Dispatch: Norwegian Volunteer Project Makes Body Armor for Ukrainian Troops
A team of volunteers called “Syr For Livet” (“Sews For Life”) has formed in Norway with the aim of crowdfunding the manufacture of bulletproof vests for the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF).
Alla Gazina is from Kyiv and now lives in Oslo. Originally an engineer and marketer, she has been working in Norway primarily in the production of stone products.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Gazina has been involved in various projects related to displaced persons from Ukraine. Together with her colleague Ole Kvåle, they discuss their new project making bullet proof vests with interviewer Lyubava Malysheva.
Malysheva: Who came up with the “Syr For Livet” project and when?
Gazina: The idea for the project belongs to welder Jonny Birkelund, supported by a lawyer from Oslo, Ole Kvåle. They then performed a search for volunteer participants on Facebook. Many Ukrainian women were happy to take part. Some of them have been living in Norway for many years and some arrived recently as refugees. Many of us have family members, friends or acquaintances in the UAF. We care about them and would like to produce what we can to aid victory in this war.
Malysheva: How many people are currently taking part in the project as direct manufacturers of vests?
Gazina: Approximately eight to ten people are currently involved, but more have said they’d like to join, which is great.
Malysheva: Ole, why did you personally decide to join “Syr For Livet”?
Kvåle: After completing my second round of delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine in April, I was looking for a new project to take part in. I believe “Syr For Livet” will save lives. Any help that contributes to stopping Russian aggression is essential in my view.
Malysheva: Where is production located?
Gazina: All production is currently taking place in Oslo, Norway.
Malysheva: How long does it take to produce one piece of body armor?
Gazina: It typically takes five to six hours to sew one vest, depending on the experience of the person doing the sewing. In addition, it takes time to cut the steel plates and add extra layers of anti-fragmentation material.
Malysheva: Do you use ordinary sewing machines?
Gazina: Yes, we do.
Malysheva: We saw in the video a woman working with metal. Is experience of this type of work necessary to become involved?
Gazina: Well, all our lives are changing fast and we need to face new challenges and learn new things. But it helps that we’re working with experienced professionals. We’re in contact with people from other countries who are working on similar projects and have studied production, logistics and materials.
Malysheva: What are the components of the vests?
Gazina: First, we make plates for jelly, which we then bend, cover, sew and insert. So we prepare and test the plates to prepare patterns on the paper, cut out the pattern on the material and then sew the vests.
Malysheva: What kind of steel do you use?
Kvåle: The plates in the vests are made of 6 mm thick special Hardox 450 steel, which we know has been tested on a shooting range for its resistance to certain types of bullets.[A video clip of precisely the kind of steel plates that have been tested can be found here].
Malysheva: Homemade products often don’t prevent ‘behind armor blunt trauma’. In a professional vest, not only is the steel plate protective, but so are the fabrics and additional materials and parts.
Kvåle: In order to reduce the risk of bullets fragmenting when they hit the steel plates, we add extra layers of various materials. We’re now making test plates, where we add 1.2mm of EVA [ethylene-vinyl acetate] foam and 3mm or 6mm polycarbonate plates. Polycarbonate is a light, strong material with an anti-ballistic effect. In unison with the EVA foam, this will reduce the risk of fragmentation. We’re also looking into the need for other types of materials to help address the issue of behind armor blunt trauma. We’re cooperating with people who will test the effect of these measures with the appropriate weapons and ammunition. If the results are not good enough, we’ll work on alternatives. We’re confident that we will succeed so that we can deliver vests that will save lives.
Malysheva: If the body armor doesn’t fit properly, a fighter can receive fatal injuries. How many sizes do you plan to make?
Kvåle: The vests are made in one size, but they are adjustable. The plates are 25 cm by 30 cm in size.
Malysheva: If readers from other countries want to create a similar project, where should they start?
Gazina: They need to write a business plan, including calculations and understanding of all stages of the process. They need to find suppliers of materials, such as the fabric for the vests (cordura or oxford), steel plates, threads, and a good sewing pattern, etc. It’s also important to have access to expertise within the circle of military and professional sewers. In addition, they need funding, such as donations or other forms of finance. Finally, they need to have access to a workshop.
Malysheva: What kind of expert assessment did the vests get from the military?
Kvåle: We haven’t worked with the Norwegian armed forces, but we would appreciate cooperating with them if they want to work with us.
Malysheva: How many armored vests have been made so far?
Kvåle: We are at the beginning of the project, so we have only produced a few prototypes so far.
Malysheva: Do you plan to have regular consultations with military professionals about your vests?
Kvåle: We intend to consult military professionals in Ukraine, as they have in-depth knowledge of vests.
Malysheva: Do you have direct contact with those Ukrainian servicemen for whom the body armor is intended?
Kvåle: When we’re happy with the vests, we can identify where the vests will help to minimize risk the most. To attain this, we will seek direct contact with the Ukrainian military or other relevant authorities.
Malysheva: Are you ready to share patterns and give advice on sewing?
Gazina: We are now on the way to developing all stages of process, so once we have finalized everything, we’ll be happy to cooperate with other, similar projects.
Malysheva: How much money have you managed to raise?
Kvåle: So far, we have received more than NOK 60,000 (6,000 euros). The project was launched quite recently, so we are happy with how it’s getting off the ground. Hopefully, there’ll be many more donations, so we can help more people in Ukraine.
Malysheva: If someone makes a donation of NOK 1,000 or more, their name will be written on the inside of the body armor. Is that right?
Kvåle: Yes. Many of those who donate appreciate the connection this creates between the person who donates and the person who receives the help.
Gazina: Indeed. We would like our heroes on the frontline to know the people who donate the essential resources to support them. We will think about how to get the word out about all those who help and, in this important moment, stay together with Ukraine.
Visit the Facebook page to follow the project and find out more.
Watch this YouTube video clip to see how the body armor is made.
PayPal details for donations can be found here.
VIPPS: 416 51 682 Ole Kvåle or 404 01 464 Jonny Birkelund.