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He moderated r/Ukraine, shaping how the world sees the war. Now he has to fight in it.

Mikhaila Friel   

He moderated r/Ukraine, shaping how the world sees the war. Now he has to fight in it.
  • Mykola Sokalskii, a Ukrainian film producer, is being enlisted to fight against Russia.
  • He is also one of the powerful moderators of r/Ukraine — a huge clearinghouse for news of the war.

A man who spent two years moderating one of the internet's most influential sources of information on Ukraine is being called up to fight against Russia.

Mykola Sokalskii, a 39-year-old film producer from Kyiv, started live-streaming on Reddit in 2020 after the pandemic began.

Then, a few months before Russia invaded in February 2022, he joined r/Ukraine as a moderator, one of the users empowered to help shape the subreddit's conversation.

Speaking to Business Insider, Sokalskii said the subreddit "skyrocketed" in popularity on Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022, swelling from 80,000 members to 906,000.

It became a key source of information on the war, often breaking news of major events and featuring gritty combat videos that mainstream journalists scrambled to confirm.

It was also a community — a strongly partisan one — coordinating fundraising efforts to get equipment and aid to soldiers on the front line.

Sokalskii — who uses the username "JesterBoyd" — said he uses Reddit to convey what he sees as "objective truth" about the war to its members, predominantly in the US, UK, and Germany.

A shift in perspective

His days as a moderator are filled with reviewing heartbreaking posts detailing the tragedies in his country. He monitors the responses — giving him a unique perspective on how the West is viewing the invasion.

He is often struck by how fickle the support can be, but also the huge power he has to show the reality of war to so many people.

"We can see how the public opinion shifts and transforms based on the information they consume, and the responsibility we have is to give information that is objective," he told BI.

"When you travel through a war-torn landscape, you will see one house that will be completely obliterated, and then the neighbor's house will be pretty much fine — and it's kind of unfair in a way," he said.

"But that's just the way things are, and that's also the way you can portray war. You can focus on one house, or you can focus on another, or you can try to give a wider, more general picture and try to convey some kind of objective truth."

Ukraine's weakness

One issue often discussed on the subreddit is Ukraine's need for more troops.

Ukraine has recently stepped up its efforts to replenish soldiers. It lowered the conscription age from 27 to 25, eliminated some draft exemptions, and created an online registry for recruits.

Ukraine's parliament also passed a bill earlier this month that would allow the country's military to recruit prisoners to fight.

That effort now includes drafting Sokalskii.

The need is clear — US estimates have suggested Ukraine has already lost some 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers, The New York Times reported.

Sokalskii knows it better than most. He said he had long been thinking about what would happen if he went to the frontline.

Writing in a thread in April, Sokalskii said he'd been served a drafting notice, and was going through the process of getting ready to serve.

One person asked: Wouldn't he be more valuable to Ukraine helping run the subreddit?

"In a perfect world, I could do both more effectively by being in the army," he said. But the world isn't perfect.

"In reality, an army is an army and I expect it to be exceedingly difficult to post content regularly without endangering anyone and still being informative and engaging enough to make a difference," he said.

Flaws in Ukraine's conscription process

Sokalskii spent a long time thinking about the country's conscription process, which has been plagued by corruption. He said he believes it would work better as a lottery where "everybody has to suffer equally" — with the option to trade with a family member or friend willing to take your place.

In August, Zelenskyy fired all of Ukraine's military recruitment chiefs after an investigation revealed they were accepting up to $10,000 in bribes to help people avoid being drafted.

"I think everyone should be equal… I don't really care whether you are a CEO or a plumber," Sokalskii said.

Sokalskii declined to share specifics on enlistment, citing that he was still going through the process.

But he said working as a moderator helped to set basic expectations for war.

"My mom is very worried and wouldn't want me to go. What can you do?" he said.

Some Reddit users offered well-wishes, while others, who appeared to have military experience, offered advice on survival.

"Keep a safe distance from your buddies when out in the open. And stay dry — this is a survival thing: being miserable grinds people down mentally so they make stupid decisions," one person wrote in the thread he started.

Another wrote: "If I might offer one piece of advice as a combat vet myself, make sure you have plenty of dry socks."

"I know this may sound stupid to a lot of people, but it is arguably the most important piece of kit you'll have," they said. "It's hard to fight when the skin on your feet is rotten and falling off in chunks."

Sokalskii said the support he has received from the subreddit community has made him "proud to be a part of it."

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