Sarah Bils identified as the woman behind ‘Donbas Devushka’ social media accounts, notorious for spreading disinformation about the war.
To her devoted followers, “Donbas Devushka” – or Donbas Girl – is a Russian Jew from the occupied Ukrainian city of Luhansk, who has faithfully broadcast Kremlin propaganda for months.
But in reality, she is Sarah Bils, a 37-year-old divorcee from New Jersey and a US Navy veteran who served as an aviation electronics technician at Whitby Island in Washington State.
Donbas Devushka emerged after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
She built up a sizeable social media following on Twitter, Telegram and YouTube, emerging as the face of Russian propaganda, raising money and selling merchandise for the Russian cause.
Using assorted pseudonyms including CheburekiVibes, MeatballSubZero, YuGopnik, GhostofLugansk, she has amassed 135,000 subscribers to her podcast on which she broadcasts with a cod “Russian” accent.
Several of her Twitter accounts were suspended, but undaunted she built up Donbas Devushka’s disinformation empire – branded “girl and cat against the whole world”.
Ms Bils has been unmasked by the North Atlantic Fella Organisation – NAFO – which devotes itself to raising funds for Ukraine and combating disinformation.
As Donbas Devushka, she posted photographs on Twitter, giving her first name as Mila. She also created a YouTube channel last July and then another Twitter account, under the handle @Luganskforlife.
She also, at least on social media, claims to be an expert on geopolitics and history. In one profile, Ms Bils says she is studying at the online School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University.
Enthusiasm for tropical fish to prove her undoing
According to public information records she was born in Vorhees, New Jersey and enlisted with the US Navy in November 2009. The discrepancies between her social media persona and reality are striking.
Ms Bils told her followers that in 2014 she had been travelling between the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and Luhansk in Ukraine.
She claimed that back then Kyiv was killing people in Luhansk where the population is 53 per cent Ukrainian and 47 per cent Russian.
The reality, however, was that she was embroiled in a court case with her husband of three years in Oak Harbor, Washington.
She also divided her time between serving in the Navy and running Cascade Aquatics, a business selling tropical fish and imported food from Poland.
Her reputation among tropical fish enthusiasts was good, with the community regarding her as well-informed and trustworthy.
Ms Bils’s enthusiasm for tropical fish was to prove her undoing.
She appeared on as episode of the Aquarium Co-op Podcast, an online show about fish tanks, in June 2020. NAFO later compared the footage, which included her voice and home décor, with Donbas Devushka’s postings.
NAFO and reporters from Malcontent News identified Donbas Devushka as Sara Bils – occasionally spelt as Beales.
An unclear exit from the Navy
The circumstances under which she left the Navy are unclear.
Ms Bils was involved in a high-speed collision, but claims she was discharged for drunk driving have not been verified and there are no court records of her having been prosecuted.
But Ms Bils maintains that she was forced out of the services because of her Left-wing views.
Interviewed over the weekend at her home, Ms Bils admitted she was the administrator of Donbas Devushka accounts and host of the podcasts.
She added she was one of 15 people involved in running the network and declined to name the others.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Donbas Devushka Telegram account played a key role in the dissemination of intelligence documents allegedly leaked by Airman First Class Jack Teixeira, by reposting them onto an array of obscure online chat rooms. However, Ms Bils denied being personally involved.
“I obviously know the gravity of top-secret classified materials. We didn’t leak them,” she said.