Woman-led 'Dattalion' in Ukraine documents Russian invasion with citizen videos: 'Show the world the horrors'

Member of Ukraine’s ‘Data Battalion’ group on mission to document Russian invasion footage

Lily of the ‘Dattalion,’ or ‘Data Battalion,’ discusses the civilian-led effort in Ukraine to create a free database of videos and photos documenting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s invasion, citizens across the country describe themselves as more united than ever and eager to help in any way they can, including in what one Ukrainian named Lily calls the “digital war.”

Her group, called “Dattalion” and led by some of Ukraine’s top professional women, isn’t shooting down planes but rather is fighting a different kind of battle by documenting the bloody war, day by day. 

One of the Dattalion’s leaders, going by “Mariya” instead of her real name for security purposes, told Fox News Digital the mission is simple: Tell the world the truth about what’s happening in Ukraine through the power of images.

“Basically we are fighting against Russia with data, with information, and we want to show to the world about what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine, what they are doing to our kids, what they are doing to our elderly, what they are doing to our homes,” Mariya said. “It is a database primarily of videos but also of photos taken by civilian Ukrainians, ordinary people with their smartphones.”

The Dattalion, a combination of the words “Data Battalion,” was founded on Feb. 27, just three days after Russia launched its invasion, and it has thus far uploaded more than 1,000 videos and photos to its database from ordinary citizens. Updated several times per day, it’s organized by day and region and provides the date and locations of the videos and images sent to them of the war, such as the maternity hospital bombed in Mariupol last week, bloodied civilians dazed from Russian shelling, and children being rescued and evacuated. The team has regional groups who work to verify footage as authentic.

Rescuers work next to a building damaged by air strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in central Kharkiv, Ukraine March 14, 2022.
(REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi)

Lily, who recently returned to Ukraine from Poland after driving a truck full of humanitarian supplies back across the border, said Russia was trying to “fool all the world” with its propaganda machine, which has blamed “neo-Nazis” for the violence and claimed Ukraine was responsible for a recent Russian shelling attack on Kharkiv that killed dozens of civilians.

“It is very important,” Lily said of the Dattalion’s work. “All the information that comes from Russia, it’s all fake … They are trying to fool all the world, and they’ve already done it with their people. That’s why we want to spread truth to the world, and video and information is our weapon actually, and video and posts, marketing campaigns is our tools, so this is what we know how to do.”

Given it was formed mere days after the invasion began last month, Lily said it had quickly become a cohesive organization. It has more than 100 volunteers and is growing by the day. It has an active social media presence and encourages journalists, politicians and others around the world to access its files. Meanwhile, the Dattalion’s members have coped with hacking attacks and personal threats, in addition to the immense stress of seeing their country invaded and fearing the deaths of loved ones.

“We never sought this, but when we looked at our volunteers, why our volunteers are so passionate about this project because every day they are losing something, and they want to show to the world the horrors,” Mariya said.

Lily said she often cries before editing the footage she reviews. Mariya grew emotional as she recounted the war’s effect on her own family. As of Friday, the United Nation’s office of Human Rights said it has recorded 42 children dead among the 579 civilians killed, with 54 more children wounded among the 1,002 civilians injured.

“I’ve never ever in my life imagined me or my family or anyone would go through this,” she said. “I could never ever imagine my kids would hear some loud sounds and would shake.”

Dattalion leader "Mariya" with her family.

The cataloguing effort is their way of contributing and ensuring Ukraine’s crisis is crystal-clear to the rest of the globe. From data collection to input to video editing to communications, there are a variety of roles for the Dattalion’s members, many of whom before the invasion held business and other leadership positions inside Ukraine.

Another member, going by “Marina” and currently in Austria, said she felt “guilty” about not being back in Ukraine, but she was gladdened by the sense of national unity in the wake of the invasion.

“You want to help your country,” she told Fox News Digital. “I believe that never, ever in the history of Ukraine, we never felt so united, we never felt so in love with a country … [If] you had bad relationship with a [fellow Ukrainian], it’s all in the past. You’re just united to do something to help.

“The only weapon that we have is our MacBook or the Internet and our smartphones. This is how we fight, how we help the world to tell the truth. It’s painful. It’s painful to see what’s going on. You cannot just stand by, and you cannot right now only think about yourself. It’s the place where we want to live, and everyone is trying to bring even a small piece. What we are doing at Dattalion, it’s not a small piece. It’s a huge piece.”

Multiple members told Fox News Digital they wanted the U.S. and NATO allies to “close the skies,” the term Ukrainians use for implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s airspace. The U.S. has been hesitant to take that step thus far, as shooting down a Russian plane could spark a hot war ensnaring the world’s nuclear powers.

“We will fight to the end, but we need some help, and the best thing the world should do is close the sky,” Mariya said. “We will do all others. We will fight back, and we will crush them, and we will fight for our land. We just need to protect civilians.”

A damaged building is seen, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 14, 2022.
(REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn)

The Dattalion site features a counting clock for how long the war has gone on since Russia’s invasion last month, but the “digital war” could go on past the end of the kinetic part of the conflict. Beyond continuing to keep the world informed of the conditions on the ground in some of Ukraine’s bombed-out cities and towns, the database could also be a tool in the future of proving war crimes and atrocities by Russian forces, members say.

“The fact is that we’ve seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would, under the Geneva Conventions, constitute a war crime,” State Dept. spokesperson Ned Price said last week.

Price’s comment comes after several widely reported instances of Russian troops appearing to commit war crimes including bombing the maternity ward, which the Kremlin has denied, and killing fleeing civilians.

As more of the footage comes in from Kyiv, Irpin, Kharkiv, and elsewhere in the war-torn nation, the Dattalion will continue its difficult work.

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“I feel a bit guilty that I have only two hands, one head, and two legs,” Marina said.

Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller and Stephen Sorace contributed to this report.

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