One of the largest pro-Kremlin disseminators of disinformation and propaganda, posing online as a Russian Jew from Luhansk, has been revealed to be a divorced middle-aged US Navy veteran from New Jersey. The woman’s identity was confirmed as a result of a joint effort between members of the “North Atlantic Fella Organization” (NAFO), an online community that fights Russian propaganda, and reporters from Malcontent News.
The propagandist with the nickname “Donbass Devushka” [Donbas Girl – The Insider] (at various times she also used the pseudonyms Mila Medvedev, @luganskforlife, CheburekiVibes, MeatballSubZero, YuGopnik, GhostofLugansk) has her own Telegram, Twitter and YouTube channels, where she posts her podcast. As of mid-April 2023, she had about 135,000 subscribers.
On Twitter, Donbass Devushka posted filtered photos of herself and claimed that her name was Mila.
Donbass Devushka's YouTube channel, which has a range of different contributors who record interviews and podcasts, was created in July 2022. The @LuganskforLife account appeared on Twitter a month later.
Members of the NAFO collective cross-referenced photos and other information, eventually discovering that Donbass Devushka’s real name was Sarah Bils, although she had recently officially changed it to a different, more Russian-sounding name. Bils is a former US Navy noncommissioned officer, recently released from active duty, born in the United States and living in Oak Harbor, Washington, near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where she once served.
A March 2011 marriage license showed that Bils was born in Voorhees, New Jersey. Malcontent News reporters spoke with her mother, who was unaware of her daughter's online activity or that she had recently officially changed her name. Bils' parents denied that they were immigrants from Russia or that Bils had any ties to countries in the former Soviet Union, particularly the Russian Federation, Ukraine or the self-proclaimed Luhansk or Donetsk People's Republics.
Bils joined the US Navy in November 2009, according to the US Department of Defense’s Manpower Data Center (DoDMDC). In November 2022, her active duty status with the Navy ended, but the DoDMDC did not list a discharge date. An archive of her LinkedIn page listed her Navy Occupational Specialty (NOS) as Legal Clerk, but did not provide her specialist code or additional details.
Update: After this article was published in Russian on April 16, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bils worked for the US Navy as an “aviation electronics technician.”
On social media, Donbass Devushka claimed that in 2014 she traveled between the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and the Ukrainian city of Luhansk, while the “Kyiv regime” was constantly killing the city’s residents. In reality, Bils was actually in a US courtroom as part of a domestic court case involving her ex-husband in Oak Harbor.
While serving in the Navy on Whidbey Island, Bils ran a store called Cascadia Aquatics, selling tropical fish and specialty foods imported from Poland.
In June 2020, Bils appeared in an already deleted edition of the Aquarium co-op podcast. The video, recorded via Zoom, captured her voice, face and some details about the furnishings in her home. Online open-source investigators focused on all three of these details, linking aspects of Bils’ home decor to her current apartment by matching her face and voice to her alter ego.
On September 14, 2021, the Washington State Patrol reported that an Audi SQ5 driven by Bils struck the back of a Ford Econoline van at high speed as she attempted to turn onto a highway in Coupeville. Bils and the van’s driver were injured and taken to the hospital.
In a Twitter Space with No Experts on Ukraine, a participant claimed that a former Navy co-worker said Bils was dismissed over a drunk driving incident related to the 2021 crash. In a phone conversation, her mother denied Bils facing drunk driving charges. In court records, reporters could not find a previous criminal case in Island County Superior Court against Bils.
Bils herself claims she was “kicked out” of the military because of her “left-wing views.” Former associates expressed concern about Bils’ mental health and called her a habitual liar. Bils’ mother claimed that her daughter often made up stories.
After the car accident, Bils began expressing anti-American views more publicly, posing as Donbass Devushka – a “girl from the Donbas.” She presented herself as an expert on geopolitics and history, including through her page on ResearchGate, which displayed her picture and claimed that she was an online college student at Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies. On social media, she claims to have two degrees, but her archived LinkedIn profile shows one degree from her time in the Navy.
When Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Bils created several Twitter accounts, followed by a Telegram account in April. By the summer of 2022, even though her audience numbered only tens of thousands, she began hosting a podcast in which American propagandists Jackson Hinkle, Scott Ritter, Garland Nixon, and Russian state media journalist Fiorella Isabel were guests. Some of the interviews were recorded while Bils was still on active duty in the Navy. In these podcasts, “Donbass Devushka” carefully imitated a terrible Russian accent, which she occasionally forgot about.
She changed several Twitter accounts, which were blocked for violating community guidelines, before starting to use the old PelmeniPusha account, created in July 2012. Within a year, she had grown a small “disinformation empire” on Twitter and Telegram under her Donbass Devushka brand with the description «a girl and a cat against the world.»
Her Telegram channel publishes large amounts of content banned on Twitter, including memes, fake images, and ultra-violence. Examples of these posts include celebrations of the murder of a retired US Marine who went to Ukraine as a foreign volunteer, videos of dead Ukrainians, and support for a video of a Ukrainian prisoner of war beheaded by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner PMC.
“The activity across these accounts and access to people like Jackson Hinkle, Scott Ritter, and Russian state media journalists indicates that Bils is part of a larger and coordinated organization targeting a Western audience with Russian disinformation, antisemitism, and racism. It is highly unlikely that one person could conduct all of this work independently,» read a Malcontent News report.
A co-host of Bils' podcast is also the person behind the deleted AZ Geopolitics channel. On April 13, they deleted their Telegram and Twitter accounts, saying that their Telegram was subject to massive complaints. On the same day, Bils announced that AZ Geopolitics would align with her personal brand in the future.
In a tangle of posts, videos and graphics, Bils claimed that English was either her third, second or first language. She claimed to have been born and raised in Russia, in eastern Ukraine, and emigrated to the United States as a child. Social media users claimed that she had misappropriated donations intended for the Russian army for her own use. Beals, on the other hand, insisted that she had never declared any monetary donations, and then reported that she had raised a small amount for herself and her work. Nevertheless, numerous posts on her social media profiles show her asking for monetary donations via cryptocurrency, CashApp, and other platforms so she could donate to support Russia.
In January 2023, Airman First Class Jack Teixeira of the Massachusetts National Guard shared hundreds of classified documents on his Discord server. A Bellingcat investigation traced the spread of documents from Teixeira's Discord to 4Chan, Telegram and Twitter. Two versions of the key documents were distributed: one showed that Russian losses far exceeded the ones of Ukraine, and the other, badly edited version, showed the opposite. Belligcat claims that the falsified versions were created by the Telegram channel Donbass Devushka, but Bils denies this claim.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson used an edited version circulated on Donbass Devushka's Telegram channel to claim that Ukraine had a 7-to-1 troop loss ratio and was “losing the war.” The faked versions were spread by pro-Kremlin propagandists, and Donbass Devushka began supporting the well-known Russian pro-war channel Rybar. In November 2022, journalists from independent media outlet The Bell found out that the channel received money from Wagner PMC founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, and could be linked to the FSB.
In a series of tweets and two lengthy Telegram posts, Bils confirmed some details about her past. She also claimed that the administrator of her Telegram channel had shared the top secret documents, and added that the images were deleted after she discovered them and that the person who posted them was “disciplined.” As of April 14, however, images of the documents, and a denial that she had edited them, were still on her Telegram channel.