In a strange series of events, a Pro-Russian propagandist with a substantial online following has been exposed as an aquarium store worker from New Jersey.
Sarah Bils, a 37-year-old former US Navy veteran was revealed to be living a double life as the popular ‘Donbass Devushka’, a fake persona that claimed at various times to be a Russian Jew born in Luhansk during the Soviet Era, as someone who immigrated to the USA at an early age, and as someone born in Gaza. None of these claims were true.
Emerging after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Donbass Devushka soared to reasonable heights of popularity across Twitter, YouTube and Telegram, raising money for the Russian cause. With a ham Russian accent, she amassed a massive 135,000 subscribers to her podcasts. Despite several of her Twitter accounts being suspended, she continued to attract followers.
So, how does this tie in to aquaria? Well, when not raising money for Russia, she also ran Cascade Aquatics in New Jersey. She was an avid and well-respected enthusiast of tropical fish, which eventually led to her exposure. After appearing on a 2020 episode of the Aquarium Co-op podcast, Bils’ activity was exposed by the North Atlantic Fella Organisation (NAFO), a group devoted to combating disinformation and raising funds for Ukraine—her home décor and voice was compared with Donbass Devushka broadcasts, and the connection made.
While the dissemination of disinformation is a legally cloudy area in the US, the Donbass Devushka Telegram account purportedly played a role in the spreading of intelligence documents leaked by a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, Jack Teixeira, who has subsequently been arrested by the FBI.
For an in-depth investigation of this story, check out: https://malcontentment.com/a-russian-disinformation-empire-in-oak-harbor-washington/