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A woman stands outside a damaged apartment building after an attack on Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine
A woman stands outside a damaged apartment building after an attack on Slovyansk in eastern UkraineImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
PoliticsUkraine

Ukraine war: Donations vital to national defense

Frank Hofmann
June 4, 2022

Ordinary citizens have been donating funds to help Ukraine's armed forces repel the Russian attackers. The money goes towards drones, aid kits, protective vests and much more.

https://p.dw.com/p/4CHvE

Two days after Russia launched its war against Ukraine, Farid Bekirov decided he would help the embattled country. The Amsterdam-based businessman teamed up with three others to set up the EyesOnUkraine.eu crowdfunding campaign. By June, the were ready to dispatch an aid convoy, consisting of an all-terrain vehicle and 86 surveillance drones, or "eyes in the sky" for Ukraine.

From the early days of fighting, they wanted to help document Russian war crimes, Bekirov tells DW. Bekirov was born in Kazakhstan but grew up in Soviet Russia, specifically in what was then Leningrad, today's Saint Petersburg. In the 1990s, he moved to western Europe to work for Ukrainian aviation companies, and travelled to Kyiv in the winter of 2013/14 to assist the pro-European Maidan Uprising.

Soon after, he witnessed thousands of volunteers travel to Ukraine's east to stand up against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas. Even back then, volunteers in Ukraine and the west were collecting donations to buy protective vests and uniforms for Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the east.

Donation drive across Europe and US

These days, Ukraine's armed forces are deploying ordinary commercial drones to spot Russian tanks. As Russia began sending more and more tanks towards Kyiv in late February, Ukrainian defenders could track their advance thanks to these unmanned eyes in the sky. After pinpointing their locations, ground units could then pick them off using light, shoulder-mounted anti-tank rockets.

Farid Bekirov's crowdfunding initiative is one of hundreds that have sprung up across Europe and the US in recent months. Kamil Galeev, a researcher with the US-based Wilson Centre think tank, has published a list on Twitter detailing Ukrainian military units, their bank details and what donations they need. Drones, night vision goggles, protective vests and first-aid kits are in great demand.

Artists rally to the cause

Several fundraising campaigns have also been launched within Ukraine to support the military. Serhiy Zhadan, a renowned novelist and musician from Ukraine, is helping as well. He is well-known for his bestseller, The Invention of Jazz in Donbas, published by Germany's renowned Suhrkamp publishing house in 2012. Now, Zhadan is putting his fame to use to help collect donations to support Ukraine's army.

He posts pictures of soldiers on his Facebook page for whom he has managed to finance new pickup trucks and cars. His efforts are helping defend his home city of Kharkiv. Zhadan collects money using the US payment platform PayPal, sharing his details just about everywhere.

"Zhadan's PayPal [fundraiser] really works," says Yuriy Gurzhy, a fellow novelist and artists, who collaborated with Zhadan on several projects. Gurzhy relocated from Kharkiv to Berlin in the early 1990s.

A Turkish-made Bayraktar drone
A Turkish-made Bayraktar droneImage: Emrah Yorulmaz/AA/picture alliance

In late May, the founder of Lithuanian streaming service Laisves TV called on people to donate money to buy an armed drone, the Turkish-made Bayraktar, for Ukraine. The drone, equipped with precision-guided munitions, proved vital in the defense of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Crowdfunding campaigns reach new level

Within in just 48 hours, the campaign raised over €5 ($5.3) million. Soon after, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas announced on Twitter that Turkey's Bayraktar manufacturer would be giving a free drone to Ukraine.

Margarete Klein, a researcher and Eastern Europe analyst with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), says these crowdsourcing campaigns have reached "a new quality." She says money was collected for helmets and bullet-proof vests after the 2014 Maidan Uprising to help those defending eastern Ukraine against Russian attacks. "While these fundraising campaigns were centered on Ukraine, today we are seeing much greater international cooperation," according to the analyst.

Troops depend on donations

But does the money really end up where it is needed? To find out, DW contacted a Ukrainian officer in charge of an artillery battery in the Donbas in early June. He wishes to remain anonymous so as not to divulge any sensitive information, as requested by Ukraine's military command. The man, who this DW reporter knows personally, says crowdfunding campaigns are "of critical importance" to the war effort.

He tells DW what the donated funds have gotten them: "Off-read vehicles, so jeeps basically; our unit is not equipped with them, so volunteers help us get then — without those vehicles, you can hardly fight a war." He adds that Ukraine's armed forces never bought conventional drones either. "I think that high-ranking army officials did not even know about them."

DW's Nick Connolly reports from Kyiv

Without donated funds, he says, smaller units would not even have computers to work with. Prior to 2014, the armed forces had not invested in thermal imaging devices and surveillance systems. After the revolution swept pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from power and Russia invaded the Donbas, it did, however, buy "smaller numbers."

Declining donations?

Unfortunately, Farid Bakirov has seen donations to eyesonukraine.eu donation platform dry up.

"These past weeks, we have received no donations at all," the businessman says. He thinks the western public has grown tired of the Ukraine war.

He also says his Ukrainian contacts are growing frustrated because promised weapons deliveries have still not arrived, even though they would be crucial right now. Bakirov says the war has changed: Whereas the defense of the capital was achieved using guerilla tactics, the current battle for the Donbas is one of artillery duels.

In addition, he says, Russian forces have severely damaged the country's military infrastructure, such as munitions factories. With every factory destroyed, Ukraine's dependence on weapons deliveries grows. That is why Bakirov will keep collecting donations, so that soldiers can at least track the aggressor with drones.

Mykola Berdnyk contributed to this report.

This article was translated from German.

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