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Crowdfunding helps Ukrainians build ‘people’s drone’ to aid poorly resourced army

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Ukrainian servicemen are pictured at the military camp near the town of Svyatogorsk in Eastern Ukraine, June 20, 2014.REUTERS/Stringer

With Ukraine’s army coming under increasing pressure in its battle to keep pro-Russian forces at bay, supporters have turned to crowdfunding in a bid to build a drone designed to offer assistance to its troops on the front line.

According to a Guardian report Sunday, the web-based “people’s drone” campaign hit its $35,000 target after receiving donations from nearly a thousand sympathizers.

But no, this UAV won’t be carrying weaponry for use against the pro-Russian fighters on Ukraine’s eastern border. Instead, it’ll be used for reconnaissance missions in key areas in an effort to monitor movements on the ground to keep one step ahead of opposition fighters.

According to its funding page, the camera-equipped drone has a top speed of 75 mph and can fly for about an hour at a distance of up to 15 miles from its controller.

The crowdfunding effort was launched in March by Kiev IT executive David Arakhania, who built a special website to raise funds for equipment to help his country’s army, which by all accounts is poorly resourced.

Arakhania told the Guardian that if he can raise enough money for 20 drones then “we will definitely ensure the security of our border.”

He said he was persuaded to take action after realizing Ukranian troops on the front line were in “bad shape,” fighting with poor equipment such as torn bulletproof vests and camouflage gear. A separate crowdfunding campaign run by Arakhania, called “the first people’s infantry battalion,” raised enough money to buy new kit for some of the soldiers.

The battle-focused website is reportedly operated by seven volunteers, with one of them, a former paratrooper, negotiating with arms dealers to secure supply of the necessary kit and weaponry. Most donations have been between around $1.50 and $4,200, though one, from Kiev, was as much as $10,000.