Czech citizens raise $1.3 million for modernised tank for Ukraine

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czechs have become the first citizens of a country to raise money through crowd-funding to buy a modernised Soviet-era T-72 tank that will soon be sent to the Ukrainian army to help it defend against Russia's invasion, a Ukrainian government official said on Monday.

The crowdfunding effort, run by the Ukrainian embassy in Prague, raised 33 million crowns ($1.31 million) as of Monday from 11,288 donors, the campaign website said.

"The Czech Republic became the first country where ordinary people bought a tank," Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Perebyinis said on Twitter.

The tank, a T-72 AVENGER, has been modernised to improve its protective systems and to add modern night-vision and communications equipment.

Fundraising is continuing to provide ammunition, the campaign said on its website .

The Czech Republic, a NATO and European Union member, has been a strong backer of Ukraine.

It has shipped surplus army stocks as well as privately sourced equipment funded by other countries and the Ukrainian government to Ukraine. Those include older tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and air-defence systems to Ukraine.

The Ukraine embassy said that by late September, Czechs had donated 1.3 billion crowns ($51.72 million) to its weapons-purchase fundraising efforts coordinated with the Czech Defence Ministry.

Ukraine has repeatedly urged supporting countries to provide modern western battle tanks -- which donor nations have shied away from -- to help its offensive against Russian-controlled regions in the country's south and east.

($1 = 25.1360 Czech crowns)

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Bernadette Baum)