A Ukrainian Telegram account is offering to write a message of your choice on artillery shells that will then be fired at Russian in exchange for $40 per message. The account claims that the funds it raises will go towards arming Ukrainian soldiers.
The account, artillery_text, advertised its services via another Telegram account dedicated to sharing footage from the war. “You have a chance to kill orcs with your text on 152 mm artillery shell that will be fired at Russian soldiers,” the post said. “Orcs” is a derogatory term Ukrainians use for Russians. “You will receive photo with your signed grenade.”
According to the telegram advertisement, “all donations will be spent on equipment for our soldiers.” The price for a special message on a shell is $40. There’s a discount if you buy two. That’s $70. “Soldiers at the front will write your text with indelible marker on the whole side of a 152 mm artillery shell,” the Telegram post said. “And then fire at Russians. You can ask to write any text: wish someone a happy birthday/ death in pain, propose marriage, name, Instagram/ telegram username.”
The Telegram post lists out a PayPal, Venmo, and a Revolut handle as well as a bank account number for wire transfers. artillery_text asks that clients take a screenshot of the donation and send it along, either via Telegram or email. In anywhere from a few days to a few minutes, the account will reply with a picture of the 152 mm message written on a shell.
The post also shared several photos of some of the shells that have already been ordered. In the replies of the initial post, several people showed off the messages they purchased and claimed the service was legitimate. One showed the line “all pigs must die,” a phrase that also appeared in the user's bio.
"Yeah it’s a real thing,” the customer told Motherboard. “If you donate you can get your message on an artillery shell. The fundraiser has a few different options for artillery type, and the donation request amount varies based on the difficulty of getting your message to the battalion. I donated $40, which was $10 over what they were asking. It took about 3 weeks to get a reply with a picture of my message."
artillery_text (firstname.lastname@example.org) told Motherboard over Telegram that he’s a 20 year old IT student in Ukraine. “At the begging of the war I wasn’t doing anything and it kept bugging me,” he said. “I found a volunteer center where I could help with making Molotov cocktails. That was a useless job because their expiration time was one to two days and we were making 1,600 cocktails a day.”
He decided to make their own Telegram channel where he’d gather donations. He collected footage from soldiers on the frontlines, reposted it to their own channel, and asked for donations to help fund the war.
This worked for a while, but the donations eventually dried up and artillery_text went looking for another way to raise money. “I was scrolling Ukrainian channels and saw soldiers signing shells in revenge for their colleagues,” he said. Other volunteers told him the idea was stupid, but they changed their mind when he discovered someone else was doing the same and had generated $3,000 in 2 days.
artillery_text said the project had earned around $11,000 so far. He’s used it to purchase two Starlink systems, a thermal sight, and put money towards a car. “Cars are in a very big need to evacuate injured soldiers from the front,” he said.
Elon Musk has sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine for free, but artillery_text said there aren’t enough to go around. “We bought them somewhere in Poland,” he said.
In a separate thread, the same account is offering a limited time deal on messages written on surface-to-air missiles that will be fired from a Buk missile system. The asking price for that is $400. “Your sign will be written with a spray on the WHOLE rocket,” the ad said. “You will get a picture of a rocket with your sign.”
A satisfied customer sounded off in the replies to the Buk advertisement. “My kid thought it'd be funny to put a hand grenade in a McMuffin wrapper to throw at someone,” the customer said below a picture of a 125mm tank round with the word McMuffin written on it. “The idea is slightly modified, but this surprise made him super happy. For anyone wondering, these guys are legit.”
artillery_text said there’s still about 120 messages waiting to go out on shells. “Tomorrow we will look for another unit to help with making signs because a lot of people want to help with making it popular.” He also shared some of the recent messages. “There are a lot of signs for ‘Happy Father’s Day.’”
Update 6/13/20 at 2:00pm EST: This story has been updated to include an interview with the Telegram account behind the charity drive.