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UK Ukrainian expats flocking to buy helmets, body armour to send help home in fight against Russia

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Ukrainian citizens protested in London against Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images
Ukrainian citizens protested in London against Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. SOPA Images / Contributor / Getty Images
  • Ukrainian troops have offered stiff resistance since Russia invaded, yet remain outnumbered.
  • Ukrainian expats living in the UK are buying surplus army equipment to send home to help. 
  • They're relying on cash donations to purchase discount equipment from military surplus stores.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Ukrainians living in the UK have watched the invasion of their country with horror. While some are returning to their homeland to fight, those unable to are helping in other ways, buying up old helmets, military fatigues, and medical supplies to ship to the frontlines. 

"We bought everything within a 300 mile range from London," Yurii, a carpenter who has lived in the UK for seven years, told Insider. He's recently had open heart surgery, so can't return to fight, but is helping "remotely" to equip an army in desperate need of support. 

Ukrainian troops have offered stiff resistance since Russia invaded on February 24, yet remain vastly outnumbered.

While foreign governments are sending military equipment and have introduced economic sanctions, they've ruled out putting troops on the ground. 

In response, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Ukrainian citizens to defend their homeland and for legions of volunteers to join the fight. 

Yurii, who did not want to provide his surname in order to protect his family who live in Ukraine, said there are "hundreds" of groups like his small five person London-based group working to procure kit. 

Within the last two days, Yurii said the group has equipped 30 "soldiers who are British residents" and sent five vans full of military equipment – including helmets, body armour, medical supplies and satellite phones – to Ukraine. 

They're relying on cash donations, mostly from the Ukrainian diaspora, to purchase equipment from military surplus stores at a 70-80% discount. Some UK army veterans have donated their own helmets and body armour, he added, while store owners have also donated equipment. 

The UK's strict gun laws mean they can't buy weapons, and the sale of modern, military grade helmets and body armour is also restricted. But there are supplies of older model helmets and police body armour people can find from a network of army surplus stores across the UK.

Military surplus store owners are offering discounted equipment

The owner of one military surplus store, who goes only by the nickname of Wozza, estimates that he's had more than 50 Ukrainians come into his shop in the southeast England town of Folkestone since the invasion began. They're looking to either buy equipment to send home or use to equip themselves to return to fight, he told Insider.  

While they're mostly after IPE — individual protective equipment — like body armour and helmets, customers are also buying socks, ballistic glasses, thermals, boots, trousers and combat smocks, Wozza said. He's now offering discounts to Ukrainian buyers. 

Usually he'd sell a combat smock for £40, but is selling trousers, a shirt and a smock for £20.  

"People are buying what they can, rather than just what they want," Tom Snape, the manager of Ranger Army Surplus Store in Surbiton, London told Insider. "We've had four phone calls already, and it's only 10am," he told Insider by telephone on Monday morning.

After selling out of his limited supply of helmets over the weekend, he's now connecting customers with other stores in other parts of the country who do have supply. 

Both managers said the same thing happened when Russia invaded Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and Georgia in 2008. 

The surplus stores are likely going to need more kit. Yurii has no plans of stopping. 

"Our plan is not to stop until our victory. We are sending everything with guys who are going to the war zone, and van drivers," Yurii said, shortly before leaving to collect another van full of kit. 

 "My granddad was a partisan, who fought Soviet and Nazi armies — so I do as well," he said. "All my family and friends are there, and I do everything to help them."

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