Czech crowdfunder sends arms to Ukraine despite fatigue
21 November 2023
Prague (AFP) -
A Czech crowdfunding project called 'Gift for Putin' has been sending Ukraine a steady supply of weapons despite growing aid fatigue and flagging Western support.
The initiative has raised the equivalent of $27.5 million (25.1 million euro) from more than 188,000 donors to buy a tank, a rocket launcher, a demining system, drones and ammunition.
The project, which is run by a former TV news editor, Martin Ondracek, is currently fundraising for a Black Hawk helicopter worth an estimated $4 million.
Foreign donors have provided about eight percent of funds on the project website, which is in six languages and sells T-shirts targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin to entice donors.
'We want to tell the world that Ukraine needs these things... and create a certain pressure,' Ondracek told AFP.
Three months after the campaign sent its tank to Ukraine, the Dutch and Danish governments signed a deal to buy dozens of tanks for Kyiv from the Czech Republic.
'The same thing happened after we had sent over an anti-drone system.
'And we know the US Army has thousands of Black Hawks,' the 53-year-old said.
- 'Money flows more slowly' -
The Czech government has also provided Ukraine with substantial humanitarian and military aid and accepted around half a million refugees.
But the government's military supplies are thinning, and Ondracek said he did not expect western European countries to make up for the decrease.
'Ukraine is too remote for them, and they don't have this dreadful historic experience with Russia,' he said.
In 1948-1989, former Czechoslovakia was governed by Moscow-steered communists who imprisoned or even executed their opponents.
The lowest sum that can be donated on the Gift for Putin website is 1,968 korunas (80 euros) -- a reference to the year in which Soviet-led armies cracked down on the liberal Prague Spring movement.
Gift for Putin emerged from a crowdfunding campaign run by the Ukrainian embassy in Prague, which became an instant success collecting $2.5 million overnight as the war started.
'The money bought four trucks full of rocket-propelled grenades for Ukraine three days into the war,' said Ondracek.
The pace of donations has slowed since then.
In the first three days of the Black Hawk collection, the crowdfunding has gathered almost $400,000.
'The atmosphere in society is different than a year ago, the money flows more slowly,' said Ondracek, who hopes to have the whole sum in around five months.
Looking beyond the current project, he is contemplating building a drone factory to counter Russia's advantage on the battlefield.
Ondracek has been hosting a Ukrainian family in his weekend house since the war started and has visited Ukraine three times.
He even took his wife there: 'She grumbled that I would never take her anywhere so we got her a flak jacket and off we went.'
'And I'm really looking forward to going back there after the war. With my wife, on a long holiday.'