Barber by day, drone hunter by night, helps defend the skies over Ukraine

By Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Yiming Woo

KIEV (Reuters) – Oleksandr Shamshur, 41, is a hairdresser by day and a “drone hunter” by night. He is among tens of thousands of volunteers helping to defend the skies over Ukraine from Russian attacks.

As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion approaches on February 24, Ukraine is growing adept at shooting down Russian missiles and drones launched at cities far from the front lines, and Shamshur is proud of his own role.

Members of his Territorial Defense Unit, including a lawyer and a businessman, respond to air raid alerts in and around the capital Kiev by attempting to shoot down Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones with a restored World War II machine gun.

“I am a very happy person. Why? Because I’m defending my country, I’m defending our Ukrainian people,” Shamshur said as he combed the capital’s moonlit skyline through a rangefinder-equipped thermal camera from a rooftop.

Nearby, a comrade was adjusting the green barrels of the Soviet Maxim machine gun.

“But at the same time, I can come into the beauty salon and work with the people that do the work that I know, cut hair and talk to clients,” Shamshur said.

He said it never occurred to him as a civilian to “run away and hide somewhere” when tens of thousands of Russian armored troops rushed into stunned Ukraine last winter and began bombing Kiev and other cities.

“With the enemy at the door, I had to do something, I had to defend myself,” he said.

On the night of December 29-30, Shamshur said his rooftop unit shot down two drones over Kiev. His team has also passed on the skills they have learned to other units.

Shamshur wears several insignia on his camouflage uniform, including one that reads “Drone Hunters” in English and one in Ukrainian that reads “Ronin” – a feudal Japanese warrior – which he has adopted as his nickname.

When Russia invaded, Shamshur — a pre-war army reservist — learned that his military base had already been destroyed by Russian shelling, so he joined the territorial defense, initially delivering food to civilians and helping evacuate people.

Working in his salon, still dressed in military khaki while styling a client’s hair, he said he tries not to discuss the war with his clients, calling it “dark” as opposed to “light.” ‘ in the peaceful part of his life.

(Reporting by Margaryta Choronkondratenko and Yiming Woo; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by John Stonestreet)


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