Irish men being targeted by ads to join Ukrainian army

Advertisements running on Facebook include contact details for Ukrainian embassy

Irish residents are being targeted with online advertisements encouraging them to join the International Legion of Defence of Ukraine.

The advertisements, which are running on Facebook, include contact details for the Ukrainian embassy in Ireland.

A graphic running with the ad directs users to visit fightforua.org, a website which encourages non-Ukrainians to enlist in the Legion of Defence. That website has been linked to an official post by the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs.

The images displayed with the ad also show men in battle gear – one variation includes a video of what purports to be British men who have signed up to fight in Ukraine.

Under the Defence Act 1954 it is not lawful to “induce, procure or persuade” any person in the State to “accept or agree to accept any commission or engagement in any military, naval or airforce maintained by the government of any other state”.

It is also an offence to “publish or cause to procure to be published” an advertisement in relation to the procurement of personnel for any military, naval or airforce maintained by the government of any other state. In a statement the Embassy of Ukraine to Ireland “acknowledges the website http://fightforua.org/ that was officially created in Ukraine for those countries which legislation allows its citizens to join the International Legion.

However it said the embassy “does not promote the above mentioned website in the receiving country with respect to the Irish legislation”.

Information from the ad profile suggests that the advertisement was run without a disclaimer describing who paid for an ad, which is required by Facebook when it deals with social issues, elections or politics.

Data

Data compiled on Facebook’s ad library for one variation of the ad indicates it was seen between 10,000 and 50,000 times in Ireland, 65 per cent of viewers were men aged between 25 and 34.

Some 41 per cent of views were in Dublin, eight per cent in Cork, and the remainder scattered throughout the country.

The ad is run by a page called "Ukrainian Legion", which describes itself as a charity organisation and was created on Wednesday of last week. In addition to about a dozen active or inactive ads targeting Irish users, the page is running many more targeting other Facebook users. They include contact details for Ukrainian embassies in Latvia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Liz Carolan, a transparency activist, said the ad prompted wider questions, including for the social network's parent company, Meta. "I would like to know how a brand new, completely unverified Facebook page, with no contact or contextual information, is able to target young Irish men with sophisticated and emotive ads for something as serious as enlisting as an untrained irregular in a war?"

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: “We strongly advise against all travel to Ukraine, for any purpose. Our capacity to provide consular assistance is extremely limited as our Embassy in Kyiv is no longer operational in-country.”

Comment has been sought from the Ukrainian embassy in Dublin and Meta.