Czech group shifts from documenting historical Nazi, Soviet traumas to aiding Ukraine's defence

PRAGUE, March 3 (Reuters) - Russia's invasion of Ukraine has given new purpose to a Czech group, switching its focus from documenting memories of the past under Nazi and Soviet domination to supplying flak jackets, drones and helmets to Ukrainians defending their country.

Amid the international response to Ukraine's plight, the Memory of Nations (Pamet Naroda) group has put together shipments of protective gear, including goggles, gloves, walkie-talkies and medical equipment heading for Ukraine to help those fighting the invasion.

"We agreed that in the initial stage it will be more useful to offer equipment for Ukraine's defenders," said Mikulas Kroupa, the group's founder.

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Memory of Nations has run an online database of testimonies since 2008 documenting stories of people from when Czechs and Slovaks lived under Nazi occupation during World War Two or four decades of Soviet-dominated Communist rule that ended in 1989.

Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, an action that Moscow has called a "special military operation", prompted the group to change tack, raising donations for of at least 100 million crowns ($4.35 million) as of Wednesday for its shipments.

"We don't have many opportunities to help, being students, so this is a chance for us to participate," Julie Mareckova, 19, said as she and other volunteers awaited the next batch of gear at a warehouse on the edge of the Czech capital Prague.

Once packed, the supplies are collected by Ukrainian vans which deliver the material where wherever it's needed.

"The greeting, 'Glory to Ukraine - Glory to Heroes', is very strong, it makes even a staunch cynic cry," Kroupa said of his group's meetings with the Ukrainian crews over the past week.

The group has so far dispatched 500 flak jackets, which are sourced via countries like Germany or North Macedonia because they are sold out in the Czech Republic, along with 150 helmets, two dozen drones, and other equipment.

Martin Kroupa, the younger brother of Memory of Nations' founder and also the group member, said the testimonies collected over the past decade amounted to a lesson on the importance of freedom and democracy.

"That's why we feel obliged to participate (in aiding Ukraine), because this will be part of the nation's memory, too, one day," he said.

($1 = 22.9960 Czech crowns)

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Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and Mark Heinrich

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