Join the Tinder war: how the dating app is helping fight Russian propaganda and house Ukrainian refugees

By Alma Fabiani

Published Mar 23, 2022 at 12:41 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

It should now come as no surprise that social media is playing a crucial and unprecedented role in the war Russia is currently inflicting on Ukraine. Previously described as a “digital war” that spread online with the help of the social media trend called “video warcore,” it should be noted that not all novel war tactics we’ve witnessed have been negative.

While Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram have all been banned in Russia—leaving citizens even more vulnerable to President Putin’s propaganda—the dating app Tinder still operates normally. This is a blind spot the Russian government seems to have missed when shutting down its citizens’ access to the rest of the world.

If you’re a tiny bit familiar with Tinder—don’t lie, I know you are—you’ve probably noticed its ‘Passport’ feature in the past. For £18 a month, you can set your location to anywhere in the world and match with people from wherever you decide to ‘land’. This opportunity has led many tech-savvy people to use the dating app to fight misinformation in Russia, help Ukrainians find refuge outside of the country and even troll Russian soldiers. Makes you want to take back those few times you said you were done with Tinder, right?

Tinder against Russian propaganda

As initially reported by the online magazine UnHeard, “a Slovakian media agency has launched an initiative called Special Love Operation, which encourages Tinder users to bombard Russian singles with images from the war in Ukraine to show them what’s really going on.”

Led by creative director Alex Strimbeanu and his colleagues at Slovakia-based marketing agency Jandl, the scheme was launched after it had been reported that some Russian soldiers were contacting local Ukrainian women through dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble back in February 2022.

Strimbeanu took to Tinder to spread this message: “Dear Russians, the West does not hate you. We hate the war. We hate the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army is killing innocent people while Putin is lying and hiding the truth from you. Your brothers and sisters are dying because of the madness and delusion of a dictator. Spread the truth. Make love, not war.”

From the conversations he then had with Russians on the app, “it seems that they understand that the war is not OK,” Strimbeanu told The Drum. From there, the agency started encouraging other users to do the same, advising people to change their profile picture to a selfie with a picture of a war-torn Ukrainian city (it provides 12 images) and change their profile description to a paragraph in Cyrillic, which reads: “Please don’t turn away, don’t turn a blind eye—innocent people like you and me are dying in Ukraine. They too wanted love, [to] live and get acquainted—now they sit in basements … lose their loved ones and relatives, freeze.”

Tinder as a way to connect meaningfully with those on the ground in Ukraine

The dating app has also turned into one of the best ways to safely contact Ukrainians stuck on the ground. Many in the West, the UK included, are desperate to help Ukrainian citizens however they can. And for most people, this means offering sponsorship through the government’s refugee scheme—which, let’s be honest, has descended into chaos since its initial announcement.

According to Engadget, since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “more than 2.5 million people have fled the country, making it Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.”

On Tinder, those in the UK keen to sponsor a refugee can easily connect with someone in need of shelter, allowing them to have a “named Ukrainian” to present to the scheme. Once a Visa application has been filled for them, sponsors must offer refugees a minimum of a rent-free six-month stay. In return, they will receive £350 per month.

Reporting on the recent influx of refugees on the dating app, The New York Times recounted the tale of Anastasia Tischchenko. She and her friend Natalia Masechko used Tinder to share their story of when they fled their home of Ivano-Frankivsk.

“I’m thinking there are a lot of honest people in the world, and some of them are on Tinder,” Tischchenko told the publication. After creating her profile, several people swiped right to offer help, including one man who put Tischchenko and Masechko in touch with “a friend of a friend of a friend” who found a monastery the two could sleep in while in Siret, Romania.

“It was very inspiring,” Tischchenko said. After their stay in Siret, she travelled to Poland while her friend Masechko stayed in Romania to help the next wave of refugees.

Tinder to connect with Russian soldiers… and sometimes troll them

While some have used the dating app to simply connect with Russians and hear what they think (and know) about the war—UnHeard writer Zoe Strimpel did so and found that opinions on whether what Putin is doing is justified were split—others reportedly levelled Tinder as a means to ‘trick soldiers’.

Early in the invasion, reports from The Sun described a number of experiences where Ukrainian women suddenly had their phones light up with automated Tinder matches from nearby Russian soldiers waiting across the border to invade. The surreal story recounted Ukrainian women dealing with flirty Russian soldiers just miles away.

At the time, video producer Dasha, 33, told The Sun she lived in Kyiv but changed her location settings to Kharkiv after a friend told her there were Russian troops all over Tinder. “And I couldn’t believe my eyes when they popped up trying to look tough and cool,” she said. “One muscular guy posed up trying to look sexy in bed posing with his pistol. Another was in full Russian combat gear and others just showed off in tight stripy vests.”

Tinder as an unlikely weapon

This modern conflict has highlighted the part that dating apps can play during such events—Tinder went beyond its basic function in a space where other social media were silenced. And as Strimpel wrote, “so long as it’s used carefully, the app could prove to be one of many powerful yet non-violent weapons in this war.”

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