In Handy 15:28 30 Jan 2023

Volunteering in occupied territories: how to make your phone safe

Despite the danger in the temporarily occupied territories, volunteers continue to help: deliver food, medicine, and clothing, resist and pass on important information to the Armed Forces. On occasion, the occupiers carefully check phones in search of pro-Ukrainian correspondence, photos, or even affiliation with international organizations. In such conditions, it is essential to protect oneself as much as possible from possible suspicions or aggression on the part of the occupiers.

What is the problem?

Volunteering in the occupied territories is very risky: there is a constant danger of getting "to the basement" or captured. Most of the volunteers in the temporarily occupied territories deliver food and medicine to cities, neighboring villages, and entire districts.

Among them was Yaroslav Zhuk, who was kidnapped by the russian occupiers in Melitopol on June 17, 2022. For two months, he was tortured in the basement with the use of an electric current and a blowtorch. After making false confessions under duress, Yaroslav was forcibly taken to Crimea, where he is still being held in one of the Simferopol pre-trial detention centers.

Kherson activist Nakhmet Ismailov also went through a beating in the basement because he volunteered. According to him, the occupiers did not like those who helped. russian soldiers broke into the man's home and then took him to an unknown destination. Nakhmet was kept in the basement for five hours and was beaten and tortured with electric currents all this time. Then the volunteer was taken back home, and his phone was tapped for another two months.

Unfortunately, there are many similar stories now. Occupying this or that city, the russians organize real hunts for people with an open pro-Ukrainian position. As soon as they find confirmation of the volunteer activity of the "suspect" on their phone, volunteers find themselves in danger.

волонтерство, війна

What is the solution?

Together with the Ukrainian Volunteer Service within the framework of the "Blyzki" project, we have collected some tips that will help you stay safe in case of such inspections.

  • "Clean" your phone as much as possible. Delete:
    • all information about yourself as an activist from social networks and the Internet;
    • contacts of people you do not know from your social networks;
    • information, shared posts, and mentions of your loved ones on social networks;
    • photos related to volunteering or activism, and also check the "Deleted" folder on your gadget so that the information does not remain there;
    • correspondence, search history, and site visits, as well as browser cache;

If necessary, set the automatic deletion of messages. Do not forget to turn off the creation of backup copies of chats in messengers. You can use voice messages if you are discussing something with other volunteers. Delete them from both sides after listening to the message. However, it is important not to delete everything completely because this can cause suspicion.

  • Be careful on your social networks:
    • close your pages and make them private;
    • publish posts about help not immediately, but in a few days or weeks, change the geolocation;
    • you can switch to publishing posts in russian to reduce attention to you;
    • use blur for backgrounds in photos;
    • use Signal, Threema messengers, or secret Telegram chats to communicate, if possible, communicate by voice instead of text messages.

телефон волонтера

It is worth considering that the russians may suspect you of communicating with the Ukrainian military if they see the Signal application on your phone.

Hide your internet activity with VPN services such as Psiphon, Tunnelbear, also Clear VPN (promo code for a year for the latter: SAVEUKRAINE). If the Psiphon website or the download link is blocked or censored, you can send a request to [email protected] to have it emailed to you. If you don't have a working VPN, use a TOR browser that only protects your browser traffic; instead, a VPN encrypts all traffic of all apps and services on your device. To check if VPN or TOR is working, open 2ip.ua and make sure your IP address and location have changed.

  • Do not store phone numbers and contacts of other volunteers, activists, or military personnel. Any contacts of these people may cause their searches by the occupiers. If you need to save important contacts, do not sign them with real names and surnames. Sign in simple and clear words, for example, "Aunt Olena."

As part of the "Blyzki" project, the Ukrainian Volunteer Service works simultaneously in several directions. If you volunteer in front-line, de-occupied, or temporarily occupied territories, you can do the following free of charge:

If you have any questions, contact the project email: [email protected]


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