US arms makers help Ukrainians fight Putin

US arms makers help Ukrainians fight Putin

Adrian Kellgren's gun company in Florida decided to make a $200,000 shipment of semi-automatic rifles after a long-time customer in Ukraine fell silent during Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Fearing the worst, the company KelTec decided to use their 400 stranded guns and send them to the nascent resistance movement in Ukraine to help civilians fight against a Russian army that was repeatedly bombing their apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and hiding places.

The donation by cocoa-based company KelTec is a notable example of Americans' response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's promise to arm his fellow citizens. But many similar grassroots efforts have been hampered by inexperience with the complex web of regulations governing international shipping of such equipment.

This week, while Congress debated whether to send more advanced weapons and defense systems to Ukraine, workers at the KelTec warehouse forklift four plastic-coated pallets containing their 9mm folding rifles for delivery to an undisclosed NATO-operated facility. From there, the new recipient of the shipment, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, will be responsible for smuggling weapons into the war zone.

"This is when the real courage and heroism begin," Kellgren said.

From California to New York, elected officials, mayor departments, and nonprofit organizations say they've also amassed thousands of body armor kits and millions of rounds of ammunition for Ukraine.

Last week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis launched a campaign asking police departments and mayors to donate surplus ballistic helmets and other equipment. "We know it can be used urgently to help stop Putin and save Ukraine," he said.

But the stakes are high: One New York City nonprofit leading an effort to collect tactical gear had 400 flak jackets stolen before they could be dispatched.

Many regulators have no idea how to navigate international arms export rules, which sometimes require approvals from the Departments of State, Trade, and Defense to ship even non-lethal tactical equipment. For one such drive in New York, regulators are holding on to KelTec's license to export the 60 long rifles they recently collected.

"I hope this movement spreads across the United States and that every gun shop and every gun factory in the United States accepts these donations," 

KelTec hopes to make more shipments in the future. Its license allowed the export of up to 10,000 weapons, and the company offered the Ukrainians their production line and weekly shipments.

Details of KelTec's efforts appeared in a Department of Justice filing this week by Maryland-based real estate attorney Lukas Jan Kaczmarek, who said that as a volunteer with the Ukraine-American Bar Association, he helps Ukraine obtain weapons in tandem with Volodymyr Mozilov, first secretary at Ukraine's embassy.

Kazmaric wrote in his registration as a foreign agent for Zelenskyy: "I expect to work in this capacity throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which I did not, and I will not receive any monetary compensation for my assistance."

Another Florida company, Adams Arms, said that they would ship carbine rifles bound for Ukraine. The company also began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the famous final broadcast of a bombed Ukrainian border guard.

While the guns are no match for the firepower of Putin's Sukhoi fighter jets and cluster bombs, they could play an essential role if the Russians get the

The fighting is street-to-street, said retired US Army Major John Spencer.

He said KelTec's shipped semi-automatic rifles are probably more valuable than high-tech, highly-trained anti-aircraft missiles out of reach of most civilians, many of whom have never carried a weapon.

Kellgren said he is inspired by the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Ukrainian citizens and is confident the guns he sends will make a difference.

"The people of Ukraine had mostly civilian firearms, and they are fending off a great power," he said. "So the X-factor here is not necessarily the equipment you possess. … It has to do with the will to fight.

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