Watch Now: Ukraine drone hobbyists band together to spy on Russians from the air

In better times, Ukrainian drone enthusiasts flew their gadgets into the sky to photograph weddings, fertilize soybean fields or race other drones for fun.

Now some are risking their lives by forming a volunteer drone force to help their country repel the Russian invasion.

“Kyiv needs you and your drone at this moment of fury!” read a Facebook post late last week from the Ukrainian military, calling for citizens to donate hobby drones and to volunteer as experienced pilots to operate them.

One entrepreneur who runs a retail store selling consumer drones in the capital said its entire stock of some 300 drones made by Chinese company DJI has been dispersed for the cause. Others are working to get more drones across the border from friends and colleagues in Poland and elsewhere in Europe.

“Why are we doing this? We have no other choice. This is our land, our home,” said Denys Sushko, head of operations at Kyiv-based industrial drone technology company DroneUA, which before the war was helping to provide drone services to farmers and energy companies.

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Formed in a fury to counter Russia’s blitzkrieg attack, Ukraine’s hundreds-strong volunteer “hacker” corps is much more than a paramilitary cyberattack force in Europe’s first major war of the internet age. It is crucial to information combat and to crowdsourcing intelligence .

“We are really a swarm. A self-organizing swarm,” said Roman Zakharov, a 37-year-old IT executive at the center of Ukraine’s bootstrap digital army.

Inventions of the volunteer hackers range from software tools that let smartphone and computer owners anywhere participate in distributed denial-of-service attacks on official Russian websites to bots on the Telegram messaging platform that block disinformation, let people report Russian troop locations and offer instructions on assembling Molotov cocktails and basic first aid.

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