On Tuesday, the Deputy Minister of Defense of Lithuania travels to Turkey to buy a Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicle, which will then be handed over to the Ukrainian military. 5 million euros for the purchase of the drone were raised in just three days through donations from ordinary people.
The fundraising campaign was organized by a Lithuanian journalist and TV presenter Andrews Tapinas. Despite accusations of violating journalistic ethics, Tapinas intends to continue raising money for weapons for the Ukrainian army. In an interview with Radio Liberty, he said that even Russians donated to Bayraktar for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, although most of the donors were from Lithuania, a country that itself borders Russia and can also become an object of Russian aggression.
– How did you come up with the idea to raise money for Bayraktar for the Ukrainian army?
– I and my company “Freedom Television”, Laisvės TV, have been trying to help Ukraine since the beginning of the war. We raised money for humanitarian aid, traveled to the Dnieper and Zhovti Vody to bring refugees to Lithuania, and two weeks ago, at the request of the Ukrainian Embassy in Lithuania, we raised 330,000 euros to buy two modern Estonian-made reconnaissance drones designed to correct artillery fire. We did it in 16 hours. Then I sat down and thought: maybe there is some truth in the joke that went around the Lithuanian Internet, “let’s chip in for a tank for Ukraine”? We understood that neither I nor my company could buy weapons directly, so I approached the Lithuanian Minister of Defense Arvydas Anusauskas, and the ministry started working with the Turkish Ambassador, the Turkish Ministry of Defense and the Bayraktar manufacturer. On Wednesday, May 25, when they all gave the green light, the minister called me and said: “Everything is ready, they agree to sell Bayraktar to us, we just need to raise money. Show what you are capable of!” That’s how it all rolled.
– 5 million euros – is this the price that the manufacturer gave you? Does it include a control station, missiles, or just the drone itself?
– In the media, there are very different prices for “Bayraktars” (In 2019, Ukraine, according to journalist Yuriy Butusov, signed a contract to purchase 12 Bayraktars and 3 ground control stations for $69 million. – Approx. RS). We must understand that it cannot be bought in a supermarket or a bazaar. The specific price was not disclosed, it is logical. Today, the Deputy Minister of Defense of Lithuania is flying to Turkey, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow he has negotiations with the Turkish side, and after them he will receive an offer – what will be included in this amount. In addition, we are no longer talking about 5 million, but about 5 million and 800 thousand euros, which we have additionally collected since the beginning of this week.
– Why did you decide to raise money specifically for Bayraktar, and not for some other equipment?
– We sat with the minister and his deputy and discussed what can be bought. There were two principles. The first is the price. Even 5 million euros seems like an unrealistic amount for such a small country like Lithuania, and there are weapons that cost all 15, and it was unrealistic to start with such an amount – at least we thought so last week, now I don’t think so anymore. The second principle: “Bayraktars” are produced by a private company, and it is possible to agree with it on a quick delivery, in a month or even faster. If we wanted to buy something from Israel or the United States, for example, a howitzer or a Switchblade drone, then such purchases should already be discussed at the level of interstate negotiations. As the minister said, it will take at least 6 months. Finally, “Bayraktar” seemed to us the best option, because it has already become a legend, Ukrainians compose songs about it, it showed itself on the battlefield, destroying Russian tanks and ships.
– Could only Lithuanian citizens donate money to you, or anyone else?
– Absolutely any person. The “additional” 800 thousand euros just came from abroad, because it took them several days to transfer from foreign banks. I can see by the names and countries that the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Danes, Americans, Canadians donated. I could list more than 50 countries, but 95% of the donations were from Lithuania, and what is important, the donations were small. We had only one or two donations worth more than 20 thousand euros, and the bulk was from 1 to 100-200 euros. We are still counting, but in total, several hundred thousand people donated money to us. It was teachers, and even a nursing home that transferred money to us for Bayraktar, the children asked their parents to take their savings and add them to Bayraktar instead of a bicycle or a computer game. It’s very touching.
– Were there any donors from Russia?
– I saw several such comments: “Yes, I live in Russia, I transferred money to you, I’m ashamed of my country, I can’t do anything, and at least with such a contribution I would like to smooth this guilt.” I think there were ten such translations, no more.
Why didn’t you go the more traditional route? Someone sells T-shirts with Ukrainian symbols, transferring money to Ukraine, others put up their prizes for auction, like the winner of Eurovision, the Kalush Orchestra. Did you have any ethical doubts, because even people who are not journalists often prefer to help Ukraine in some other way, with humanitarian aid, rather than transferring money to the Ukrainian army?
– I had no doubts. I am both a journalist and a video blogger, by Lithuanian standards I have a lot of Facebook followers, 240 thousand. I know that we can come together. When there is a war, I am not going to pretend to be “objective” and “listen to both sides.” A BBC journalist spoke to me yesterday and asked the same question. I thought: how, when the battle for Britain was going on, did you also “objectively” cover it or support your state? I support Ukraine and will try my best to raise more money and do something else for Ukraine to win. As far as T-shirts and things like that, we also had such plans, we just didn’t have time, because everything happened very quickly. I had a plan for three weeks, we were going to launch commercials on Lithuanian television, but on Friday we realized that we would not need any of this, because 5 million had already been collected.
You mentioned Great Britain. During the Second World War, the British all over the world raised money for the construction of the legendary Spitfire fighter. When you conceived the campaign to raise money for “Bayraktar”, did you have any associations in your head with that time, with that war?
– Absolutely. It was this parallel that I drew for myself, but you need to understand how our fundraising is different and why we say that this is the first such action in history. The British were collecting money for their country, for their troops, to defend their country. The Lithuanians collected this money to buy weapons for another country. This is a clear indication that in Lithuania they believe that this is our war as well. We are not directly involved in it, but we do not want to just sit on Facebook and write “our prayers are for Ukraine.” This action means that everyone who donated now will be involved in the destruction of Russian military equipment and will be proud of it.
– Because the Lithuanians are afraid that they may become the next target of Russia?
– We are not afraid. We are sure that if Russia sticks its head into Lithuania or other Baltic countries that are members of NATO, it will receive in a way that it has never received before. We must be ready for this, and we are ready. If Russia comes, it will already be so defeated by Ukraine by this moment that our troops and NATO troops will simply wipe it into dust. For this we, of course, will be grateful to the heroic Ukraine.