(This fixes dollar conversion rate in paragraph 2 in May 27 story.)
By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) – Hundreds of Lithuanians clubbed together to buy an advanced military drone for Ukraine in its war against Russia, in a show of solidarity with a fellow country formerly under Moscow’s rule.
The target of five million euros ($5.4 million) was raised in just three and a half days, largely in small amounts, to fund the purchase of a Byraktar TB2 military drone, according to Laisves TV, the Lithuanian internet broadcaster that launched the drive.
“Before this war started, none of us thought that we would be buying guns. But it’s a normal thing now. Something must be done for the world to get better,” said Agne Belickaite, 32, who sent 100 euros as soon as the fundraising launched on Wednesday.
“I’ve been donating to buy guns for Ukraine for a while now. And will do so until the victory,” she told Reuters, adding she was motivated in part by fears Russia could attack Lithuania.
The drone has proven effective in recent years against Russian forces and their allies in conflicts in Syria and Libya, and its purchase is being orchestrated by Lithuania’s Ministry of Defence, which told Reuters it planned to sign a letter of intent to buy the craft from Turkey next week.
“Novel, unexpected fundraisers fire people up again. It’s the third month of the invasion… it’s important to avoid getting used to it,” Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told Laisves TV.
Ukraine has bought more than 20 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Turkish company Baykar in recent years and ordered a further 16 on Jan. 27. That batch was delivered in early March.
“This is the first case in history when ordinary people raise money to buy something like a Bayraktar. It is unprecedented, it is unbelievable,” Beshta Petro, Ukraine’s ambassador to Lithuania, told Laisves TV.
Most of the heavy weapons that NATO countries have sent to Ukraine so far are Soviet-built arms still in the inventories of eastern European NATO member states, but some have recently started to supply Western howitzers.
“While governments of the world’s largest countries are endlessly deliberating … Lithuanian society simply comes together,” said Belickaite.
($1 = 0.9328 euros)
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Mark Potter and Christina Fincher)