Conflict & Justice

Ukrainians turn to Facebook to fund their army's war with Vladimir Putin

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Anna Sandalova, the founder of Help the Army of Ukraine, delivers supplies to Ukraine's cash-strapped soldiers in Artemovsk, Donetsk, so they could build winter shelters.

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Courtesy of Anna Sandalova

Ukrainians are hoping 2015 offers some relief from a grinding conflict that pits pro-Russian separatists against troops and volunteers fighting for Ukraine's government. Skirmishes in the country's east have claimed more than 4,700 lives since March. 

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One factor hampering the Ukrainian army is a perennial lack of resources. So Anna Sandalova decided to help. She's the founder of Help the Army of Ukraine, a group that has used Facebook to raise more than a million dollars to buy all sorts of gear for Ukrainian troops. 

"We send them food, clothes, boots, thermal vision optics, all this stuff," Sandalova says. She and her colleagues personally deliver the goods to eastern Ukrainian battlefronts. 

"I'm not a soldier, and the other volunteers are not soldiers. So we just pack up some buses, some mini-buses, with the needed stuff — like sleeping bags, uniforms, boots, optics and all this stuff — and [the soldiers] meet us and they bring us to their camp," she says. 

Sandalova says she feels safer and calmer when she's visiting Ukrainian troops in the field. 

"There you see that soldiers are in good shape," she notes. "When you come back here, you're nervous about how they are there. Are they all alive, or is someone not?" 

Ukraine's war effort has long-relied on public donations. After President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February, Ukraine's new defense department appealed to the public to fund the armed forces. In four months, the fledgling government raised more than $11 million for the military, much of it via text messages. 

Sandalova says her foundation does not provide lethal aid.  She laughs when asked if this sort of crowdsourcing for the military would have been possible during Yanukovych's rule. 

"It's like a different time now," she says. "After the Maidan — me, my friends, my family, we just feel that's our responsibility, to help the country, to keep Ukraine as Ukraine."