Retired United States Navy Pilot Adrian Kellgren donated 400 semi-automatic rifles to Ukraine to help arm the country’s civilian fighting force. Kellgren made the decision after his family-owned gun company, KelTec was left with an unshipped order worth $200,000 of 9mm foldable rifles from a long-time Ukrainian customer who became unreachable after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The American people want to do something,” said the US Navy veteran. “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.”

The Florida-based company’s donation is a distinguished example of American entities collecting military supplies like firearms, helmets, and body armor as a response to the call of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to arm his citizens. However, similar lower-profile efforts to respond to this call have been met with regulation intricacies in the international shipment of items given the invasion.

While Kellgren did encounter some of these intricacies, his experience knowing the ins and outs of the shipment and bureaucratic red tape helped him successfully deliver the munitions. His company managed to gain contact with a diplomat from the Ukrainian Embassy that allowed them to obtain a federal arms export license in a couple of days. Such a process often takes several months.

According to Kellgren, the staff at the KelTec warehouse moved four plastic-wrapped pallets which contained their 9mm foldable rifles this week. The shipment, bound for Ukraine, is to be delivered to an unnamed facility of NATO. Afterward, the package will be received by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is tasked to deliver the weapons to the frontlines.

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

Donation Drives Across America

Collective efforts to supply Ukraine with arms have spread throughout the United States. From the east coast to the west coast, local governments and non-profits have or intend to gather much-needed military supplies and send them to Ukraine.

On March 14, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced a donation of over 1,000 ballistic helmets and 840 sets of body armor pooled from 25 local law enforcement units bound for Ukraine.

“In the true spirit of Colorado, I am proud that Colorado law enforcement stepped up to support the brave people of Ukraine,” said the Colorado Governor.

The effort was made in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Safety and the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

“We are doing everything we can to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom, and this surplus body armor is urgently needed to help save lives, stop Putin’s ruthless aggression, and save Ukraine.” 

Other private entities followed suit on KelTec’s initiative. Adams Arms, which is also based in Florida, posted on its Facebook page a video of what it claims to be a shipment of carbine rifles to be sent to Ukraine.

The arms dealer also started selling t-shirts inspired by the now iconic broadcast of Ukrainian Border Guards to a Russian warship saying, “Go F*** Yourself!” These guards were originally thought to be dead but were actually alive. According to them, proceeds from the t-shirt sales will be donated to the Ukrainian National Bank’s war funds.

Red Tape Troubles

Many organizers of smaller donation drives struggle with navigating the strict international arms export rules that sometimes require approvals from several US departments to approve even non-lethal equipment. Hence, some organizers piggyback on companies like KelTec, which already have a license to ship the arms overseas.

“I’m hoping that this movement spreads through the whole United States and every gun store and every gun manufacturer in the U.S. accepts these donations,” said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who partnered with KelTec to transfer 60 donated rifles from Long Island.

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The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group of firearms manufacturers and distributors, released a step-by-step guide on how to acquire an expedited export license. The group, which has over 8,000 members, also provided a list of specific equipment requested by the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.

KelTec has expressed its intent to help arrange more weapon transfers in the near future. Its export license permits the shipment of 10,000 weapons abroad.

“The goal is to build a path for American gun stores, distributors, and manufacturers to be able to properly export donated rifles to the Ukrainian people. Transport logistics is an ever-changing complication in war, and dozens of people are working around the clock to see this through,” said Kellgren.

Valuable Contributions

While rifle shipments do not stand a chance against Russia’s Sukhoi fighter jets, armored vehicles, and cluster bombs that Russia had been accused of using, they can significantly contribute to fighting on the street level, said retired US Army Major John Spencer.

SUB2000 semi-automatic folding carbine by KelTec (KelTec Website). Source:
SUB2000 semi-automatic folding carbine by KelTec (KelTec Website).

According to Spencer, what the semi-automatic rifles from KelTec lack in firepower makes up for ease of use, particularly for Ukrainian civilians who have no experience wielding firearms.

“Every shipment of firearms is critical,” said Spencer. “You’re giving one more fighter, out of tens of thousands, the opportunity to resist with a simple-to-use weapon.”

Kellgren, who has been inspired by the resolve of the Ukrainian defense, firmly believes that these donations will make a difference.

“The people of Ukraine have had mostly just civilian firearms, and they’re holding off a superpower,” he said. “So the X-factor here not [sic] isn’t necessarily what equipment you’re holding… It comes down to the will to fight.”