(Reuters) – When Texas marketing executive Bret Starr asked colleagues in Ukraine what they needed after Russia’s invasion, he got a surprise.
“You know, it was guns, bullets and body armor,” said Starr, for whom Respect.Studio in western Ukraine provides social marketing services.
The young digital marketers at Respect.Studio, part of Ukraine’s huge technology services-outsourcing sector, said they were organizing a territorial defense squad.
The Fort Worth businessman knew he could not send guns, but he discovered he could legally ship body armor and helmets.
Starr expects to send the first 20 sets of helmets and bullet-proof vests to Respect.Studio this week, followed by up to 2,000 more through donations of cash and gear.
“We’re worried about the people that we’ve been on video calls with for two years,” said Starr, who owns The Starr Conspiracy marketing agency.
He is among Americans collecting thousands of sets of body armor, pledging millions of rounds of ammunition and even trying to donate guns in response to Ukraine’s pleas for military aid.
“Volunteers here raise funds to buy the needed (body) armor, but there’s a lack of supply,” said Oleksii Sysak, a LinkedIn specialist and marketer at Respect.Studio in Lviv, Ukraine.
“I NEED AMMUNITION”
American donors are running into U.S. and foreign export licenses requirements for equipment like modern bullet proof vests, firearms and ammunition.
Some are partnering with Ukrainian relief groups to get past export hurdles.
Starr is shipping his vests through the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council, a non-profit group that is licensed to do so, he said.
In New York state, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office on Monday gave around 450 pieces of body armor to the Long Island-Ukraine Emergency Response Drive.
Remington Ammunition, and other units of U.S. company Vista Outdoor, on Friday said they would donate one million rounds of ammunition to the Ukraine Armed Forces.
Ammo Inc CEO Fred Wagenhals on Tuesday said Ukraine had approved his company’s donation of one million rounds, which were in Poland.
The Arizona munitions company made the offer after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy famously quipped, “I need ammunition, not a ride,” in response to a U.S. evacuation offer.
“So we sent him ammo,” said Wagenhals.And in what may be the United States’ only gun drive for Ukraine, New York’s Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has launched a bid to collect semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
The Republican politician said he had gathered over 50 donated firearms and was working with federal authorities to overcome export barriers.
“We want to make sure they have the weapons they need to defend their homes,” said Blakeman.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)