Facing Russian Invasion, Civilians Joint Venture To Buy Drones To Fighter Jets For Ukrainian Military, Invite Overseas Donors
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a number of his troops. (Source: president.gov.ua)

JAKARTA - Fundraising has become an important tool for Ukraine, inviting ordinary citizens to help improve national defense, providing military equipment for its soldiers against Russian troops.

Volunteer-initiated grassroots calls have sprung up on the internet in recent months, with urgent requests for commercial drones, medical supplies and even military jets to aid the war effort.

Since the start of the invasion, authorities in Kyiv have seen the fundraising as an opportunity to connect with desperate western donors to make a contribution to Ukraine's outnumbered and under-resourced armed forces.

While these efforts may seem insignificant compared to the $50 billion pledged to Ukraine by western governments, fundraising continues to play an important role in supplying front-line troops.

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

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Illustration of foreign arms aid for the Ukrainian military. (Twitter/@UAWeapons)

Data shows that the campaign has raised 43 million US dollars, with more than half of the funds going to buy helmets and body armor for soldiers, further illustrating the need for even the most basic military equipment, reports The National News June 19.

The National Bank of Ukraine has joined forces with setting up a method for people to send money using technologies like Google Pay. The program has been successful, earning over 400 thousand Euros since March.

Commercial drones, once rare, are now widely used by the Ukrainian armed forces thanks to their effectiveness in reconnaissance. As a result, they are in high demand at the forefront and have proven to be a relatively cost-effective way for donors to make an immediate impact.

Eyes on Ukraine is one attraction that aims 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 convoy sent by the team. 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 $6 million to help buy Turkish-made Bayraktar drones.

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Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone. (Wikimedia Commons/Army.com.ua)

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

Ukraine says its crowdfunding initiative has succeeded in moving things forward by bypassing the inefficient military bureaucracy. War Stop is one such campaign that connects Ukrainian soldiers with rescue items that can be easily purchased on the local Amazon site, including first aid kits, thermal suits to boots.

Formed by a team of volunteers from Ukraine and Europe, the campaign collects goods at its logistics center in Przemysl, Poland, then transfers them across the border to Ukrainian troops.

The team has also prepared a second campaign, Car4Ukraine, which operates on the same track.

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

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

Ivan Olexii, co-founder of Car4Ukraine, said the crowdfunding project had built on a volunteer movement that started after the uprising by Russian-backed Donbas separatists in 2014.

"Things like this set an example for other people. You start a chain reaction where people want to help other people," he told The National from his office near Lviv.

Volunteer teams are highly mobile and more adaptable in transporting vital items to the front lines without having to deal with red tape, he said.

"We just sent money to the seller and for the fuel and a few hours later, there was a volunteer sitting in a car driving it to Ukraine," said Olexii.

"We're much more mobile. It's much quicker to do from start to finish."

Olexii said the fleet of installed jeeps had been deployed by Ukrainian battalions for use in the mission to destroy Russian tanks.

"When your one car costs $9,000 kicking a tank that costs several million dollars, then it's a big, big hit. That's why it's so important to do this."

Not only that. One area where Ukraine has struggled is in the air. Russian jets have taken control of the Ukrainian skies due to the smaller number of Kyiv operational fighter squadrons.

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

The 'Buy Me a Fighter' program was launched in response and aims to purchase MiG or Sukhoi aircraft from third parties, then hand them over to the Ukrainian air force.

However, the campaign failed to achieve the $20 million needed to buy a single MiG-29 jet. The campaign was originally aimed at wealthy Americans, but many chose to donate directly to the government in Kyiv.

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