Small Arms of the War In Ukraine

    It’s now three weeks since Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine. We have seen the Ukrainian Armed Forces put up an impressive fight while Russia’s forces have stalled since their initial attempts at a lightning advance failed. While images of burnt-out or abandoned Russian armoured vehicles have dominated the news and social media there have been some interesting small arms seen. Everything from the newest Ukrainian AR-15s to Russia-backed separatists with Mosin-Nagants.

    One thing to consider with this study is that both Russian and Ukrainian operational security has been relatively good. Russian troops aren’t allowed to take personal smartphones into the field and Ukrainian troops have been careful not to share sensitive information online. However, through some open intelligence sources, we are able to begin to build a picture of what small arms are being used on the ground.

    The AK-74

    The AK-74 and AK-74M is by far the most ubiquitous weapon. Seen in the hands of both Ukrainian and Russian troops.

    AKS-74Us have also been seen in the hands of Russian aviators, Ukrainian civilians, volunteers and special operations forces. One notable example photo that was widely shared was of Ukrainian politician Kira Rudik posing with an AKS-74U last month.

    AKS-74U in Ukraine (via War_Noir)

    In the photo below, a Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force unit can be seen equipped largely with AK-74 pattern rifles, and one other interesting weapon we’ll look at later.

    Some AKM-pattern rifles have also been seen, but not in the numbers of the 5.45x39mm AK-74. So far most notably these have been seen equipping Territorial Defense Force units and a unit of Brazilian volunteers who have posted regularly on social media.

    In terms of pistols, Makarov PMs are ubiquitous and seen in the hands of both sides.

    The Stetchkin APS automatic pistol has also been seen in the hands of Russian troops.

    A Stechkin APS.

    Vintage Antiques

    A considerable number of PU-scoped Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifles have been seen in the hands of Russian-backed Separatist forces from Donbas. They have been seen at checkpoints and in photos from muster points inside the Separatist republics.

    A soldier from one of the Separatist regions in the Donbas armed with an M1891 Mosin-Nagant with a PU scope (source, date and location unknown)

    Numerous examples of the rifle have been sighted, nearly always in the hands of less well equipped Separatist troops.

    But it’s not just Separatists fielding antiques, a number of Soviet DP-27 light machine guns have been seen in hands, below is a member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force:

    The likeness of the vintage DP-27s pan magazine to a record hasn’t been lost on Ukrainian troops either with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense even sharing a joke video showing a soldier ‘DJing’ with a DP-27

    Separatist troops have also been seen with a World War Two PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle, perhaps in use as an anti-materiel rifle.

    Pro-Russia YouTuber War Gonzo has also shared a clip of a Separatist soldier with a PPS-43, though probably not his primary weapon as his LBE has AK mags stuffed into it.

    And of course, Russian-made Maxim PM M1910s (a design pre-dating the First World War) have surfaced in a number of photographs and lately the first video appearing to show one being test fired at a range by Ukrainian servicemen.

    The PM M1910 also featured on perhaps the most spectacular technical ever assembled – on the back of a Z-daubed Loncin 3-wheel flatbed cargo motorcycle.

    Tactical Trailer Technical

    Ukrainian AR-15s

    We have seen Ukrainian Army, National Guard and KORD police special operations forces members carrying a variety of weapons including Malyuk AK bullpups, UKROP UAR-15s and some captured AK-12s. In one video showing Ukrainian’s engaging Russian armoured vehicles with RPG-7s, we also get a close-up look at some UKROP UAR-15s.

    Ukrainian UAR-15 made by UKROP

    Ukrainian UAR-15 made by UKROP


    Ukrainian special forces have been seen in a number of photographs with Malyuk AK bullpups.

    Ukrainian operator with a Malyuk bullpup and a captured AK-12 (via calibreobscura)

    Ukraine’s Other Bullpup

    The Ukrainian copy of the IWI Tavor, made under license as the Fort-221 and other models in various calibers have also been seen in small numbers. These are assembled in Ukraine by RPC Fort, with various TAR-21 variants offered.

    One was seen in the hands of former Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov who appeared behind the former president Petro Poroshenko during a recent interview with Sky News.

