The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, March 21, 2022 1:00 am

Americans find ways to send Ukraine guns

Associated Press

MIAMI – Adrian Kellgren's family-owned gun company in Florida was left holding a $200,000 shipment of semi-automatic rifles after a longtime customer in Ukraine suddenly went silent during Vladimir Putin's invasion of the country.

Fearing the worst, Kellgren and his company KelTec decided to put those stranded 400 guns to use, sending them to Ukraine's nascent resistance movement to help civilians fight back against a Russian military that has been repeatedly shelling their apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and hiding places.

“The American people want to do something,” said Kellgren, a former U.S. Navy pilot. “We enjoy our freedoms, we cherish those things. And when we see a group of people out there getting hammered like this, it's heartbreaking.”

KelTec's donation is a high-profile example of Americans collecting guns, ammunition, body armor, helmets and other tactical gear in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's promise to arm his citizens.

But many similar grassroots efforts have been snarled by inexperience with the complex web of regulations governing the international shipment of such equipment.

Kellgren, who has dealt with such red tape for years, managed to connect through a Ukrainian neighbor with a diplomat in the Ukrainian Embassy who helped him secure a federal arms export license in just four days. That process can often take months.

Last week, as Congress debated whether to send more advanced weapons and defense systems to Ukraine, workers at KelTec's warehouse forklifted four plastic-wrapped pallets containing their 9 mm foldable rifles for delivery to an undisclosed NATO-run facility.

From there, the shipment's new recipient, Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, will be responsible for smuggling the weapons into the war zone.

“That's when the real derring-do and heroism begins,” Kellgren said.

From California to New York, elected officials, sheriff's departments and nonprofits say they have also collected thousands of sets of body armor and millions of rounds of ammunition for Ukraine.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis kicked off a campaign two weeks ago to ask police and sheriff's departments to donate surplus ballistic helmets and other equipment.

“We know that it can urgently be used to help stop Putin and save Ukraine,” he said.

But hazards abound: One New York City nonprofit leading an effort to collect tactical gear had 400 bulletproof vests stolen before they could be dispatched.

Many of the organizers have no clue how to navigate international arms export rules, which sometimes require approvals from the Departments of State, Commerce and Defense to ship even non-lethal tactical gear.


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