Marketing tricks as the ultimate attempt to replenish Ukrainian troops: ‘It’s like a date’

Marketing tricks as the ultimate attempt to replenish Ukrainian troops: ‘It’s like a date’
Marketing tricks as the ultimate attempt to replenish Ukrainian troops: ‘It’s like a date’

Giant billboards show assault troops in combat fatigues emerging from a fireball. Posters of soldiers call on passers-by to sign up and proclaim that “victory is in your hands.” And anyone who takes a high-speed train in Ukraine will probably see a television commercial in their compartment that promotes jobs as a drone operator.

Devious advertising campaigns full of nationalistic bravado are ubiquitous in the capital Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. This is in a last-ditch effort to replenish Ukrainian forces that have been depleted after more than two years of ruthless war. Experts say more soldiers are crucial to repel continued Russian attacks.

Take matters into your own hands

But most military advertising campaigns are not the work of the country’s political or military leaders. These are initiatives of the brigades themselves, which are facing a shortage of troops. They have taken matters into their own hands. In this way, they want to avoid the official mobilization system: according to them, it would turn square and appoint soldiers who are anything but suitable or who actually do not want to fight at all.

“Our campaigns are much more effective because we attract exactly the people we need,” said Dmytro Koziatynskyi, a combat medic turned recruiter with the Da Vinci Wolves battalion. The Da Vinci Wolves began as a paramilitary wing of a coalition of far-right political parties after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Members of the Da Vinci Wolves in a newly opened recruiting office.Image NYT – Brendan Hoffman

The battalion, which is now part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, is currently recruiting 500 new members. They are looking for nurses, mechanics and combat engineers who clear minefields. Recruiters conduct long job interviews. People can stop training after a few days if they don’t like it.

“It’s like a date,” says Koziatynskyi at the battalion’s newly opened recruitment office in central Kiev. “We try to explain as much as possible what we expect from these people and what they can expect from us.”

Better than mobilization

That’s a big change from the military’s mobilization process, where people have no choice. Many Ukrainians fear that if they are drafted, they will be sent straight into trench warfare without much training. Critics also say the official recruitment campaign is too aggressive and burdened by bureaucracy and corruption.

Oleksandr Pavliuk, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, recently warned that criticism of the official mobilization process does not help the war. “We are changing, we see our shortcomings and we work every day to get better,” he said.

A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of “the sensitive subject matter,” said the brigades are free to conduct their own recruitment campaigns, but the army controls their activities.

In a war where soldiers are constantly under fire from drones and grenades, the risks remain very high, especially for units fighting on the frontline such as the Da Vinci Wolves.

But the brigade, like many other units, is trying to allay that fear among potential soldiers and appeal to people’s patriotism. Their PR campaign is certainly much more extensive than the boring government recruitment posters. To design and produce their advertisements, the Da Vinci Wolves brigade relies on a network of volunteers.

‘Old and unmotivated’

The need to replenish the Ukrainian armed forces with more and new soldiers has been clear for months. President Zelensky recently said that 31,000 soldiers had died in the war, most likely an underestimate. Military commanders have urged Zelensky to increase the number of conscripts to make up for losses and weather another year of intense fighting. But a mobilization law that could pave the way for large-scale conscription has been blocked in parliament for months.

Officers also complain that conscripts recruited through the official system are often too old, in poor health and unmotivated. Alina Mykhailova, an officer in the Da Vinci Wolves battalion, says that of the 200 conscripts the brigade received, only 25 actually wanted to fight.

“Our task is to recruit volunteers faster, so that we get fewer people who are absolutely unmotivated,” Mykhailova says.

The unit’s Instagram page, which is followed by almost 50,000 people, helps with this. The Da Vinci Wolves put up several videos explaining the work of drone operators or showing soldiers preparing for an attack.

Multiple choice

In the recruitment office there is a large poster of commander, Dmytro Kotsiubailo, who was given a state funeral after being killed in fighting last year. Recruiter Evhenii Hryhoriev asks Oleg Greshko, a thin 20-year-old with a small goatee, who had spontaneously walked into the battalion recruitment office, what he wants to do. “Infantry,” Greshko answers quickly.

Another recruit, Maryna Kovalenko, says she was attracted by the unit’s personal approach. “Here you have the opportunity to choose what suits you best and talk about it.”

Many brigades take this approach because they realize that people want to “choose and determine their future in the military” as the war progresses. This is what Vladyslav Greziev, head of Lobby X, one of the largest online recruitment platforms in Ukraine, said.

Greziev says that around 500 army units have posted vacancies on the platform, with approximately 3,200 open positions and almost 80,000 applications. Candidates are invited to find a position that suits them.

Brigades also advertise many non-combat positions, such as a cook for military intelligence and a digital designer in an assault brigade. They also promise better equipment and training than conscripts currently receive.


According to Koziatynskyi, a member of the Da Vinci Wolves, there is some rivalry between the units to attract the best recruits. The Third Assault Brigade, a branch of the Ukrainian special forces, is said to be “winning for the time being” due to its strong social media strategy.

The brigade’s recruitment posters are hard to miss on the streets of Kiev. The posters show Ukrainian assault troops facing zombie soldiers who are supposed to represent the Russians. “Fight,” the posters say in large orange letters.

Another of the unit’s tactics to bridge the gap between civilians and soldiers is to organize war games outside Kiev every few months with guns that shoot plastic projectiles, where the public can mingle with the brigade’s reservists and instructors.

Semen Gagarin, a 33-year-old manager at a honey-producing company, says that at first he did not believe that advertising campaigns could change the minds of conscientious objectors.

But several of his fitness friends have now decided to join the Third Assault Brigade, he says. “It puts more pressure on everyone.”

(c) The New York Times

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Marketing tricks ultimate attempt replenish Ukrainian troops date


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