A success story made in Canada

The vehicle is called the Senator. The company is called Roshel — it’s both the namesake and brainchild of Roman Shimonov, an immigrant himself, from Israel.

On a walk through the plant, Shimonov takes us through the production line from start to finish, pointing out the high-tech laser-cutting machines that precisely trim down sheet metal to form the vehicle’s tough outer skin. He shows us how they take the metal and shape it, grind it and weld it together before the vehicles are ready to paint.

It is an intense hive of activity with workers constantly in motion, machinery whirring, and sparks flying from welding torches throughout the space. It’s not only the Ukrainians who have bought into the mission; there’s a palpable feeling that employees here are focused and serious about the work, yet happy to be here.

The Senator is armoured, and loaded with smart technology to protect both the soldiers inside from gunfire and help them detect and avoid danger before it happens. It’s not meant for frontline combat, but has become critical equipment for Ukrainian troop transports, medical evacuations, delivery of aid, and prisoner swaps.

Until this year, Roshel had been selling the Senator mostly to security and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and other western allies. (The vehicle was used to transport NASA astronauts to a SpaceX launch to the International Space Station in May 2020.) Roshel does not sell to individuals or rogue nations.

When war broke out, Shimonov, whose wife is from Ukraine, quickly realized there was an opportunity to grow his business, and help Ukrainians. And hiring newcomers from that country was his secret weapon.

“These people are coming with a specific motivation,” Shimonov says. ”They’re not just doing their job. They’re helping their country, their motherland, by creating those vehicles that at the end will go there and will save people’s lives, maybe their relatives.”

Shimonov started Roshel in 2016, and the first Senator rolled off the line in 2018. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Shimonov supercharged Roshel’s production line, increasing its output tenfold since last year. Roshel can complete production of two Senator vehicles per day. And it’s possible to get them delivered on the ground in Ukraine in a month — speed that is critical to the forces defending against the invaders.

The Canadian government has bought eight Senators for Ukraine, but that is dwarfed by purchases from other countries. NATO and other western allies have bought dozens more since the war broke out. In all, there are at least a hundred Senators currently being used by Ukrainian military and law enforcement agencies engaged in defending the country. And the reviews have been glowing.

“I don’t know any cases when someone from [among] my friends or Ukrainian soldiers was killed in this car. So it means that it provides high-quality protection for soldiers,” says Marat, a driver with the volunteer special forces unit of the Ukrainian military called the Kraken.

These are fighters who face, among other threats, fire from BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket systems. The Soviet-era weapon can launch 40 rockets in seconds, raining down like stones — “grad” is actually the Russian word for hail. Those rockets are notoriously indiscriminate. When one hits, the blast can kill or injure anyone in a 28-metre radius.

Global News has reviewed videos from two separate incidents in which missiles landed approximately one metre from a Senator.

The tires were a little worse for wear. But ballistic glass and steel withstood the power of the blast in both attacks. No Ukrainians were hurt.

Riding in a Senator outside Kupyansk, just over 30 km from Russia, reveals a broken landscape dotted with the wreckage of bombed-out cars and buildings. Ukrainians in dangerous proximity to the eastern border with Russia often come under fire. So far, the Senator has passed every test with flying colours.

Orest, a sergeant with the Kraken, tells of how he recently came under Russian fire inside the vehicle. “A projectile exploded next to us.” The enforced windshield sustained damage, but all personnel inside the vehicle were unharmed. “The vehicle completely worked as it was designed,” Orest says.

After the early days of the war, when Ukrainian soldiers were being transported in commercial vehicles with no armour, or captured Russian vehicles, the Senator has been a godsend.

“It has the same protection class as the Russian Tiger [light armoured vehicle], but the Senator’s armour withstands stronger impact,” Orest told Global News.

Orest isn’t the only one impressed with the performance of the Senator. Indeed, the Ukrainian government has requested more armoured vehicles from Canada.

In an October interview with CTV and CBC, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy was asked about the fact that the request has yet to be fulfilled. While he declined to answer if he felt disappointed, Zelenskyy went on at length about the close ties between Ukrainian and Canadian governments and people. Much attention was paid to his likening it to “being relatives, regardless of the distance.”

But Zelenskyy, who has become renowned for being a creative and effective communicator, clearly had a message for Ottawa.

In his answer, he chose to describe the strong, steadfast relationship between Ukraine and Canada as “armoured” — three times.

“Canada supports [Ukraine], not just with armoured vehicles. … I can probably say this is an ‘armoured’ support.” And later, about Canada’s diplomatic efforts, Zelenskyy said, “This is an armoured support, and armoured assuredness, I’m very grateful for that support.”

This content was originally published here.