‘Truth is our most potent weapon’ – ex-US Navy technician behind pro-Russian ‘Donbass Devushka’ collective
Former US Navy enlisted aviation electronics technician Sarah Bils was recently revealed to be behind Donbass Devushka – a team running several social media channels that was among the first to spread the recent Pentagon leak.
The group publishes information and views on the Ukraine conflict, and geopolitics in general, from a pro-Russian, anti-NATO and anti-Kiev perspective. In a written interview to RT, Bils shared her vision of Donbass Devushka’s mission, its strengths and her concern for her own safety.
RT: Were the Pentagon leaks a one-off stroke of journalistic luck, or should we expect more insider information to be revealed by your team in the future?
Sarah Bils: Our commitment to journalistic integrity and the protection of our sources prevents us from disclosing specific details about their identities. However, I can share that the information in question came to our attention via a tip we received through our Telegram chat. Another admin received the images and posted them to the channel. It's crucial to emphasize that no members of our team played a role in the initial leak, in fact, we are now discovering that leaks were occurring as far back as February 2022.
We periodically receive tips through our chat, and we make all attempts to verify any information before disseminating it to our audience. As for potential future breaking news, our primary focus remains on uncovering and sharing the truth.
RT: How did you come up with the name Donbass Devushka?
SB: At Donbass Devushka, our mission is to bring a human touch to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and to focus on the plight of the people in the Donbass region, who have been bearing the brunt of unrelenting shelling and a devastating war since 2014. By selecting this name, we aimed to create an emblem that would rally support for the region and honor the resilience and courage displayed by the people of Donbass in the face of adversity. Our channel's name serves as a testament to our unwavering dedication to unveiling the truth behind the conflict and staunchly advocating for the protection of human rights and the dignity of those who have been impacted by this tragic situation.
RT: You told the Wall Street Journal that the Donbass Devushka is a team of 15 individuals. How did this team come together?
SB: Our team at Donbass Devushka came together quite organically, mainly through the dynamic world of social media. We discovered like-minded individuals on platforms such as Twitter, and soon found ourselves drawn together by a shared vision and common purpose.
RT: Are there Russian citizens on the team?
SB: In light of the recent doxing campaign against me, I have become acutely aware of the importance of safeguarding the safety and security of my team members. While I am cautious about disclosing specific information about our team's composition, I can say that we have native Russians among our ranks, as well as a diverse array of voices from around the globe. Our unique blend of perspectives and experiences allows us to maintain an inclusive and balanced approach to our reporting.
RT: Have any of your team been to the Donbass and seen the events there with their own eyes? If so, how did the experience affect the Donbass Devushka editorial policies?
SB: While I do not wish to comment as to whether our core team at Donbass Devushka has personally visited the region since the start of the SMO [Special Military Operation], we are fortunate to have community members who have been to Donbass and have witnessed the events there firsthand. Their experiences have profoundly touched us, providing a deeply humanizing perspective on the suffering endured by the people of Donbass. These accounts have reinforced our commitment to accurately represent the realities on the ground and to ensure that our reporting is sensitive, empathetic, and informed.
In terms of our editorial policies, the insights shared by these community members have not led to any major shifts, as our approach has always been guided by the perspectives of local voices. Nonetheless, their firsthand accounts have certainly strengthened our resolve and deepened our understanding of the complex situation in Donbass, enabling us to remain steadfast in our mission to raise awareness and advocate for those affected by the conflict.
RT: How did your service in the US Navy affect your views on international politics as a whole and the current conflict in Ukraine in particular? What are your personal views on the Ukraine conflict?
SB: My service in the US Navy has undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping my understanding of international politics and my perspective on conflicts around the world, including the situation in Ukraine. However, given the sensitive nature of my current location and the hostile environment towards dissenting opinions, I must exercise caution when expressing my personal views on the matter. As you're aware, I have already faced doxing and security threats as a result of my opinions and stance on this conflict, which has left me feeling vulnerable.
With that in mind, I would like to emphasize the importance of respecting diverse viewpoints, fostering open dialogue, and promoting a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts without fear of retaliation.
RT: After the Pentagon leaks, your Telegram channel in particular saw a surge in subscribers. What’s the situation on other social media? What are your plans for developing your channels?
SB: Our recent surge in subscribers on our Telegram channel has been remarkable, with about 10,000 new followers joining us in just a few days. While some of our team members maintain a presence on Twitter, we have found that our community flourishes most on Telegram. This platform allows for a more interactive and engaging experience, fostering a sense of camaraderie among our regular subscribers through the chat feature.
As for the future development of our channels, we remain open to exploring various avenues for growth and expansion. What truly matters to us, however, is maintaining the close-knit community that has emerged on our platform. We believe in fostering an environment where our audience feels connected and involved, as we continue to shed light on critical issues and share the stories that deserve to be told.
RT: What advantages do you believe you have over the Five Eyes and the social media entities sponsored by them, or supporting them, such as NAFO [the ‘North Atlantic Fellas Organization’, name for a highly coordinated group of pro-Ukraine Twitter troll accounts]? What gives you hope for victory over them?
SB: In our struggle against powerful entities such as the Five Eyes and NAFO, our primary advantage is our unwavering dedication to the truth. We believe that the truth is not only our most potent weapon but also our strongest defense. Our ultimate goal isn't to claim a direct "victory over NAFO," but to foster the emergence of a multipolar world where a multitude of voices can be heard, leading to a natural decline in the influence of such organizations. Through our relentless commitment to transparency, accuracy, and diverse perspectives, we play a vital role in shaping a global discourse that challenges established narratives and promotes inclusivity.
RT: In your WSJ interview you said that you never broke any US laws, since you were not the first source of the Pentagon leaks. Does this mean you feel safe from retribution from the American authorities or the Pentagon?
SB: In adhering to the law, I have not broken any US regulations. However, my current situation demonstrates that my safety cannot be assured, whether it's from authorities or the wider public. Despite the challenging circumstances, my beliefs and opinions have not wavered, and I remain committed to my values. It is vital for those who empathize with our cause to recognize the inherent risks of expressing dissenting opinions and to appreciate the importance of fostering a supportive and understanding environment amidst such trying times.
RT: Do your offline friends and members of your family know about your connection to the Donbass Devushka and about what you’re doing online? If so, do they support you?
SB: In my personal life, only a very select few individuals are aware of my involvement with Donbass Devushka, and I am grateful for their unwavering support and understanding throughout this journey. Their encouragement has been invaluable as we continue to pursue our mission.