Ukrainians have received billions in military aid, including Patriot missile systems from the Americans, training from the British and a pledge of Leopard 2 tanks from the Germans. Now, they are getting cars seized from Latvian drunken drivers, too.
The government of the Baltic former Soviet nation, where staunch support for Ukraine is partly driven by fears of Russian aggression, has already provided significant military and other aid to Ukraine, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles. But the pledge of seized cars, which can be used to deliver supplies or move medical personnel, is a more unconventional step to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.
“They will be in better hands,” said Reinis Poznaks, who leads a charity that was tasked by the government to deliver the vehicles to Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Latvia’s state revenue service, which keeps records of state property, posted on Facebook a picture of cars loaded on a truck in the country’s snow-covered landscape, noting that they would “no longer be driven on Latvian roads by their former owners — drunk drivers.”
The first batch of cars will start making their way to Ukraine on Friday, Mr. Poznaks said. They will be transferred to Ukrainian Army units, a hospital in the city of Vinnytsia in west-central Ukraine and a medical association in Kupiansk, in the country’s east, the government said in a statement. Fifteen more are set to go next week, Mr. Poznaks said.
After Estonia, Latvia spends the largest share of its gross domestic product in aid to Ukraine, according to an analysis by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a Germany-based research institute. Latvia was part of the Soviet Union until it gained its independence in 1991, and among many displays of solidarity with Ukraine, the country has also torn down a Soviet-era monument in its capital, Riga.
“Once again, we have demonstrated our unity in our support for Ukraine,” said Arvils Aseradens, Latvia’s finance minister. “Every act of support, big or small, brings us closer to victory in this senseless war.”
Mr. Poznaks said that since Russia’s invasion last year, he and his nongovernmental organization, Agendum, had separately sent more than 1,000 cars that were either donated or bought through donations to Ukraine. For Latvians, he said, it has almost become a “new tradition” to give their old cars to Ukraine when they want to get a new one.
“We just do what we can,” Mr. Poznaks said. “Ukraine is also defending us. We are the next ones in Russia’s plan to restore the great empire.”
Worried that drunken driving violations were not decreasing, Latvia in November made driving with a blood-alcohol level over 0.15 percent a criminal offense and, with court approval, officials have started seizing the cars of drunken drivers. The cars being sent to Ukraine are mostly older with high mileage, but in running order, the government said. So far, about 200 cars have been seized.
Mr. Poznaks said that his group was selecting cars that were not in bad condition “because Ukraine needs transport, not problems.” But they don’t need to be too fancy.
“They don’t need Teslas or new Mercedes in Ukraine,” he said.