Why Teslas Totaled in the US Are Mysteriously Reincarnated in Ukraine

The war has even boosted Ukraine’s EV resurrection business at times, by driving up gas prices and making electrics more attractive to drivers. Ukraine has a public charging network of some 11,000 chargers, according to Volodymyr Ivanov, the head of communications at Nissan Motor Ukraine—that’s more than the state of New York, and double the number in neighboring Poland. Since 2018, Ukraine’s government has removed most taxes and customs duties on used EV imports. In the US, electric vehicles tend to be expensive, and the average EV driver is still a high-income male homeowner. North American wrecks, Ukraine’s EV incentives, and its relatively low electricity prices have created a different picture.

“There is a joke here that all poor people are driving electric cars, and all the rich people are driving petrol cars,” says Malakhovsky. “Tesla is a common-people, popular car because it’s very cheap in maintenance.”

That’s a relatively recent development, says Hans Eric Melin, head of Circular Energy Storage, a UK-based consultancy that tracks the international flows of used EVs and batteries. He began watching the Ukraine market in particular a few years ago, after he noticed more ads for Nissan Leafs on auction sites listed in Ukrainian than in English. At the time, the Leaf, a pioneer among EVs, was essentially the only one that had been around long enough to develop a healthy used market. Over time, Ukraine’s electric fleet grew to encompass the full range of EVs sold around the world, including Teslas, as more cars hit the roads and aged or got into crashes.

Melin had suspected Ukraine’s EV boom would end with the war. “I was completely wrong,” he says. By this summer, Ukraine’s EV fleet had doubled since July 2021, to 64,312, according to data compiled by the Automotive Market Research Institute, a Ukrainian research and advocacy group.

Roman Tyschenko, a 25-year-old IT worker who lives in Kyiv, decided last September that he was sick of his Jeep’s $400-a-month gas bill. Friends had purchased used, damaged electric cars on an online auction website called Copart, a US-based public auto reseller with 200 locations around the world. He logged on and spent $24,000 on a gray 2021 Tesla Model Y that had taken a solid blow to its passenger side in Dallas, Texas. Its bumper was almost fully detached; its hood was tented; some of its airbags had deployed.

That Texan Model Y was likely declared totaled by an insurer. From there, it probably moved to a salvage auction in the US, where licensed exporters, salvage shops, and repairers tried to figure out how much value they could squeeze out of the wreck. The winner, or perhaps the insurer itself, listed the car on Copart, which made it available to anyone around the world who wanted a smashed-up Tesla and was willing to pay for shipping.

Roman Tyschenko’s Tesla Model Y gets a facelift at a Ukrainian repair shop.

Courtesy of Roman Tyschenko

If Tyschenko hadn’t brought the Texan Tesla to Ukraine himself, it had a good chance of being shipped there anyway by someone who professionally flips cars to countries like Ukraine. These exporters look for wrecks potentially worth more than their scrap value, but little enough that an expensive US repair and resale wouldn’t make sense. Some ship vehicles directly to Ukrainian repairers and pay for the fix, while others import damaged cars and relist them for sale to Ukrainian buyers who can figure it out for themselves.

It takes a damaged North American car between one and five months to reach a nearby port. Before the war, wrecked cars headed to Ukraine’s Port of Odessa on the Black Sea. Since Russia invaded in 2022, they come through Klaipėda in Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, or Koper in Slovenia on the Adriatic, and are brought to Ukraine by truck. A shop like Malakhovsky’s can fix a Tesla in somewhere between one week and one year, depending on the damage.

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