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Ukraine’s Army Crowdfunds Over $2 Million to Use Against Putin

By texting 565, Ukrainians can make a small donation to their armed forces. The campaign has raised millions in the last five day.
Photo by Frederick Paxton

This article originally appeared on VICE Austria/Switzerland.

The Ukrainian army clearly needs urgent help. While pro-Russian forces seize one military base after another in Crimea, the Ukrainian prime minister has officially declared that the conflict in the peninsula has moved from “a political to a military phase.”

Meanwhile, more Russian militiamen are moving on a daily basis into border positions, where the Ukrainian military is hopelessly inferior. Although Ukraine maintained a formidable military in the Soviet era, observers describe today's army as “chronically underfunded, corrupt, and poorly trained and equipped.”

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This is why Ukraine's defense ministry recently began giving military training to young Euromaidan protesters. Then, on March 15, the government appealed to the whole population to donate financially to their armed forces — by cell phone.

Every Ukrainian can automatically donate 5 hryvna (about 50 cents) to the campaign just by texting 565. The ministry's “Support the Army of Ukraine” Facebook page calls for citizens to help out with military “logistics and medical support.” Its website adds: “Our soldiers need bulletproof vests, armored vehicles and military equipment. In these hard times every person can defend millions of peaceful, beautiful Ukrainians.”

On Thursday, the ministry announced that it has received over $2.3 million in the last five days. Interestingly, over $2.2 million was designated for “logistic” purposes rather than medical ones. Over $500,000 was donated via the 565 text, while the rest of the money reportedly came from Ukrainian businesses.

You can donate dollars or euros from abroad by direct transfer, but must specify whether your contribution is for logistic or medical support.

Donating via text was originally devised to create a quick way to donate during natural disasters. This is probably the first time that an army that is possibly on the brink of war has asked for donations via SMS.

Otherwise, this is not an entirely new idea. The Syrian Support Group in Washington, DC, for example, has been legally collecting money for the Free Syrian Army for years.

The Ukrainian army has had to specifically limit the use of the funds to just logistical and medical support so they can receive donations from overseas. Firstly, many countries forbid arms purchases with foreign money. Secondly, some people may find it very strange to subsidize a national army with their loose change.

A few Ukrainians have also tried to fund their army with money from the enemy’s pocket. Hoax campaigns have emerged on Facebook, urging Russian sympathizers to donate via 565, claiming this would be used to buy "food, socks and mobile shower units" for pro-Russian forces in Crimea. Sadly, there’s no way to find out how many people fell for the trick and donated to the Ukrainian military by mistake.

The problem with the campaign is that even if the Ukrainian army started a Kickstarter campaign, they won’t be able to collect enough money to stand a real chance against Russian forces. Nevertheless, the campaign shows that the Kiev government at least wants to give the impression that it is prepared for military conflict. This is disconcerting and should give Putin, above all, something to think about. Ukrainians have regularly proved that it takes them a very long time to notice that further fighting is hopeless.