- By Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow.
With the protracted conflict in Ukraine’s east between government forces and pro-Russian separatists straining the former Soviet state’s finances, the Ukrainian government is turning to the public to boost military recruitment and shore up its budget.
Military salaries are low and the army has reportedly struggled to feed its own troops. According to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry, the military has an approximate $247 million hole in its budget that it is struggling to fill. The Ukrainian government is experimenting with ways to replenish its coffers, which the IMF propped up with a $17 billion loan.
Kiev is planning to temporarily institute a 1.5 percent tax dedicated to funding its armed forces. And Ukrainian TV and YouTube channels are teeming with government- and private sector-produced sentimental commercials attempting to tap into rising Ukrainian patriotism by asking for donations and pushing for military enlistment.
One of the videos is modeled after a Budweiser commercial produced for the American military during the Iraq War. Both spots are of soldiers receiving a standing ovation in a busy airport. However, unlike the American version, featuring soldiers returning home, the Ukrainian ad is of government soldiers leaving for the front lines. The clip ends with a plea to help the armed forces by calling the number shown and making a donation.
Another video features a young soldier leaving for eastern Ukraine at an airport where he notices an older veteran and the two men exchange salutes. The video, originally produced by the online news channel Espresso TV, was picked up by major Ukrainian news channels, such as Channel 5, and has reached nearly 60,000 views on YouTube in less than a week.
Two other videos try to pull at the heartstrings of Ukrainians. One, produced by the TV channel STB, plays up the fraternity and belonging found in the military. The featured soldier composes a video message to his mother back home, saying, "Hi, Mom. Do you remember when I asked you for a brother? Now I have 22 of them." The commercial goes on to dramatize training exercises and closes with a voice saying, "The army is an honor for those who serve and for those who wait."
The armed forces’ PR campaign targets Ukrainian mothers, too. One video features soldiers reporting and sounding off in an army barracks. However, the mother of one of the young soldiers, visibly upset, approaches the gate and offers her son a bag of home-cooked food. Embarrassed, the soldier stares at his mother and then stares forward until his commander announces, "For Mother!" All the soldiers then turn and acknowledge the crying woman. The commercial ends by explaining how to make a donation.