Ukraine crowdfunds for troops with appeals for drones, jets and off-road jeeps

Kyiv turns to ordinary citizens as it seeks to gain upper hand in conflict

Drones bought through crowdfunding have been used extensively by Ukrainian troops during the conflict. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Crowdfunding has become an important tool for Ukraine as it turns to ordinary citizens to help bolster national defence and supply its ill-equipped army against Russian forces.

Grassroots appeals started by volunteers have sprung up across the internet in recent months, with urgent requests for commercial drones, medical supplies and even military jets to assist the war effort.

From the beginning of the invasion, authorities in Kyiv have seen crowdfunding as an opportunity to link up with western donors desperate to make a contribution to Ukraine's outnumbered and under-resourced armed forces.

Although these efforts may seem insignificant compared with the $50 billion pledged to Ukraine by western governments, crowdfunding continues to play a vital role in supplying front-line troops.

In March, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy launched the United24 platform, where donors could send charitable contributions to help defend Ukraine's borders and assist with reconstruction when the conflict finally ends.

Data show that the campaign has already raised $43 million, with over half of the funds going to acquiring helmets and body armour for soldiers, further illustrating the need for even for the most basic of military gear.

The National Bank of Ukraine has joined in by setting up methods for people to send money using technology such as Google Pay. The programme has been successful, generating more than €400m since March.

Drones

Commercial drones, once a rarity, are now used extensively by Ukraine's armed forces thanks to their effectiveness in reconnaissance.

As a result, they are in high demand on the front line and have proven to be a relatively cost-effective way for donors to make a direct impact.

Eyes on Ukraine is one appeal aiming to send more of these drones to the eastern front. The campaign was launched by Kazakhstan-born Farid Bekirov, who lived for some time in eastern Ukraine.

On June 6, his team sent a Toyota Landcruiser across the Polish border laden with 86 drones purchased by internet sponsors. It was the second such convoy to be sent by the team and they hope to deliver 500 drones to where they are needed most in the coming weeks.

Earlier this month, it was reported that people in Lithuania had raised about $6m to help buy a Turkish-made Bayraktar drone.

The private crowdfunding campaign went viral in the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people, drawing donations from thousands of private citizens, young and old.

Supplies for Ukrainian soldiers

Ukrainians say crowdfunding initiatives have been successful in moving items to the front by bypassing military bureaucracy.

War Stop is one such campaign that links up Ukrainian soldiers with life-saving items that can be easily bought on local Amazon sites, including first aid kits, thermal clothing and boots.

Set up by a team of volunteers from Ukraine and Europe, the campaign collects the items at its logistics centre in Przemysl, Poland, and then transfers them across the border to Ukrainian forces.

The team has also set up a second campaign, Car4Ukraine, which operates along similar lines.

Car4Ukraine buys civilian jeeps and other off-road vehicles from European sellers and transforms them into personnel carriers by adding armour and weaponry that allow them to be used in combat and support roles.

Sixty of these jeeps have been completed so far and the team hopes to build at least 15 more in the coming weeks.

Ivan Oleksii, co-founder of Car4Ukraine, says crowdfunding projects have built on a volunteer movement that began following the uprising by Russian-backed Donbas separatists in 2014.

“Something like this gives an example to other people. You start a chain reaction where people want to help others,” he told The National from his office near Lviv.

Teams of volunteers are highly mobile and more adaptable at ferrying vital items to the front line without coming up against red tape, he said.

“We just send money to the seller and for fuel and a few hours later there is a volunteer sitting in the car who drives it to Ukraine,” Mr Oleksii added.

“We're a lot more mobile. It's a lot faster to do from the beginning to the end.”

Mr Oleksii said the fleet of retrofitted jeeps have since been deployed by Ukrainian battalions for use in missions that have destroyed Russian tanks.

“When one car you spent $9,000 on is kicking a tank that cost a few million dollars … then that's a huge, huge success. That's why it is extremely important to do this.”

Fighter Jets

One area where Ukraine has badly struggled is in the air. Russia's jets have established a firm grip over the skies of Ukraine due to Kyiv's smaller number of operational fighter squadrons.

The US decision to deny Poland's request to send MiG fighters to Ukraine dealt a damaging blow to hopes that the status quo could be reversed.

Buy Me a Fighter Jet was launched in response and aimed to buy MiG or Su aircraft from third parties and hand them over to Ukraine's air force.

But the campaign has fallen far short of the $20m needed to buy one MiG-29 jet. The campaign had originally looked to wealthy Americans, but many have instead opted to donate directly to the government in Kyiv.

A Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 fighter jet in the skies near the Russian border. AP

Crypto accepted

The desperate need for cash has resulted in Ukraine turning to unexpected places, including a foray into blockchain technology.

In late February, Ukraine's Ministry of Digital Transformation set up a page that accepted donations in cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether and raised $67m in about a month.

In April, Ukraine announced that it would trade NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, by selling 300 tokens on the OpenSea market place.

The ministry said that the subsequent donations were used to purchase thousands of items, including digital rifle scopes, thermal imagers and monoculars.

However, the recent sell-off in the cryptocurrency space makes further donations along these lines unlikely.

As the conflict grinds on, Ukraine is hoping to keep the outside funds flowing and says it is committed to devising ways to keep global attention trained on its war efforts.

Digital marketers are already working with the Ukrainian government and foresee a future in which people looking to help Ukraine might buy a T-shirt with an image of Mr Zelenskyy printed on it or other such merchandise.

“There is a wave and there is this kind of euphoria, but then it abates,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who also serves as minister of digital transformation, in an interview earlier this month.

“We want to keep up this positive energy, the positive vibes.”

Updated: June 20, 2022, 11:48 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL