Man Uses 30-Year-Old Audi 100 2.3E as Search and Rescue Vehicle on the Frontlines of Ukraine

André West with his Audi in Ukraine

by Jesus R. Garcia - 08/15/2022

André West is a 21-year-old former armored car mechanic from Germany with a fondness for driving. He is a true gentlemen racer in that he enjoys the skill and thrill of a perfectly executed Scandinavian flick or textbook heel-and-toe downshift. Besides being a wheeling gearhead, West is also a humanitarian who's been in Ukraine since April, volunteering on the frontlines. His effort in Ukraine's war against Russia is not done with a rifle but a 1991 Audi 100 2.3E. 

André West Audi

Armed with his FWD 30-year-old Audi, West has been conducting search and rescue missions on the frontlines. West founded SAR Kharkiv/Donbas at the start of June, and since then, his search and rescue unit has helped evacuate 400 people from small towns and villages before being occupied by Russian forces. These elite-willed volunteers consist of civilian mechanics and codrivers in reasonably priced used cars. I contacted Andre West to learn more about his experiences driving through kill zones and artillery shelling as a high-speed humanitarian.

SAK Kharkiv/Donbas

André West helping people in Ukraine

André West purchased his 1991 Audi 100 2.3E in November 2021. Before this car, he was a motorcycle guy with two vintage Honda bikes waiting for him when he returned to Germany. So, the Audi is his first car purchase. Anyone will tell you that you never forget your first car, and in West's case, he certainly never will, as the car has become his primary tool on the battlegrounds. However, the reason to buy an Audi 100 2.3E had nothing to do with its military capabilities and more to do with sentiment. As a young boy, West's mother owned a fully loaded Audi 200. So, when West sits in the backseat of his Audi, it is like going back in time to a simpler time of looking out the passenger side window. 

When Russia escalated its eight-year invasion of Ukraine to a full-scale war on February 24, 2022, West felt a sense of duty to try and help. As he puts it, "I couldn't just watch the war unfold." So, in March, he quit his job, canceled the lease at his apartment, and sold off most of his belongings, leaving him with enough supplies to fit into the Audi 100. 

André West driving his Audi

West arrived in Ukraine in April to join the International Legion of Ukraine, formed by President Zelensky. After declining a position to be an assistant machine gunner, he spent the rest of the month helping clean up Russian-made messes and digging trenches. 

Towards the end of April, West noticed an increasing demand to evacuate people stuck in small towns on the frontlines. These places often took a backseat to focus on large metropolitan cities. That's when West got an idea. People needed rescuing, and he had the time, motivation, and vehicle to help. He founded SAR Kharkiv/Donbas to certify himself as an official organization and recruited like-minded friends with vehicles to create a search and rescue unit. 

Drive As the Crow Flies 

André West Audi in a war zone

June 1 kicked off their search and rescue efforts in Ukraine. His team drove through villages on the frontlines to hand out their contact information for evacuations. By June 3, they were on the road to Sloviansk on their first mission. On June 7, SAR Kharkiv/Donbas was tasked by a young lady to find her schizophrenic mother in the town of Vovchoiarivka, south of Lysychansk. The daughter provided them with the mother's address, details, and photos. Then they asked a soldier for the best, least life-threatening route into town. Miraculously they were able to find the mother. Now it was time to get out of dodge, which meant driving as the crow flies through a field. 

André West

The month of June witnessed some of SAR Kharkiv/Donbas wildest missions yet. One instance required the Audi 100 2.3E sedan to drive multiple times through a five-kilometer Russian ambush kill zone to reach a small village. This route might as well have been the moon, with craters the size of Elon Musk's ego and more potholes than the city of Detroit. 

To avoid the crosshairs of the Russian Armed Forces, West had to exercise some rally stage driving techniques, "I did a Scandinavian flick through the ambush to go even faster when we had artillery shelling near the area. On the road, I would drive 130-150 kmh (80-90 mph) while avoiding the carters and potholes, which was extremely scary for the evacuees." 

An Audi Named Eleanor

André West Audi

The Audi 100 2.3E is affectionately nicknamed Eleanor after the Gone in 60 Seconds movie. Not the glitzy Nicholas Cage film, the gritty original from 1974 director, written, and starring the Car Crash King H.B. Halicki. That Eleanor Mustang is the real-life juggernaut that survived 30 minutes of pre-CGI Hollywood car chase stunts. Ironically, looking at the Audi from the front makes you think of the Last V8 Interceptor from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, so think of it as Eleanor Audi, the last I5 evacuator. 

When West purchased the Audi 100 2.3E, the car was in good original condition. Now, the car has seen better days and road conditions. Most of the cosmetic damage was caused by debris and shrapnel from BM-21 Grad rockets and artillery shells exploding near the car. SAR Kharkiv/Donbas is no stranger to driving through clouds of dust kicked up from artillery attacks that occurred minutes ago. 

André West's Audi 100 saving lives in Ukraine

Notably, there is a bowling ball-sized impact on the front windshield caused by shrapnel from a grad rocket landing about 30 meters from the Audi. A piece of debris hit the windshield right in front of the steering wheel but didn't penetrate through. 

"I personally have been shelled about six times," said West. "One time, we ripped two tires near Semyhirya and had only one spare and drove all the way to Bakhmut with a flat tire, and somehow we reuse the light alloy wheel." In addition, the Audi's front and rear lights are covered to avoid being a moving target during nighttime runs where West needs to drive fast at night with no lights, like a whiskey runner in the Black Hills of Tennessee.

One noteworthy incident involved a broken gearbox mount and a cracked radiator. After surveying the damage for about ten minutes West and his team concluded that the only way of getting the Audi home was to drive it in the only gear that still worked – reverse. So they drove away from the breakdown spot only to see artillery shells land on that same spot a minute later. 

André West windshield

The Audi 100 2.3E drove in reverse to the next town, dropped off humanitarian aid and supplies, and then made the trip back to home base. During the journey, the car's radiator drank 20 liters of water to keep from overheating. 

Currently, the Audi's rear trailing arm has undergone multiple rewelds. In addition, the exhaust system should be eligible for a Purple Heart as it lost two silencers. According to West, the 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine now sounds like a T72 tank. 

How You Can Help Keep SAR Kharkiv/Donbas Stay on the Road

André West and citizens of Ukraine

As mentioned, SAR Kharkiv/Donbas is a volunteer organization. Since being founded in June, they have helped evacuate nearly 400 people from the Ukraine frontlines. In addition to search and rescue, SAR Kharkiv/Donbas helps small forgotten towns and villages on the frontlines by providing people with food, medications, hygiene products, and even fresh bread. 

West has set up a fundraiser on Fundrazr to raise money to keep their fleet of non-bullet-proof cars on the road and continue their humanitarian efforts. Anything helps. Donate the equivalent of an oil change, car battery, or a 12-pack of beer to the organization. With so many scam charities online, this is one you can donate to with complete trust, knowing that it's a cause free of any political ties or agenda. 

André West has no plans to leave Ukraine, "I'll stay in Ukraine for as long as the frontline moves, so probably as long as the war takes. I can drive whatever. We are in the process of getting a 4x4 for autumn and winter. I've been driving a Volkswagen T4 a lot and been told by codrivers that they've never seen a T4 van doing the things I did with it. However, I obviously prefer my Audi."

The Ukrainian people

If you want to support André West and SAR Kharkiv/Donbas, you can donate by clicking here. You can also follow André West on Instagram and YouTube, where he posts videos of their SAR missions.