the entire Ukrainian population and, above all, to our university partners,” he said for University World News. “We are very concerned about the life and well-being of Ukrainian scientists and students. The German universities will assist them within the limits of their possibilities.”

“It is also foreseeable that these developments will inflict severe damage on German-Russian scientific relations. We will have to examine the consequences accordingly.”

The European Union as a whole is also discussing whether to exclude Russia from every and all research networks and associated infrastructure, according to Science|Business. An extraordinary European Council meeting is set for later today to discuss this alongside other measures. However, Ukrainian high-ranking officials accuse the rest of Europe of not doing nearly enough.

Germany is host to over 8,200 Ukrainian-native students — it represents one of the most important countries of origin for higher education students in Germany. Authorities are now working out how to best care for these students as they face the prospect of their families embroiled in the conflict at home. At present, there are 257 collaborative projects between the two countries, which see the collaboration of 113 German and 89 Ukrainian universities; how these projects evolve in the future hinges on the developments in the current war.

“The Russian attack against Ukraine has serious consequences for our relations in science and academia, which had been built with confidence and hope for two decades and are now threatened by illegitimate assaults against international law,” said Alt.

Some universities have been preparing for such a scenario over the last few weeks. The Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv has been preparing video materials informing students of evacuation routes and shelters on campus and releasing fresh instructions from their emergency management committee. Other educational institutions in less-affected areas of Ukraine seem to be continuing their activity remotely. One example is in the city of Lviv, very close to the Polish-Ukrainian border.

“The educational process at the university continues remotely,” Volodymyr Melnyk, the rector of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv said in a statement today. “Our task is to act in an organized and responsible manner, consolidate efforts and maintain order”.

Academic institutions in countries bordering Ukraine have also offered their support. The Latvian students association urged their government to help students fleeing Ukraine to continue their studies in Latvia. The rectors of Romania’s two largest universities have also released statements in support of Ukrainian refugees and offering support to protect the assets and heritage of Ukrainian universities.

“I think it is our duty to show solidarity and come up with concrete proposals to support students, professors, and their families,” said Marian Preda, the rector of the University of Bucharest.

The University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania.

Preda says universities and educational centers in Romania should help safeguard the documents and books of their Ukrainian counterparts from the destruction caused by war. Meanwhile, Daniel David, rector of Babeș-Bolyai University in the city of Cluj-Napoca urged all rectors in Romania to coordinate efforts to integrate academics feeling Ukraine into higher education and research institutions in Romania. He adds that the university received multiple cooperation requests over the past weeks from researchers in Ukraine.

“Those researchers, as well as Romania and our universities could transform this unfortunate brain drain from Ukraine,” he said.

As a Romanian, I can attest that refugees from Ukraine are already crossing the border, fleeing the war. Local authorities in several cities have already offered their support, and there is an impressive (and heartwarming) level of effort in the public sphere to welcome house and help these refugees. The response at the level of the government is so far disappointing, however. Other countries neighboring Ukraine, such as Poland, are also working hard to accommodate the sudden influx of people; according to my (few) friends there, there is a similar effort by the common people to help Ukrainians crossing the border with food, lodging, and guidance, as well as a much more robust effort from the government.

As a journalist and someone who has been passionate about science and knowledge my whole life, I can only applaud international efforts to safeguard Ukrainian researchers and their work. These are dark days we are living, but they will only become brighter if we help those in need, and fight for what’s right.

Ukraine seizes spirit made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear site

Would you drink an “artisanal spirit” made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant? A group of researchers from the United Kingdom has just finished producing the first 1,500 bottles. They assure us the drink is completely safe and radiation-free and hope to get it soon on the UK market.

But there’s a problem. The Ukrainian government just seized it all.

Image credits: Chernobyl Spirit Company

The bottles are now in the hands of prosecutors who are investigating the case. The researchers argue they are wrongly accused of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps.

Atomik!

The Chernobyl Spirit Company aims to produce high-quality spirits made with crops from the nuclear disaster exclusion zone. This is a more than 4,000-square kilometer area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that was abandoned due to fears of radioactive contamination after the devastating nuclear accident there in 1986.

The event is considered the world’s worst nuclear disaster and exposed millions of people to dangerous radiation levels in large swathes of Ukraine and neighboring Belarus. Jim Smith, a UK researcher, has spent years studying the transfer of radioactivity to crops within the main exclusion zone, alongside a group of researchers.

They have grown experimental crops to find out if grain, and other food that is grown in the zone, could be used to make products that are safe to consume, hoping to prove that land around the exclusion zone could be put back to productive use. This would allow communities in the area to grow and sell produce, something that’s currently illegal due to fears of spreading radiation.

