Ukraine’s Indigenous “Malyuk” Bullpup Rifle Is The Weapon Of Choice For Its Special Operators

Foreign weapons may be getting most of the attention, but the domestically-designed Malyuk is seeing major use by elite units, among others.

byJoseph Trevithick|
Ukraine photo


The conflict in Ukraine is rapidly becoming a showcase of sorts for foreign infantry weapons, especially various shoulder-fired anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, as you can read more about here. Subsequent discussions about these military aid shipments have largely overshadowed Ukrainian forces' use of domestically developed weapons, many of which are relatively obscure outside of the country. This includes a rifle known commonly as the Malyuk, a so-called "bullpup" design that is being heavily used by Ukrainian special operations forces units, among others.

Malyuk, a Ukrainian word that is translated as "baby" or "youngster" in English, is actually the name given a prototype of this gun, which a company called InterProInvest (IPI) first unveiled in 2015. The company currently markets this assault rifle as the Vulcan or Vulcan-M, but it is still regularly referred to by its original nickname. 

The Mayluk is not an entirely new design. It is effectively a standard AK-series rifle repackaged inside a new chassis that produces a weapon that has a 16.3-inch barrel, is around 28 inches overall, and weighs just under 8.4 pounds empty. Like the AK-pattern rifles they are based on, versions are available chambered to fire Soviet-designed 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm ammunition, as well as the NATO standard 5.56x45mm, and they can use any appropriate existing AK magazines. The top of the receiver has a length of U.S.-standard Picatinny rail that allows for the attachment of various optics and there is another one under the forend for vertical grips and other accessories. There are other attachment points on the sides for lasers and lights, and IPI offers a proprietary sound suppressor for these guns.

The bigger thing about Mayluk's design is that it has a bullpup configuration, wherein the core of the main operating mechanism, along with the magazine that feeds ammunition into it, is positioned behind the pistol grip. Most modern military rifles that feed from detachable magazines put all of that in front of the pistol grip.

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The main idea behind the bullpup configuration is reducing overall length, making the gun handier in confined spaces, without necessarily sacrificing barrel length. A shorter barrel typically translates to poorer ballistics and lower accuracy since the bullet has less time to build up speed and stabilize itself before flying out of the muzzle. 

IPI says that its new 'chassis,' which makes heavy use of polymer material, is also specially designed to ensure that heat radiating from the barrel after firing is sufficiently dissipated. The bullpup configuration means that most of the barrel, which gets hotter as the gun is fired, is right in the center of the weapon.

A graphic showing how the Malyuk is designed to transfer heat, shown in blue, from the barrel, in red, out of the gun., IPI

At the same time, a bullpup design introduces new complexities that can impact performance, mostly due to the need to link the forward-mounted trigger to the action at the rear of gun via some sort of extended mechanical link, and user flexibility. In the latter case, the main issue is that a typical modern rifle ejects spent cartridge cases to one side, generally to right the since most shooters are right-handed. This isn't necessarily a problem for left-handed shooters or individuals switching from their right hand to the left due to operational circumstances, such as a need to fire around a corner, when using a non-bullpup design. 

A bullpup, like Malyuk, that doesn't have some kind of specialized ejection mechanism is very likely to spit hot cases right into the face of a user who tries to shoot it from their left shoulder. IPI does say the Malyuk can be configured to eject from the left side, if desired, but this is not a change that it appears possible to make readily in the field and is certainly not one that can be made on the fly.

Debates have raged for years in professional and casual shooting circles about the pros and cons of bullpups. A relatively small number of world militaries have ever actually made guns in this configuration their standard infantry rifle and elite units in some of those countries have still eschewed those guns. Some nations have since reverted back to more conventional designs entirely. For Ukraine, though the country's authorities announced in 2016 that the Malyuk had passed state trials, its use by branches of the military and other government security forces remains limited. 

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From what we have seen since Russia's invasion kicked off in February, special operations forces personnel are still the primary users of these guns. One picture that has emerged on social media, seen below, shows a special operator with both a Malyuk and a captured Russian AK-12 rifle, which increasingly become a trophy of choice among Ukrainian forces and government officials, as you can read more about here.

Early in the conflict, Ukrainian officials claimed to have detained a group of "saboteurs" in the southern city of Nikopol. However, pictures showed individuals who were dressed and outfitted like Ukrainian special operators, including with Malyuk rifles. It remains unclear if this was a case of mistaken identity or if Russian forces had expertly disguised themselves in order to infiltrate the area.

Some members of Ukraine's volunteer Territorial Defense Forces, including individuals from the controversial neo-Nazi-linked Azov Batallion, have also been seen with Malyuks. However, it's unclear whether they were provided, even in part, by the Ukrainian government, or were acquired commercially or donated to those units. 

There have been reports that Ukrainian nationals and foreigners are volunteering to help defend the country at such high rates that there simply are not enough guns of any kind to arm them with, and they are employing a growing variety of small arms.

This, in turn, has led to confusion at times about whether pictures and videos show individuals armed with Malyuks or Fort-221s. The Fort-221 is a copy of the Israeli-designed IWI Tavor bullpup that Ukrainian company RPC Fort produces under license. Chechen units within Russia's invasion force claimed to have captured stocks of these guns during fighting outside of Kyiv.

The pros and cons of bullpup designs notwithstanding, Ukraine's special operations forces, who have their pick of guns, now including captured types, are clearly more than happy with their Malyuks. So, it seems very likely that we will continue to see these guns in the hands of special operations and other units as they defend their country, even as other weapons pour in.

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