Ukraine and Russia finance the equipment of their troops

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — In one of the combat zones against Russia, the supply chief of a Ukrainian combat brigade places his order online for wartime supplies – a long list ranging from drones, trucks and thermal sights to batteries, generators and tapes. They are needed, he writes, to equip two new battalions and “to fight against armed aggression”.

At a makeshift supply depot in the capital, Kyiv, donors are beginning to process his request. Their hustle would get equipment to the 72nd Brigade within days, all paid for with public donations. In their dilapidated office, a poster with the Vietnamese-era peace slogan urges: “Drop acid, not bombs.”

With attritional fighting devouring soldiers and resources, Ukraine is waging a people’s war, fought far from the front lines by self-starting networks of donors and volunteers. The state-of-the-art systems they have in place are converting millions of dollars in donations into rapid deliveries of Amazon-like war gear directly to the battlefields. They help keep Ukraine in the fight at a critical time in the Russian invasion, as its better-supplied aggressor exerts enormous and overwhelming pressure on the battlefields to the east and south.

Civilian volunteerism also boosts morale, giving Ukrainians tangible proof that they are united in their fight for survival, even if they do not have arms in their hands. From grandmothers cutting old clothes into strips to make camouflage nets to the grieving girlfriend of a slain soldier who walked into the supply depot after his burial saying she wanted to help, almost everyone seems to be doing its part, big or small or through direct debit.

Civilian assistance to the military effort has been a feature of the Ukrainian resistance since the first day of the February 24 invasion, as ordinary people gave up everything to help and looted their bank accounts to equip new units. hastily assembled. From humble beginnings, with donation hotlines immediately overwhelmed with calls, crowdfunding initiatives have grown into well-oiled machines. They have online payment systems and nifty websites explaining their needs, and volunteers applying their expertise in civilian areas – logistics, technology, procurement, electronics – to help get supplies into the hands of troops.

Five months into the invasion, creative fundraising is also keeping the money flowing – belying the idea that Ukrainians are losing interest and feeling less in danger in the uneasy peace that has returned to Kyiv and in other cities since badly maimed Russian forces withdrew from the north in April, refocusing on capturing Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

A call last week by Ukrainian TV personality and politician Serhiy Prytula for $15 million in donations to buy three Turkish-made Bayraktar combat drones has gone viral. He subsequently announced that it had exceeded the targetraising $20 million – enough for four Bayraktars – in less than three days.

Russian airstrikes destroyed a building in Kyiv on Sunday, killing at least one person and injuring others. (CNN, National Emergency Service of Ukraine)

His foundation is one of the largest crowdfunding initiatives. Among the most unusual are women and men who send erotic photos of themselves as a reward to donors who can prove, with a receipt, that they have donated to a war support fund. “Teronlyfans” says its goal “is to encourage donations for Ukraine’s needs and thus bring our victory closer.” Volunteers say they helped raise $750,000 by uncovering everything.

“We ensure that the photos are not pornographic. It’s beautiful and aesthetic erotica,” said Nastya Kuchmenko, one of the group’s co-founders. “It’s not about objectifying the body, it’s about the freedom to use your body however you want.”

“People want to be helpful,” she said.

On the other side, some Russians, including soldiers’ mothers, also supply the troops. But the Russian effort is not as organized, massive and spontaneous, in part because the Kremlin downplays the scale, scope and cost of its invasion, insisting it is a mere “military operation”.

The United People’s Front, a Kremlin-created effort to foster public support for the government, launched a crowdfunding campaign in early June, under the slogan “All for Victory!”

“The guys on the front lines who are dying for the right to be Russian, who are fighting for our common freedom, will greatly appreciate any help you can offer them,” Mikhail Kuznetsov, a United People’s Front cadre, said of the campaign for the front. -line equipment and medicines. “They will win either way, but they will win faster and with fewer losses if we help them.”

On the Ukrainian side, victory is also the goal.

CNN’s Ben Wedeman joins a perilous journey to deliver supplies to Ukrainian front lines, returning to safe ground with orphaned war puppies. (CNN)

The foundation headed by TV personality Prytula prioritizes its aid to units in combat hotspots. Unit commanders list their needs and locations on an online form.

So it was that “Tokha” – the nom de guerre of the quartermaster of the 72nd brigade – submitted his order. The gear on its wishlist hinted at the ferocity of the fighting around its eastern location, with requests for 100 periscopes to observe from the trenches, a dozen tablets preloaded with software to artillery, and even wire – presumably for use as tripwires. The most expensive items included six vans and pick-up trucks.

Convoys of vans, trucks and other vehicles from elsewhere in Europe leave each week loaded with materials from the foundation’s depot in Kyiv. Some vehicles are repainted army green to make them combat ready. Their lives on the front line can be short: two recently delivered ambulances only lasted two days before Russian bombs destroyed them.

The foundation claims to have raised more than $34 million since the invasion began, mostly in the form of donations, ranging from pennies to a cryptocurrency businessman’s gift of $1.3 million. The foundation also auctioned the Eurovision Song Contest trophy won and then donated by the Ukrainian group Kalush Orchestra and raffled off the luminous hat worn by its leader. Together they grossed $1.25 million.

The foundation says it has fulfilled 2,200 unit orders in the past two months alone. Upon receipt, the troops or volunteers making the deliveries take photos to show that the aid is being used as intended.

“Ukrainians are a nation of volunteers and we can do unimaginable things together,” said Maria Pysarenko, who works with Prytula. “It’s not just about fundraising, it’s about building community and showing that ‘yes we can’.”


Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv contributed.


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