Ukrainians have raised millions of dollars in online fundraisers to purchase drones, weapons, Starlink internet systems and other equipment to help their army fight Vladimir Putin’s invading forces. Now they have added bounty to that list.
Crowdfunding started on Saturday for the capture of Igor Girkin, a prominent Russian nationalist who led Kremlin-backed separatists during Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. The total raised had exceeded $150,000 by Sunday afternoon, according to Serhiy Sternenko, the Ukrainian activist leading the effort.
Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who once boasted he had “pulled the trigger of war” in Ukraine, served as the leader of the Kremlin’s forces in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, in the first months of the 2014 conflict. Going by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov (which means “shooter”), he became notorious for his brutality.
On his watch, Russian forces shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, killing all 298 crew and passengers. Girkin is one of four defendants in the case of the downing of the plane being tried in the Netherlands. The court is expected to rule in the case next month. In a 2020 interview with a Ukrainian journalist, Girkin said he felt “indirect responsibility” for shooting down MH17.
Documents found in Girkin’s Slovyansk office after he fled revealed that he had ordered the executions by firing squad of at least three people in eastern Ukraine following slapdash military trials. Girkin later admitted to sentencing three more men to death and killing one of them himself.
In August 2014, he was recalled to Moscow, where he appeared on nationalist radio programmes and kept a relatively low profile until reappearing after Putin’s full-scale invasion in February as an influential military blogger. He has recently emerged as a staunch critic of Moscow’s poor battlefield performance, advocating escalation.
“The war in Ukraine will continue until the complete defeat of Russia,” Girkin wrote to his more than 700,000 Telegram followers in early September. “We have already lost, the rest is just a matter of time.”
At the time of his post, Ukrainian forces had begun their counteroffensive to reclaim territory in the country’s south and east.
Early this month, after several days of not posting on Telegram, rumours began swirling about him returning to the battlefield in Ukraine. Then, on Saturday, his wife Myroslava Reginska posted a photo with him in military uniform on his Telegram channel.
“To answer the question, where is Igor Ivanovich,” she wrote, using his patronymic, “All is well! Be in touch soon.”
The post triggered the Ukrainian effort to raise a bounty, with one Ukrainian activist voicing his hope it would be attractive enough for his own Russian comrades to turn him in.
“+$10,000 from me”, Hayday wrote on Twitter. “The criminal must answer for his crimes.”
Hours later, Ukraine’s defence intelligence office, GUR, tweeted a wanted poster featuring Girkin and his trademark pencil moustache. “GUR guarantees $100,000 for the captured Girkin,” it said.