The war in Ukraine continues to show the world many oddities and curiosities. This war has also shown the necessity of combating your enemy on social media. No longer is propaganda, scenes of victory, stories of combat, and news spread exclusively by media companies with a monopoly on information. Now we have individual soldiers on a large scale sharing what they want instantly to the masses via social media. But here is the twist. Generally, the posts the soldiers share still have the spirit of social media. In the past roughly eight years, those in the western world have begun to individually paint a picture of themselves online. Since the genesis of social media, a common goal of the individual user is to manipulate and craft their content to tell a romanticized story of who they are.
This war is the first time a massive number of individual combatants have both access to social media and the freedom to use it as they please. In recent conflicts, soldiers have generally been under strict rules which muzzled any ability to share their combat experiences to the masses. But many fighters on the Ukrainian side of the Russo-Ukraine War have not been ordered to be silent on social media by their commanders. This has allowed combatants to create their own online celebrity status. Add western volunteers into this and the result is essentially a modern version of gladiators who have fame, influence, and fans just like gladiators of the Roman Empire.
Some of these soldiers have devoted followings and because of their social media presence, many have received financial contributions, equipment, death threats, bounties for their death or capture, and even fan art. It will be interesting to what precedent these soldiers with their social media fame will set for future conflicts. Perhaps this will become an aspect of all war going forward in the age of the internet.
Here are some of the most notable of these “modern gladiators” and the known information on them.
Storm Karl Balderson
A citizen of Denmark, this Dane with his Norse face tattoos and explicit love for Viking culture joined up with the Ukrainian International Legion sometime around March 1. After doing some quick searching, I found out that Storm has a LinkedIn account. The information on his profile is sparse but it doesn’t seem that he has any prior military experience. But his listed past professions are as a model, bicycle shop owner, landscaper, and animal activist. Also, for any doubters of his commitment to Nordic ways, his about section on LinkedIn simply says, “100% real Viking.”
More commonly known on the internet as the Belarusian mustache guy, Igor is a member of the Brotherhood Battalion, the armed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox political organization Bratstvo. It was founded by Dymtro Korchynsky, a Ukrainian writer, poet, and public figure. Patches and flags used by the Brotherhood Battalion generally have some form of Christian Iconography such as the Chi Rho.
Now there were some claiming that Igor is the commander of the battalion. This is not true from what I have gathered. He seems to instead be the leader of the Belarusian volunteers who are in the Brotherhood Battalion. The Brotherhood Battalion appears to have caught on to his internet clout and he is now the focus of many photos and videos published by them.
Sandra Andersen Eira
A politician from Norway, Sandra has been fighting in Ukraine with a group of foreign volunteers who call themselves The Dirty Dozen. Being a member of the Sámi Parliament of Norway since 2017, it was difficult to keep her identity secret and because of this, she is the only member of The Dirty Dozen whose identity is publicly known. The Dirty Dozen is currently attached to a Ukrainian special operations unit and Sandra reportedly is the medic for her fellow volunteers.
A 47-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Connecticut, James began posting his own combat footage on Twitter on March 24th. Like wildfire, the videos James posted spread across the internet with his age, cavalier attitude, and dad vocabulary arresting people’s attention. From the information on his Twitter, he appears to have arrived in Ukraine on March 14th and went to the front lines North of Kyiv after he gathered supplies. Before joining the Ukrainians to fight, James worked as a home renovation contractor.
A former photographer and model, Bohdan was an average Ukrainian until the Russian invasion on February 24th after which he took up arms as a volunteer. Bohdan also took his photography skills with him to the battlefield and is known online for his aesthetic and artistic photos of him and his comrades.
Bohdan joined the Revenge Battalion which is generally composed of Ukrainian citizens who volunteered once war broke out. They have been mainly engaging Russian forces in the northeast outside of Kyiv. But since the Russian retreat from around Kyiv to Belarus, the Revenge Battalion is now moving to fight against the main Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Likely the most well-known out of all of those listed, Aiden who is originally from England became a Ukrainian Marine back in 2018. In certain aspects, Aiden is a pioneer of publicly sharing personal combat and military experiences online. He was in Mariupol when Russian forces surrounded the port city and recently surrendered with his Unit. He is currently a prisoner of war and facing the death penalty due to the Kremlin viewing him as a mercenary. However, as already stated, Aiden joined the Ukrainian military long before the recent Russian invasion. Because of this, Aiden is a Ukrainian citizen.