    Ukrainian security forces with Fort-221 (Tavor TAR-21) bullpup (via Sky News)

    Some of these rifles have also been seen in Russian footage from a captured depot with dozens shown in crates.

    Captured Suppressed Marksman Rifles

    During the first week of fighting, two relatively rare Russian small arms were confirmed to be present in Ukraine, the VSS Vintorez and the AS VAL, predominantly seen with Spetsnaz units.

    A captured Russian AS VAL

    A VSS Vintorez (via UAWeaponTracker)

    Weapons we haven’t seen too frequently include SVDs, RPKs and PK machine guns. However, we have seen some AS VALs and VSS Vintorez suppressed rifles.


    Numerous group photos from Ukrainian units shown armed with RPKs

    These units range from national guard units to foreign volunteers to the recently formed Territorial Defense Force battalions.

    Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force, one armed with an RPK

    Captured AK-12s

    This photograph of captured equipment from Hostomel Airport shows several AK-12s, an SVD marksman’s rifle, a PKP GPMG and several AK-74Ms. The AK-12s are rarely seen with optics of any kind. The use of optics appears to be largely confined to Russian special operations forces.

    Numerous other examples of the Russian Army’s newest rifle, the AK-12, have been seen in Ukrainian hands.

    A captured, optic-less, Russian AK-12 (via UAWeaponsTracker)

    Below Ukrainian Special Forces pose atop a captured T-80BVM. One operator has a Malyuk bullpup while another has a captured AK-12.

    A Ukrainian SOF member with a captured Russian AK-12 (via UAWeaponsTracker)

    One of the few captured AK-12s to also have an optic mounted was seen with a PK-120 sight, noticeably mounted backwards.

    PK Machine Guns

    PKM machine guns delivered to Kyiv Territorial Defense Force battalions 7 March (Ukrainian MoD)

    The Territorial Defense Forces are also adapting PKT (vehicle-mounted guns which are solenoid-fired) into infantry weapons by making a rear extension to attach a stock and pistol grip to the captured weapons. See the video below:

    A more refined version has been developed and appeared in a France 24 new report earlier this week.

    In terms of heavier weapons, there have been some interesting appearances including a very unusual ‘technical’ – a convertible BMW with an NSV 12.7×108mm heavy machine gun and some custom patriotic decals.

    This isn’t the only technical we’ve seen, with another more conventional technical – a white pickup, seen being tested, but it is definitely the most interesting.

    The ubiquitous DShK has also been seen mounted on vehicles.

    Western Small Arms

    We know that as part of the $350 million immediate military aid package and the packages that proceeded it in 2021 the US has transferred M240 machine guns, Mossberg M500 shotguns and M134 Miniguns for helicopter mounting. We have so far seen the M240s in use with Ukrainian forces.

    The commander of the Belarusian volunteers fighting for Ukraine has also been seen with an M240.

    Commander of Belarus detachment (volunteers) of the Ukrainian AF with an M240 equipped with Dedal-NV 490 DK3 night vision optic (via BattalionBratstvo)

    Another look at the M240 B equipped with Dedal-NV 490 DK3 (via War_Noir)

    Another interesting weapon to appear is at least one SIG Sauer MCX.

    Other nations including Australia, the Czech Republic and Belgium promised various small arms. The first of these seen have been the Belgian FNC.

    One of the most interesting weapons to surface is the Czech Cold War-vintage Vz.59 general purpose machine gun, seen in the hands of a Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force unit. The Vz.59 is interesting in that the pistol grip acts as the charging handle.

    This brief look at the plethora of small arms seen in use during the war in Ukraine doesn’t scratch the surface and we’ll likely see more as the conflict continues. Don’t forget to check out our earlier article on anti-tank weapons being used in Ukraine.

    Our sister site, Overt Defense is running daily updates on the war, check those out here.

    Matthew Moss

    _________________________________________________________________________ – Managing Editor – Managing Editor

    Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written several books and for a variety of publications in both the US and UK. He also runs Historical Firearms, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matt is also co-founder of The Armourer’s Bench, a video series on historically significant small arms.

    Here on TFB he covers product and current military small arms news.

    Reach Matt at: [email protected]