Image credits: Chernobyl Spirit Company

Smith and his team launched in 2019 the first experimental bottle of “Atomik,” a spirit made from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Since then, they have been working with the Palinochka Distillery in Ukraine to develop a small-scale experimental production, using apples from the Narodychi District – an inhabited area after the nuclear accident.

“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” Smith told the BBC. “The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment.”

The drink was initially produced using water and grain from the Chernobyl exclusion zone but the researchers have now adjusted the recipe and incorporated the apples. It’s the first consumer product to come from the abandoned area around the damaged nuclear power plant, the argue, excited about the opportunities that it represents.

The aim of selling the drink, Smith explains, is to enable the team to distribute most of the money to local communities. The rest will be reinvested in the business, as Smith hopes to provide the team with an income to work on the project. The most important thing for the area now is economic development, not radioactivity, he argues.

The researchers are now working hard to get the shipment released. Elina Smirnova, the lawyer representing them in court, said in a statement that the seizure was in violation of Ukrainian law, and accused the authorities of targeting “a foreign company which has tried to establish an ethical ‘white’ business to primarily help Ukraine.”

Chernobyl is to become the world’s largest solar power plant

The Ukranian government plans to turn Chernobyl, the site of the world’s most famous nuclear meltdown, into a sprawling solar power plant — the largest in the world.

Image credits publicdomainpictures

Since the meltdown on April 26, 1986, no one’s been able to find any good uses for Chernobyl. A 1,600 square mile area was drenched in radiation and deemed an “exclusion zone,” so everyone was evacuated after the clean-up efforts were concluded and the plant was sealed in its ubiquitous sarcophagus. The buildings, goods, and infrastructure in the area were abandoned so fast that the city looks like time froze there 30 years ago — albeit with a Falloutesque look. Since we left, nature took over, and for the most part, is thriving in our absence (though the microbes that decompose dead organic matter seem to be having a hard time living here.)

In a recent interview, however, Ukraine’s ecology minister Ostap Semerak said that the government is negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies to develop Chernobyl’s solar potential. The area is uniquely suited for the purpose — the land is extremely cheap, much of the required infrastructure, such as roads are already built. Even better, the power lines that served the old 4GW reactor are still useable.

“The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” said Ukraine’s environment minister Ostap Semerak during an interview in London. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants. We have normal European priorities, which means having the best standards with the environment and clean energy ambitions.”

PVTech reports that Ukraine is pushing for a 1GW solar plant built in a 6-month construction cycle. This would make it the world’s largest plant of the type if built today — similar plants are in development today in Egipt, India or China among others — but none have been completed yet. A 1GW solar project – based upon a global market price of $1-1.5/W for large scale development – would cost between $1 and $1.5 billion dollars. The short time-frame for construction would require significantly more resources to be deployed to complete the project on time, however.

But that might not be a problem. The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development has expressed an interest in supporting the project, “so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank’s satisfaction.” One issue that still hasn’t been considered is what constraints will be imposed on the workers. How much exposure will be considered “safe” for them? Will they have to wear radioactive suits while they work? And how will this translate into building costs? These issues will have to be settled to everyone’s satisfaction before work can commence.

Hopefully, they will. There’s something close to poetic justice in turning the site of probably the worst industrial accident in human history into a solar power plant, one of the safest and cleanest energy production technologies we have.

 

Google Translate names Russia “Mordor” without an orc in sight

In a rather hilarious turn of events, Google translate has been making some conversions that most people would find a tad inaccurate. When going from Ukrainian to Russian, the word “Russia” would show “Mordor,” “Russians” translated to “occupiers,” and Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov became “sad little horse.”

Google translate is bit of a fantasy nerd, it seems. Image via uncyclopedia.wikia

Google translate is bit of a fantasy nerd, it seems.
Image via uncyclopedia.wikia

But why did the errors occur? My guess is Ukrainian spies with a sense of humour but, in a recent statement, Google disclosed that these translations were an undesired product of Google’s automated translation system. Drawing from the huge number of indexed documents at Google’s search engine’s disposal, their translating software defines patterns to improve their conversion in different contexts.

“When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide the best translation,” Google’s statement reads.

“Automatic translation is very difficult, as the meaning of words depends on the context in which they’re used. This means that not all translations are perfect, and there will sometimes be mistakes or mistranslations.”

Image via theguartdian

Image via theguardian

After Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of the Crimean region, the derogative terms became widely used by Ukrainian soldiers and activists, tricking the system into believing that they are the correct translations for the terms.

Right now the system’s been fixed and translation gives accurate (and sadly way less funny) results, but screenshots of the botched translations are still being passed around on Russia’s Facebook equivalent, VKontakte.

When even Google Translate thinks your country is a dark dreadful place full of orcs, maybe that’s a sign that you’ve done something very very wrong. Like an invasion. Just saying.