Bulletproof gear made by the MC Armor company in Colombia, ready to be shipped to Ukraine.

Body armor factories in the Americas are sending gear to war-torn Ukraine

Over the past three decades, MC Armor has made various types of protective equipment, including bulletproof shirts and pants, for dozens of heads of state in the Americas. It has also supplied body armor to the military forces of many countries, including Peru, Guatemala, Chile, Qatar and Nigeria. Now, it's sending gear to protect people in Ukraine.

The World

Bulletproof gear made by the MC Armor company in Colombia, which is ready to be shipped to Ukraine.

Manuel Rueda/The World

The MC Armor company was founded in Colombia in the 1990s as drug violence increased across the country.

Now, employees at its plant in the capital Bogotá are working nonstop to make bulletproof vests and helmets that will be shipped off to Ukraine.

Employees at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, work with helmets and other gear meant to protect people especially in conflict and war zones.

Employees at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, work with helmets and other gear meant to protect people especially in conflict and war zones.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

As the war in Ukraine enters into its second month, demand for this lifesaving gear has skyrocketed. And body armor companies, as well as individuals, on the opposite side of the Atlantic are hustling to fill the need. MC Armor is one of the largest producers of bulletproof gear in South America, and it’s also joined the effort to help out.

“In this moment, Ukraine is under attack,” said MC Armor founder Miguel Caballero. “We have the capacity and the knowledge here to help them.”

Related: In 2014, the ‘decrepit’ Ukrainian army hit the refresh button. Eight years later, it’s paying off.

Over the past three decades, MC Armor has made various types of protective equipment, including bulletproof shirts and pants, for dozens of heads of state in the Americas. It has also supplied body armor to the military forces of many countries, including Peru, Guatemala, Chile, Qatar and Nigeria.

But while the company has experience with large orders, its founder says that it’s working at a hectic pace now to fill the sudden need for body armor among Ukrainian civilians.

A woman works at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, that's producing bulletproof vests and other gear for people in Ukraine.

A woman works at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, that's producing bulletproof vests and other gear for people in Ukraine.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

At one point in the second half of March, the factory worked from Sunday to Sunday, with three shifts of workers per day. Caballero even had to add more workers to the assembly line.

The company dispatched a total of 2,500 bulletproof vests to Ukraine by the end of the month. And now, it's working on an additional order of 2,000 heavy-duty vests that have been paid for by donors from Spain and the United Kingdom.

Related: Amid immigration crackdown, Colombia revokes national IDs for thousands of Venezuelans without warning

The vests have thick, ceramic plates that can stop machine-gunfire, known in the industry as Type 4 vests.

“Normally the production of this type of order [of bulletproof vests] takes 120 days. Today we have to increase the capacity in production to reduce that to 12 days.”

Miguel Caballero, founder, MC Armor

“Normally, the production of this type of order takes 120 days,” Caballero explained at his company’s shop in an upscale district of Bogotá. “Today, we have to increase the capacity in production to reduce that to 12 days.”

Miguel Caballero founded the MC Armor company in the 1990s in Colombia to produce bulletproof vests and helmets.

Miguel Caballero founded the MC Armor company in the 1990s in Colombia to produce bulletproof vests and helmets.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

Caballero said that some of his bulletproof vests will go to medical workers working on the front lines. Others could be sent to Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces.

It’s a new branch of Ukraine’s military that is made up of civilians being trained for urban warfare. More than 100,000 volunteers have joined these defense forces around the country, and many are still in need of protective gear.

Related: For developing countries, the war in Ukraine means even higher food prices

In Arizona, the Spartan Armor company said that it also ramped up production in March and sent 1,500 vests to Ukraine, most of them Type 4 vests.

But making new batches of vests is also becoming a challenge, said Todd Meeks, the company’s president.

“It’s hard to get the ceramics, and it’s hard to get the raw materials to make them,” said Meeks, whose company usually makes around 500 Type 4 vests a month.

Bulletproof vests being made to be shipped to Ukraine.

Bulletproof vests being made to be shipped to Ukraine.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

Meeks said that ceramics suppliers have hiked up their prices by around 25% since the war broke out.

“I think those companies know that they can charge more now for it. So, they're charging more for it,” he said.

As factories struggle to keep up with demand, volunteers are also pitching in.

Related: Navigating war without sound: Ukraine’s deaf refugees

In San Diego, a cultural group called the House of Ukraine has collected more than 100 secondhand vests from local residents and has bought 200 new ones.

They’ve flown the equipment to Poland on commercial flights, with volunteers carrying the body armor, along with dozens of pounds of medical equipment, in their suitcases.

A woman at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, works with ceramic plates — which have become more expensive — that will go inside bulletproof vests.

A woman at the MC Armor plant in Bogota, Colombia, works with ceramic plates — which have become more expensive — that will go inside bulletproof vests.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

Mira Stephanyak is the House of Ukraine’s president. She grew up in Ukraine and has lived in the US for about 20 years.

“We feel like that’s something that we can help with. Because exporting ammunition or guns is a whole different story, and that’s not something I’m going to be taking on myself,” Stephanyak said.

Stephanyak explaiend that by sending vests, helmets and tourniquets to Ukraine, she can at least help the members of the Territorial Defense Forces “to live if they get shot at.”

She’s obtained an export license for body armor so that she can send bigger shipments of bulletproof vests in the coming weeks.

Back in Colombia, Caballero said that that his company has enough raw materials in stock to make around 5,000 more vests.

Workers at the MC Armor plant in Colombia making bulletproof vests and other gear.

Workers at the MC Armor plant in Colombia making bulletproof vests and other gear.

Credit:

Manuel Rueda/The World

He’s kept them at the same price as before the war. In his company’s Bogotá shop, he’s put up a poster with the Ukrainian map on it as an important reminder.

“Not everything in business is about money,” Caballero said. “Our mission right now is to save lives.”