As more people announce their intent to support Ukraine by assisting with humanitarian aid at the borders or defending the country from the advance of Russian armed forces, the potential for scams grows ever higher. Already, many stories of traveling to the region to join the fight have raised suspicion. But a few lads from Ireland who have raised over €2,400 on GoFundMe — supposedly for refugees — have caused an especially bizarre scandal with their deceptions.
Until he pivoted to “helping” Ukraine, Derek Moran’s TikTok account was a source of horny videos in which he posed shirtless, bit his lip suggestively, asked for dates and bandied about a lot of sexual innuendo. Then he started promoting the GoFundMe with clips where he spoke somberly on the suffering of those displaced by war, to the accompaniment of sounds such as “Sad Emotional Piano.” By March 12th, he was claiming to be in Poland with his friends, and shared a message from the inside of a tent. On Facebook, he shared a number of photos he’d allegedly taken in the country — but these were easily traced to other sources, and one even had a watermark. He later deleted these. The Irish Independent ran an article on him, with the headline “Dundalk Man Ready to Fight in Ukraine,” but that soon vanished as well.
All this, taken with some videos of the guys “training,” which you can find on another group member’s TikTok page, triggered speculation that they were just camping together in a forested area of Ireland.
Even stranger, the mustachioed man pictured above is a known internet character named Stephen Harris who calls himself the “Lord Mayor of Leixlip.” (It’s a town not far outside Dublin.) His content mostly pertains to drinking, pub culture and being an all-around wild man, but several months ago, he sought to crowdfund a supposed “diplomatic mission” to North Korea. That effort raised about €700, well short of a €69,000 goal.
Several videos shared on TikTok and Instagram documented the stunt, though it’s unclear if Harris ever left Ireland — particularly as his original Instagram account was banned, and his TikTok page has also disappeared. In an interview around that time, he said he was quarantined in a South Korean hotel. More recently, he posted a photo of a plane ticket to Rzeszów, a city in southeastern Poland, shared Derek Moran’s GoFundMe and asked for donations to a separate account in his own name.
Moran, meanwhile, has taken aim at his doubters — “It’s absolutely disgusting that I have to prove were i am to these disgusting people,” he wrote on Facebook on March 16th — and begun to share photos and videos that do appear to place him on the Poland-Ukraine border.
Still, it’s difficult to say if he’s doing much besides documenting long lines and posing with refugees. He’s also shifted his focus from military action to rescue operations, saying that he has gotten families out of Lviv, Ukraine, and brought them back into Poland. He’s even gone so far as to report the death of a young girl after she’d made it into the country.
But the details are sketchy to nonexistent, the updates written in a fractured style and a few of Moran’s comments are easily disproved. He wrote, for example, that the GoFundMe had been shut down — when in fact it has remained continually active since it went live on March 9th, with a steady trickle of donations. Elsewhere, he vowed that he had “not received one penny” of these funds, though in a subsequent video, he said the money was paying for essentials like diapers and baby food.
All this gives a frustrating sense of how difficult it is to separate online self-congratulation from meaningful assistance in this crisis, and the flow of cash to untrustworthy actors instead of humanitarian organizations with oversight and accountability. Whatever the facts on the ground, these lads aren’t telling the whole truth, nor have they apologized or explained their misrepresentations thus far. If they want to make a positive difference, that’s great, but essentially guilting the public into paying them to chase social media clout amid the suffering of war victims… that ain’t it.
They’d do better to rein in the dramatic posts and focus on the work.