According to new reports, Russian volunteers are being recruited via social media to cross the border into Ukraine to offer “moral support”.
“We need men aged 18-45 who are already in Ukraine, or are ready to go,” says the “Civil Defense of Ukraine” page on VKontakte, the main Russian-language social network.
The page was set up just over a week ago and has more than 7,000 followers. It includes an online form calling for recruits and is asking male volunteers to cross the border, to offer what it calls “moral support” to people they believe have been put at risk by the recent “coup”.
Vladimir Prokopenko, whose name is at the top of a list of members on the site, has been widely quoted in the Russian press as saying he wants Russians to travel to Ukraine to engage in peaceful protest rallies.
“If the situation becomes violent, then we will not send anyone,” Vladimir Prokopenko told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
“We send people to Donetsk and Kharkiv,” the VKontakte page says – both cities in eastern Ukraine.
The page also mentions Odessa, in south-west Ukraine, as an important destination. Offering advice to Russians attempting to cross the border, the site encourages people to avoid attracting attention.
“Remember, you’re just a tourist,” it says.
Separate and unconfirmed reports claim some Russian citizens have been paid to travel to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where they have been involved in violent clashes.
VKontakte is a widely used social network in Russia, which reportedly has 100 million active users.
The campaign echoes the sentiment behind a hashtag which has trended on Twitter in recent days. #РоссияСвоихНеБросает, which translates roughly as “Russia doesn’t leave its own behind” and has been used almost 85,000 times, appears to express a common bond felt by Russians towards Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.
Newly created Twitter accounts have apparently been used to tweet the hashtag repeatedly, in order to make it trend.
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