Ukraine’s internet army of ‘fellas’ buy sea drone to hunt Russian ships – and name it after celebrity raccoon | World News
There’s a new weapon heading for Ukraine that could help defend its cities from missiles – and it’s named after a famous raccoon.
For months NAFO (North Atlantic Fella Organisation) have been waging an information war on social media against Russian propaganda, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ukraine’s armies as they go.
The fellas, as they are known, are a rowdy band of online comrades with a nose for dog memes who are easily identified by their Shiba Inu profile pictures.
So when Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s United24 initiative asked if NAFO wanted to raise money to pay for a naval drone – and give it a name – they were quick to bite.
The challenge to the fellas is part of United24’s quest to assemble a fleet of 100 sea drones, following what Ukraine says was a strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in October exclusively using unmanned vessels.
It only took a few weeks for the fellas to raise the $250,000 (£205,000) needed for one such drone, which they have duly named Raccoon’s Revenge.
Why that name? It’s kind of a long tail.
As Russian forces prepared to retreat from the city of Kherson in the face of Ukrainian offensives last month, bizarre footage surfaced appearing to show animals being stolen from the local zoo, including a raccoon.
Since then, “The Raccoon of Kherson” has become something of a celebrity on Russian social media and has been used as a mascot by Russian paratroopers.
Clearly the fellas believe that the raccoon has not forgotten its Ukrainian roots, and the moniker Raccoon’s Revenge defeated names including HMS Bonquerer and Aqua Bonker 9000 in a recent poll of more than 11,000 people.
Money raised by NAFO fellas helping Ukraine
“I was partial to HMS Bonqueror myself, but Racoon’s Revenge was the community choice,” US Army veteran and current fella Pete told Sky News.
He added: “If a Russian warship gets taken out by a drone crowdfunded by NAFO, that might be hard to top as far as humour in this war goes.
“And with the thousands of mortar and artillery shells, dozens of vehicles and artillery pieces we’ve sponsored, and all the rest, that’s a pretty high bar to clear.”
Pete also helps run the forge – the team of designers who create custom ‘fella’ avatars for people who donate to Ukraine.
He added: “I’d like to highlight the fellas in the forge who are responsible for making the diverse, highly creative profile pics for donation.
“Without them, this whole thing is impossible. They’re truly the glue that holds this together, and without them, Kama and I would have been unable to keep up.”
NAFO have already raised huge sums – a million dollars by some counts – for the Ukrainian military and their tongue-in-cheek humour has proved popular online.
Their slogans and fellas are appearing everywhere, including painted on a 2S7 Pion self-propelled gun named “Super Bonker 9,000”.
United24 said on Twitter: “You did it, you magnificent doggos!
“As of this morning, $255,546 for the #NAFOdrone has been raised!
“Thank you to every fella for making this happen, for every #nafofleet, every donation. Raccoon’s Revenge is non-negotiable, thanks to each one of you.”
What are sea drones useful for?
So what are naval drones like the Raccoon’s Revenge, and have they been used in the war before?
Russia says that 16 maritime drones were involved in the attack on its Black Sea fleet near the Crimean port of Sevastopol in October, with two ships suffering damage.
United24 claims that three Russian vessels were damaged, including the flagship Admiral Makarov.
The naval drones being funded through United24 are 5.5 metres long, have a range of up to 800km (500 miles) and can carry a combat load of up to 200kg.
Missiles fired from Russian warships have been part of Moscow’s destruction of Ukraine’s power networks that has plunged cities into darkness – so Ukraine hopes that naval drones can disrupt the ships.
Speaking to Sky News previously, US Army Lieutenant Colonel and drone warfare expert Paul Lushenko said maritime drones are “just another axis of approach” to target Russian assets.
“There’s only so many target acquisition systems on even these exquisite boats these days.
“And so when you have a swarming of capabilities, how do you prioritise targets?”