On February 21, Jane Lytvynenko, who has previously worked at BuzzFeed and Canadaland, shared a link to a fundraising page purporting to offer ways to help Ukraine. (Full disclosure: Lytvynenko edited an article I wrote for Canadaland in 2016, and I pitched her articles while she was the editor there on other occasions.)
Along with the link, Lytvynenko, who is now a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Technology and Social Change Project, tweeted, “Ukrainians put together a list of resources on how foreigners can help. There (sic) are all reputable organizations doing good work.” She added, “Spread far and wide.”
Lytvynenko’s tweet of the page has gone viral, racking up more than 24,000 retweets as of the afternoon of February 24, including shares from journalists, the senior policy advisor at Canada’s permanent mission to the United Nations and so many other prominent figures in media and public policy. This is troubling, because while the page in question is being shared as if it’s a typical sort of fundraiser, it and the links it contains include calls to fund, and even fight alongside, the Ukrainian military.
The page notes that there are “multiple ways to help, from donating to directly participating as a volunteer.” The article it suggests you read to learn more makes it clear that “volunteer” means to join the Ukrainian military.
The article in question was published on January 31 by the Kyiv Independent. It is titled “Want to help Ukraine’s military as a foreigner? Here’s what you can do.” It offers three main suggestions: donating money to the military, “joining home guard” and “active military service.”
Under the “donating money” section, the article notes, “The Kyiv Independent responsibly recommends Come Back Alive (Povertaysya Zhyvym), a Kyiv-based charity, for this purpose. […] Come Back Alive provides Ukraine’s military with auxiliary equipment, specialized software, drones, personal body protection, training, and other supplies.”
Under the “joining home guard” section, the article notes, “For those who live in Ukraine and want to get involved on a bigger level, there is good news – a foreigner can actually stand up next to their Ukrainian neighbors and join the emerging Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces. This brand new branch of service is just in the making, but volunteers can already enlist.”
Under the “active military service” section, the article notes, “Foreign nationals, especially those with experience in the military, can also consider going as far as to join the Armed Forces or Ukraine’s National Guard as active service members. This is legal under Ukrainian law, which enables the military to sign official service contracts with foreign nationals or stateless persons.” It also links directly to a page listing local military recruitment offices in Ukraine.
The fundraising page Lytvynenko shared states, “You can donate to The Kyiv Independent to keep the curtains up for the independent Ukrainian English-language journalism,” and provides links to their Patreon and GoFundMe. So, this page not only recommends reading an article that goes so far as to encourage foreigners to join the Ukrainian military, but even suggests viewers donate to the publication behind this article.
It gets worse. The first section under the “Donation Links” heading on the fundraising page is “Supplies for the military.” This is prioritized in order over the other sections, which are: “Medical supplies”; “Helping children affected by war”; and “Journalism.” The military section contains two links: one to the “Come Back Alive” fundraiser the Kyiv Independent article mentioned, and one to “Army SOS.”
The “Come Back Alive” link goes to a fundraising page that offers viewers two options for where their money can go: “support the fund” and “help the Ukrainian Army.”
The “Army SOS” link, meanwhile, goes to a page with the following description: “Army protects Ukraine! Are you ready to help Army today? …it could be too late tomorrow… Army SOS Citizen`s Initiative coordinates people`s efforts to help soldiers of Ukraine. We manage purchases of necessary ammunition, shields, intercommunication and reconnaissance facilities, uniforms and food supply. We deliver all goods directly to the unit`s emplacement and pass them right to the hands of our warriors. Let`s help Ukrainian Army together! Defend our Land!”
I reached out to Lytvynenko through a direct message on Twitter to ask if she endorses the page’s calls to fund the Ukrainian military, and the article’s calls to go as far as to join it. She replied, “You know Davide, I remember well when you tried to tell me that Glory to Ukraine Glory to our Heroes is a Nazi slogan in the first years of the war, so maybe your first DM should have been an apology. Find someone else to talk to.”
Lytvynenko is referring to a discussion we had on Twitter several years ago about the resurgence in Ukraine of the phrase “Glory to Ukraine,” which, according to the Georgetown Security Studies Review, was “employed by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukraine Insurgent Army (UPA).” The Review notes that, “These organizations fought for Ukrainian independence before and during World War II, allying with Nazi Germany to achieve this goal and perpetrating atrocities against tens of thousands of Jews and Poles.” I have no reason to apologize to her.
It’s disturbing to see so many people uncritically share a page that encourages people to send money to, and even join, the Ukrainian military. I hope those that did so without taking a close look at it will retract their endorsements of the page, and instead, if they wish, find other ways to help out the Ukrainians that are suffering due to this war.