#BBCtrending: Russian site recruits 'volunteers' for Ukraine

  • 5 March 2014
Rival protestors clash in the Ukranian city of Kharkiv
Russian volunteers are being urged to travel to Kharkiv, where rival protesters have clashed

Russian social media users are being asked to cross the border into Ukraine to offer "moral support".

The "Civil Defence of Ukraine" group is asking men aged 18-45 who are ready to travel to Ukraine to volunteer through 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".

One of the organisers, Vladimir Prokopenko, told BBC Trending it was a grassroots association created in response to calls for support from Ukraine. He believes "several dozen" Russians have made the journey successfully. He says: "They are crossing to be next to the people who are fighting the authorities in Ukraine". Earlier, he told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper he wanted Russians to travel to Ukraine to engage in peaceful protest rallies. "If the situation becomes violent, then we will not send anyone," he said.

"We send people to Donetsk and Kharkiv," the VKontakte page says - both cities in eastern Ukraine. It also mentions Odessa, in the south-west, 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.

According to separate and unconfirmed reports, 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. But it also seems to have been picked up by ordinary users. Maxim Mischenko, a Russian Twitter user who used the hashtag, said he felt that the two countries were "one nation divided after the collapse of the USSR".

Reporting by Sam Judah

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