Tomáš the Tank organisers: “We’ll keep helping Ukraine till war ends”

T-72AMT tank in Kyiv, Ukraine, 2018

Recently a Czech crowdfunding campaign collected CZK 33 million for a tank for Ukraine named “Tomáš”, making international headlines. This was the brainchild of Gift for Putin (Dárek pro Putina), which uses colourful projects to raise cash to help Ukraine repel the Russians. Jan Polák is the group’s spokesperson.

“It started when the Russians attacked Ukraine and [Czech billionaire] Dalibor Dědek, who is the founder of our organisation, wanted to help Ukraine with a no-fly zone.

“Because he wanted to enable civilians to leave towns that were bombed and shelled by the Russian army.

“This did not work out. NATO did not agree on setting a no-fly zone above Ukraine.

“So Mr. Dědek decided to donate CZK 50 million to the Ukrainian Embassy, to the account that supports the Ukrainian army.

“Based on this donation, he was invited to the Ukrainian Embassy. There were some other big donors there, they talked to each other and they realised that they would like to start a crowdfunding campaign.

“Then Mr. Dědek took it as his personal quest and he decided that he would do it himself.

“That’s how we started a fake e-shop, Gift for Putin, and this fake shop is supposed to show people how much it is to fight for freedom and how much the war is, and they can donate money there.”

Recently you collected over CZK 30 million to buy a modernised tank for Ukraine. Why did you decide to buy the tank, rather than giving the money directly to the Kyiv government?

“The idea is, we started to cooperate with the Ukrainian Embassy. They share some information with us and we know what they need.

“And one of the tasks is not only to collect money but also to buy an actual weapon.

“We cooperate with the Czech Ministry of Defence and they actually buy weapons from this account that the Ukrainian Embassy has.

“So we asked the Czech Ministry of Defence and the Ukrainian Embassy, and their ministry of defence, what they needed the most.

“They said heavy weapons – a tank would be great – and ammunition.

“We decided that a T-72 tank would be good. Ukrainian soldiers are familiar with it.

“So the idea is to get the money for weapons, immediately buy a weapon and send it to Ukraine.”

Recently the Czech minister of defence, Jana Černochová, appeared online in a photograph wearing a Gift for Putin T-shirt with a strong message for the Ukrainian president and an image of a raised middle finger. You produced that shirt. How can people acquire one if they’re interested?

“It’s meant for people who contribute a little bigger amount – anybody who sends 1,968, which is a symbolic price for a symbolic year when the Russian army came to Czechoslovakia.

“So anybody who sends more than CZK 1,968 crowns can ask for a T-shirt and we will send it to them as a gift.”

You say Gift for Putin is a fake e-shop, but you are offering merchandise. For example, now you’re offering merchandise connected with Královec or Kaliningrad, which seems like a very fast move, considering how that meme only appeared recently. How much is humour a part of what you do?

“It’s a big part.

“At the beginning of the invasion we started to take it seriously, because it’s a very serious topic.

“But then we realised from the marketing point of view – and Martin Ondráček, who is doing marketing for us, realised – that we should play with the idea a little bit and make it entertaining for people.

“Otherwise people will get tired of the topic and they will stop helping.

“So we put it in a little bit of a controversial way and we keep on doing this because the Czech attitude is constructed this way.

“Like, if there’s a little bit of fun in it, it’s going to be much more sustainable and it will last for a longer time.”

You’ve had a big success with Tomáš the Tank. Are you planning any other big projects in the near future?

“Yes. Well right now we have already launched an ammunition campaign which is called Feed Tomáš and his friends.

“So we have sent the tank Tomáš and now we are collecting money for ammunition for Tomáš, ammunition for the howitzers Dana and Zuzana, ammunition for the rocket launcher Vampire, which is also produced by a Czech company.

“But we will keep going until the end of the war and we will still be coming with new ideas, so people can help and contribute themselves to Ukrainians, to protect their freedom.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
run audio