Marta, 24, presents herself as a pansexual and completely free adult dating site pangender displaced person who works as a tattoo artist: “I am looking for friends from the LGBT community from all over Europe. I am Ukrainian and we are living in war. I would be grateful for any support. I can make a tattoo for you.” Many profiles contain the hashtags #stoprussianaggresion and #standwithukraine.
Dasha, a 25-year-old graphic design student from Lviv, set the passport function to go virtually to Moscow with a political goal: to help local activists tell Russians how Ukrainians are living by sending images of death and destruction. “Russians are brainwashed by their television, they don’t know how things are,” she says. After the first profile picture that shows her lying barefoot on a lawn, the following images show a Ukrainian city devastated by the war. In its bio, a paragraph written in Cyrillic, in blue on a yellow background, reads: “Please do not turn around: close the skies, not your eyes” (the reference is to the request, also made by the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, to NATO countries for a no-fly zone over Ukraine).
But it is mostly foreign men, it seems, who are changing their location to meet Ukrainian women in this time of war. And Tinder’s ease of use, combined with the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the Russian invasion, is allowing the app to function as a politically neutral entity – connecting warring Ukraine with liberal, democratic-minded nations but also sexually repressive regimes, circumventing any censorship.
“I know I’m easy prey for guys looking for fun, but I can defend myself without problems,” Alyona, 26, who uses Google translator to communicate, tells us.
For now, she is in Lviv, but is ready to leave for Poland and from there to reach Barcelona, a city she has always loved
Many people have swiped right on her profile to make superficial proposals, or using an almost predatory tone, but one man convinced her by offering a hotel where she will be alone for a few days, waiting to get to know each other better and maybe take a next step. Not only that, this person also put her in touch with a friend who lives in a small town in Catalonia. “I have some money saved up from my job as a beautician, and if I see that the situation doesn’t work for me, I can handle it on my own,” she said.
Alyona and her friend Svetlana both posted the same message on the dating app when they fled their home in Sumy, a city of about 260,000 people located in northeastern Ukraine, just a few kilometers from the Russian border
One of our first chats in the app was with a 22-year-old woman from Kyiv who, right after we matched, wrote to us: “I urgently need to leave Kyiv and I am in financial difficulty. I’m embarrassed to ask, but maybe you can help me?”, leaving us her IBAN code. When we attempted to carry on with the conversation, she disappeared.
Many people in Europe are eager to do something for the Ukrainian cause, but sponsoring a refugee through a platform that has always been associated with sex has its risks for those in a state of emotional and material fragility. Irina, a 33-year-old nurse from Odessa with two children, tells us she is in contact with a family of four from Bristol who are willing to host her.
But Brits who want to host refugees for free must fill out dozens of pages of forms. So the lengthiness of the system transforms Tinder into a tool used by ill-intentioned people. “I have already been contacted by a couple of men who invited me to England offering me a plane ticket, and promising me to do all the paperwork, but as soon as I asked for more information they deleted me from their contacts”, says Irina.