UPDATE: After this feature was published, the private Turkish manufacturer of the Bayraktar attack drone announced that it would donate the drone for the Ukrainian military, and suggested the money raised by Lithuanian citizens be used for humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
A joke has been making the rounds on Lithuanian social media in recent weeks with the punchline: "Let's all pitch in and buy a tank for Ukraine."
That quip planted an idea in the head of journalist Andrius Tapinas, who was looking to step up his efforts to help Ukraine in the wake of Russia's unprovoked invasion on February 24.
"The company where I work -- Laisves TV -- has been trying to help Ukraine since the war began," Tapinas told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, adding that the company gathered funds for humanitarian assistance and arranged transportation for refugees to leave Ukraine.
"Two weeks ago, at the request of the Ukrainian Embassy in Lithuania, we collected 330,000 euros ($354,000) to buy two Estonian-made observation drones that are used for guiding artillery fire," Tapinas said. "We did that in 16 hours."
His next project, Tapinas decided, would be to buy a Turkish-made Bayraktar attack drone, capable of flying up to 150 kilometers from its base and destroying armored vehicles with four "smart micromunition" missiles.
He contacted the Lithuanian Defense Ministry with his proposal and the ministry got the ball rolling by opening talks with the Turkish Embassy and the manufacturer of the drone.
"On Wednesday, May 25, they gave us the green light," Tapinas recalled. "The minister called me and said: 'Everything is ready. They have agreed to sell a Bayraktar. All that is left is to collect the money. Show what you can do!'"
In three days, Laisves TV was able to crowdsource 5.8 million euros ($6.2 million). Although the donations came from 50 countries around the world, 95 percent of the contributions were from Lithuanian citizens, Tapinas said.
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"We got only one or two donations of more than 20,000 euros," he said. "Most of them were between one euro and 200 euros. We are still processing everything, but we got donations from several hundred thousand individuals. We are talking about teachers.... We even got a transfer from a home for seniors. Children sent money they'd been saving for bicycles or computer games. It was very touching."
There were even a few donations from inside Russia, with notations from the sender saying things like "I am ashamed for my country."
"I think there were about 10 transfers like that," Tapinas said.
On May 30, a Lithuanian deputy defense minister traveled to Turkey to finalize the deal to buy the drone and its home base and to arrange for their delivery to the Ukrainian military.
Tapinas says he rejects arguments that it is unethical for him, as a journalist, to be engaged in such activism.
"A journalist from the BBC asked me that question and I thought -- 'And when the Battle of Britain was being fought, would you have 'objectively' reported on it or would you have supported your country?'" he said, referring to the four-month air battle in 1940 during which Nazi Germany tried to force Britain to negotiate a peace agreement.
"I support Ukraine and I am trying to do everything I can to collect more money and contribute somehow to Ukraine's victory," he said.