Content:
  1. The ‘Georgian Hutsul’
  2. From ‘Bees’ to ‘Storks’
  3. ‘Boomerang’ drones

When he was ten, Illia Koliiev was forced to flee South Ossetia with his parents after Russia came to ‘rescue’ them.

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When the full-scale war in Ukraine broke out, he found himself in a small district centre in the western part of the country, where love took him.

Russia's attack on his second homeland did not leave Illia aside.

At first, he volunteered, and when he realised that Ukraine’s defenders lacked UAVs, he mastered drone construction on his own, developed his own models with unique characteristics – like remembering routes and returning independently – and recruited a team.

Today, Illia’s company, founded a year ago, assembles thirty drones a month and actively tests new models. How did he manage to pull it off?

The ‘Georgian Hutsul’

Before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr Koliiev was working in logistics and had nothing to do with avionics, he tells LIGA.net in an interview.

While working in Kyiv, he met a girl from Halychyna, a historical region in western Ukraine, fell in love, and got married. When Russia’s full-invasion started, the family moved to his wife’s hometown.

"That's how I became a 'Georgian Hutsul'," he jokes.

Meet the ‘Georgian Hutsul’ who makes drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces
Photo supplied by Illia Koliiev

In the first days of the full-scale war, Mr Koliiev actively volunteered.

"Once, my colleagues brought me two old DjI Phantom drones that were broken and disassembled, saying that if you could assemble them, they would send them to the front," he recalls.

"I have a technical education and have loved technology all my life, but I had never worked with drones before."

Still, Mr Koliiev liked the idea of making something useful for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He was fired up and repaired the two models in a few days.

"When I took them outside to test them, a thought occurred to me, ‘This thing might be able to throw something’," he recalls.

The thought did not let go.

"For 28 days, I sat in my office almost non-stop, studying, figuring it out, [and] inventing."

When Illia found out that Russians had destroyed the An-225 Mriya, the largest Ukrainian aircraft, in the battle for Hostomel, Mr Koliiev decided to name his own drones after the legendary Antonov model.

Eventually, he managed to create the first prototype that flew confidently by June. Then, Illia started assembling a team, which was the hardest part, he recalls.

"But I’m proud of how it turned out. We have people who moved to the district centre from Kyiv and other cities on purpose."

The Mria Dron team currently employs twenty people. They have managed to assemble and send hundreds of drones to the frontline – Mr Koliiev will not say exactly how many.

"We are currently building 25 to 30 drones a month on average," he adds.

Meet the ‘Georgian Hutsul’ who makes drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces
Photo supplied by Mria Dron

The company has purchased 3D printers and other necessary equipment, and work on the UAVs is ongoing.

"We have reached a pace where we can make one drone in a day, but in most cases, it takes 14 days from order to delivery."

In addition, Mria Dron also runs courses for drone operators.

"We teach them not only how to fly drones, but also how to repair them without help if necessary," Illia explains.

From ‘Bees’ to ‘Storks’

Mria Dron currently produces four drone models – Hell Cat, Leleka (‘Stork’), Leleka 2, and Bee, which is – counterintuitively – the largest model, with a span of up to three metres and the ability to carry up to 25 kilograms of load over a distance of 10 kilometres.

Meet the ‘Georgian Hutsul’ who makes drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces
Photo by Uliana Bukatiuk / LIGA.net

"Although this is also a hypothetical division, because in fact each drone is made to meet the needs of a specific unit that contacts us," Mr Koliiev explains.

He says that the company actively cooperates with the Ukrainian military, including the high command.

What makes Mria Dron drones better than their foreign counterparts?

"Technical specifications, price, technical support, warranty and free replacement, individual work: if you need any updates, we heard and did it," he explains.

For instance, the company's smallest model, Hell Cat, is visually and performance-wise similar to one of the most popular drones on the market, the Chinese-made DJI Mavic 3.

"But the Mavic has an optical zoom of up to 4x, while the Hell Cat has at least 10x, the Chinese drone can fly five to seven kilometres, and ours can fly 35 to 40 kilometres," Illia explains.

At the same time, the two models are close in price. A Mria Dron drone’s starts from about USD 6,000, depending on fluctuations in the spare parts market, and the max price is nearly USD 20,600.

Mria Dron UAVs are bought by the military itself, as well as by volunteers and entrepreneurs, the company's founder says.

"We try to send one or two out of every ten drones we assemble to the frontline for free."

‘Boomerang’ drones

Ukrainian drones have an advantage over their foreign civilian analogues due to their unique ‘Boomerang’ function, Mr Koliiev points out.

It means they remember their own route and use it to return in case of loss of control, while the enemy cannot track their movement or the location of the operators.

Meet the ‘Georgian Hutsul’ who makes drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces
Photo by Uliana Bukatiuk / LIGA.net

The enemy is actively using electronic warfare in the frontlines, and it is impossible to completely safeguard drones from it, Illia says.

"But we are protected from the effects of electronic warfare as much as possible thanks to our own developed systems," he adds.

In addition, Mria Dron drones do not record video on their camera, so they cannot be seen by the enemy: It is the drone operator who has the memory card that records the data, explains the founder of Mria Dron.

Meet the ‘Georgian Hutsul’ who makes drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces
Photo by Uliana Bukatiuk / LIGA.net

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