KOLONSCHYNA, Ukraine (AP) — As Russian tanks and trucks rumbled near their village, a Ukrainian teenager and his father stealthily launched their small drone into the air.
Working as a team, they took bird’s-eye photos of the armored column heading towards Kyiv and identified its coordinates, quickly sending the valuable information to the Ukrainian military.
Within minutes, the artillery batteries were raining shells down on the invading forces, with deadly effect.
Andriy Pokrasa, 15, and his father, Stanislav, are hailed in Ukraine for their voluntary aerial reconnaissance work at the start of the invasion, when Russian troops arriving from the north ultimately failed to take the capital and bring the country back to knees.
For an entire week after the February 24 invasion, the pair made repeated sorties with their drone – risking capture or worse had Russian troops been aware of their spying.
“Those were some of the scariest times of my life,” Andriy recounted as he demonstrated his racing skills for a team of Associated Press reporters.
“We provided the photos and the location to the armed forces,” he said. “They refined the coordinates more precisely and transmitted them by walkie-talkie, in order to adjust the artillery.”
His father was happy to leave the piloting to the boy.
“I can operate the drone, but my son does it much better. We immediately decided that he would,” said 41-year-old Stanislav Pokrasa.
They don’t know how many Russian targets were destroyed using the information they provided. But they saw the devastation caused to the Russian convoy when they then brought the drone back over the charred carcasses of trucks and tanks near a town west of Kyiv and a strategically important highway that leads to the capital.
“More than 20 Russian military vehicles were destroyed, including tank trucks and tanks,” the father said.
As Russian and Ukrainian forces fought furiously for control of Kyiv’s outskirts, Ukrainian soldiers eventually urged the Pokrasa family to leave their village, which Russian troops then occupied.
With all adult men up to the age of 60 ordered by the government to stay in the country, the eldest Pokrasa was unable to join his wife and son when they fled to neighboring Poland.
They came back a few weeks ago, when Andriy had finished his school year.
“I was happy that we destroyed someone,” he said. “I was happy to have contributed, to have been able to do something. Not just sit and wait.
AP journalist John Leicester contributed to this report from Kyiv, Ukraine.