Artem Poliukhovych, a 32-year-old Ukrainian, had been thinking for a year about how to propose to his girlfriend. He considered kneeling on a beach on a tropical island or asking her to marry him on a hot-air balloon ride. In the end, he decided to have the proposal written on a Soviet-era shell targeting the Russian military.
“It can be considered in some way an aggressive proposal,” he said.
She said “yes.” Her enthusiasm is matched by other people around the world. Several hundred have paid thousands of dollars to have their words written on shells used by the Ukrainian Army.
War is often pervaded with gallows humor, and soldiers have long scrawled graffiti on munitions meant for the enemy. Selling such messages marks an inventive, if macabre, twist on the practice, another way Ukrainians have found to raise money for their underdog resistance to Russia’s invasion.
One shell bore the tag “This one’s a gay bomb.” Another read, “Fighting fascism is a full-time job.” And another was signed: “From Silicon Valley with love.”
These latest tags were ordered from Signmyrocket.com, the most prominent of several fund-raising initiatives in Ukraine’s burgeoning personalized shells sector.
Our Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War
- On the Ground: Analysts say that a new Ukrainian strategy of attacking logistical targets in Russian-held territory is proving successful — symbolically as well as militarily.
- Trading Accusations: Russian and Ukrainian militaries accused each other of preparing to stage an attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The United Nations issued warnings about the risk of a nuclear disaster and called for a demilitarized zone around the plant.
- Crimea: Attacks by Ukrainian forces have tested security on the Black Sea peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 and has become a vital staging ground for the invasion.
- Visa Ban: A proposal to bar Russian tourists from countries in the European Union over the invasion has stirred debate inside the bloc, with some questioning whether it would play into Kremlin claims of persecution by the West.
The fund-raiser, which calls itself “artillery mailing,” was created by Anton Sokolenko, a 21-year-old information technology student, to compensate for a drop in donations to the Center for Assistance to the Army, Veterans and Their Families, the charity for which he had started volunteering in March.
He initially ran it on a Telegram channel, and then moved to a website to allow international costumers to access it. Now, he said, requests come from all over the world, with more than 95 percent of the writing in English. The website says it has raised more than $200,000 dollars in donations in less than three months for the charity.
Buyers get pictures of their message on a shell. For a higher price, the charity also provides videos as the shell is launched — “to show their friends or post on social media,” Mr. Sokolenko said.
On the site, users can pick a weapon, type in a message and then proceed to check out. Prices range from $150 for a message on a Howitzer shell to $3,000 for one written on the side of a tank’s turret.
The site says the charity has delivered more than 200 permanent markers to soldiers, who offered to write on the weapons and photograph the result in return for cars, drones or optical equipment that the charity has purchased across Europe with the profits. Mr. Sokolenko said that the charity had many contacts in the military, and that he had reached soldiers through word of mouth.
A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
For some people, buying a message is a way to help the Ukrainian Army and to feel directly involved in the war effort. For others, it is a chance to express their anger at Russia.
Mr. Sokolenko described the process as an informal way for military platoons to support themselves.
“It’s not very official, and not very allowed,” Mr. Sokolenko said. “But they kind of need to do it because we can give them stuff that our government cannot give them right now.”
Cristina Repetti, 32, who lives in Chicago, said that she was shocked by the aggression of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and that she had commissioned several messages on shells for friends and family members.
She expressed some discomfort with the idea that the weapons could be used to kill soldiers who might be at war against their will, but her desire to help Ukraine was bigger. “I can’t just sit there and do nothing”
On one shell, she commissioned the message “I love you Vinny,” in the hopes of getting her boyfriend back.
“He is into dark romantic things,” she said. “And I thought that putting our love on a shell that is going to hit a Russian tank would really make an impression.”