VILNIUS – As NATO leaders start their two-day summit in Vilnius on Tuesday, billboards at six intersections in the Lithuanian capital show two Ukrainian soldiers sitting on the beach under an umbrella, looking at the destroyed Crimean bridge.
The text above them reads, "Crime Beach Party".
Saint Javelin, a Ukrainian-Canadian social media campaign that uses humor to rally Ukrainian supporters and counter Russian propaganda, thus wants to remind the Alliance that liberating the occupied Crimean Peninsula is crucial to Ukraine's final victory against Russian invasion.
After Ukraine's strike on Russia's air base in Crimea last year, Saint Javelin joked that the Crimean beach party would celebrate Ukraine's victory over the Russians, an idea that soon became a social phenomenon that not only lifted the spirits of Ukraine's supporters but also emphasized that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, after Ukraine's pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by mass protests in Kyiv. The annexation, which followed a referendum that was not recognized by the vast majority of the international community, was condemned by Kyiv and by Western countries and prompting sanctions against Moscow.
Russia is using the peninsula as a launch pad for attacking Ukraine as part of its full-scale invasion of the neighboring country.
"We're trying to make sure that everyone around the world understands that Crimea is more than just a piece of land. This isn't just a 'political' peninsula," Christian Borys, the founder of Saint Javelin, said in a press release.
"It's the place where many Ukrainians spent their youths. It’s the very real homeland of many people who want to return there one day to see their families, their homes, and the land they had to flee when the Russians invaded," he added.
Borys says the campaign aims "to remind the NATO leaders that Crimea is Ukraine, and it means a lot more to a lot of people than just soil".
"It means lives that were broken apart in an instant, and returning it means the opportunity to rebuild those lives," he said.
Saint Javelin, among other things, sells clothes and accessories featuring a stylized religious icon holding a modern weapon used in the fight against the Russian invasion, and donates the proceeds to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Saint Javelin has almost 158,000 followers on Twitter.