MILAN — Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the country’s forces are leaning heavily on Chinese DJI drones in the defense of their country, a claim that the manufacturer has since declared was news to them.
The Oct. 8 statement made by Denys Shmyhal at the Kyiv International Economic Forum that Ukraine is effectively buying 60% of DJI’s global output of Mavic quadcopter drones, even though the vendor officially prohibits selling to militaries, highlights how commercial technology with military utility can permeate conflict zones practically unimpeded.
Ukraine is also growing its own drone program, so it is hard to ascertain how reliant the country is on the small drones made in China, which has aligned itself with the attacker, Russia. In Europe, DJI Mavic-series drones sell on Amazon from €600 ($640) to several thousand euros, depending on the sophistication of the aircraft, onboard camera and user terminal interface.
“We are utterly surprised by the statement by the Ukrainian prime minister as he has no insight into DJI’s production numbers,” a DJI spokesperson told Defense News. “The statement bears no resemblance to reality and is totally misleading with regards to DJI’s involvement in the use of its production in Ukraine.”
All DJI distributors and resellers are contractually obligated to certify periodically that they are adhering to the ban, according to the representative, or risk facing the termination of their business ties with the company. “We regret deeply that our consistently repeated public condemnation of our products being used in combat is not being acknowledged by various stakeholders.”
According to a recent New York Times report based on official Ukrainian and Russian customs data from a third-party provider, between January and June, Kyiv is estimated to have received “millions” of Chinese-made drones and spare parts, primarily coming from European intermediaries.
In that same period, the article states, Chinese trading firms shipped no less than $14.5 million worth of drone equipment to Russia.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense did not return a request for clarification about whether the prime minister’s comments referred to a government acquisition program or unofficial procurement channels.
Ukraine’s allies have organized drone-support campaigns, often in the form of private donation drives, aimed at giving Kyiv’s forces an edge in drone-based surveillance and attack capabilities.
Meanwhile, Russian drone pilots and operators have been reported to learn flying Mavic drones at educational centers within the country.
The Ukrainian business intelligence consultancy group Molfar identified one of these as “Pustelga,” which in several recent publications on its social media stated that training is provided on Mavic drones.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify the role of Russian drone training outfit “Pustelga,” as claimed by Molfar.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.