By Sarah Ashton-Cirillo
Jarring as an allegation of murder is, the familiar tone of the Russian tabloid’s announcement added a veneer of humor to their ridiculous and bizarre story about me this week.
Waking up, I saw a message in my DMs congratulating me and clicked to find the headline: “ ‘Sarah, you’re a criminal.’ Transgender mercenary accused of killing prisoner." Reading further, the article concocted a laughable scenario dating back to the September 2022 Ukrainian counter-offensive, one which included pure speculation and blatant lies. In other words, standard Russian “journalism.”
Nearly 13 months after my arrival in Ukraine, this sort of action by Putin’s propagandists no longer surprises or concerns me on a personal level. However, it warrants calling out, as much to mock as to warn, and it’s essential western audiences understand how the Kremlin media apparatus works, even on the most micro levels.
To be accused of murder, and experience the blowback that accompanies such an accusation, is an unfathomable and horrific prospect for an innocent person. In this instance, though, I greeted their finger-pointing with both laughter and pride. Their tactics were not new to me. In April of 2022, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a specific attack against me. A wide variety of Russian-aligned pundits and bloggers, along with tens of thousands of their dedicated trolls, pushed a separate kidnapping and killing story about me. That event reached the shores of the United States when the Dominion voting conspiracist and MAGA adherent, Joe Oltmann, accused me of murder on his popular podcast. I’m currently suing him in US Courts over that particular attack on my integrity and innocence. The Russian agitator I was accused of helping behead showed up alive the next day.
That event affected me much more severely, as it was accompanied by thousands of death threats against me, many of which included rape and torture scenarios. It was also my first time being exposed to the crude methods employed by the enemy against anyone who spoke up for.
When the first fatal fairytale was spun, I was barely known outside of Nevada, with a social media following of around 6,000 on Twitter. I was an independent reporter for a niche news site and very much a civilian. Yet that profile was big enough for the war criminals to focus on and attempt to eliminate my voice. It almost worked. In tears for days afterward and doubting myself for weeks, I nearly left Ukraine in the wake of their evil games.
Since then, having joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine, I’ve been demonized on Russia’s most popular news, show twice, placed on a hunt list, and featured in several Russian newspaper stories as well as on innumerable blogs as an agent of NATO, the CIA, and the “West.” Obviously, I’m still here, and as months have passed, my willingness to expose, destroy, and dismantle the tyrannical regime has only strengthened.
Just like Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, they failed to land their intended blow against their smaller target. And similar to what has happened since, they continue to push in hopes of a breakthrough, only becoming subject to greater scorn and ridicule with each new event and strengthening resolve against them.
As events on both the battlefield and media landscape show, Russia has tried to literally kill me, along with my spirit and my reputation, with every successive attempt landing with less impact. Now with these murder allegations, I realize that to be judged guilty by enemies such as Russia means I’ve truly embraced the values of liberty and democracy.