At 5 a.m. on Thursday, February 24th, 21-year-old OnlyFans creator Lilu Miller was jolted awake in her Kyiv apartment by shrieking air-raid sirens and the thundering sound of explosions. “I immediately realized that Russia had started the war, and that this was the point of no return,” she tells me. “I ran out into the street to my car with a small suitcase and my beloved cat, and fortunately managed to pick up my relatives. Then we just drove, even though we didn’t know where we were going. When we were driving, we saw a lot of military equipment and could hear explosions everywhere. It was terrible.”
Miller is one of hundreds of thousands of Kyiv residents who have been forced to flee their homes in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week. After escaping the capital — and leaving behind her friends and “all the things that connected [her] with this city” — Miller is now living in a house with her family in a “small downtrodden village” in Ukraine, the name of which, she says, “doesn’t even make sense to speak.” Although the house has basic amenities and the village is physically undisturbed by the war, she says she often hears explosions and the roar of fighter jets flying overhead.
Amid the brutal destruction and distressing upheaval, Miller has halted posting new content to her OnlyFans, instead using the platform to inform her subscribers of her plight and to ask for their support. “I am more or less safe,” she wrote on February 28th, shortly after arriving at the village, “but terrible things are still happening in many cities of Ukraine. I ask everyone who is not indifferent to everything that’s happening to support my people, my army, and, of course, me.” She appears to have received $50 in tips from this post.
Miller’s plea to her OnlyFans subscribers wasn’t the only one. Many creators who have been affected by the war have joined her in taking to the platform to share their experiences of the unjust horrors being inflicted on Ukraine — and to ask for help. On February 25th, cosplay creator Sai Westwood wrote to her subscribers: “I don’t want to be political here, but you must know that the war has come to my home. It feels like a nightmare, and I don’t know what the future [holds]. I will try to post content, but you must understand that the situation is critical. I will be appreciate [sic] if you wanna help me and give additional support.” Yesterday, she made another post, this time telling her fans that she and her family have joined the estimated 800,000 Ukrainian citizens leaving the country. “I want you to know that I am safe,” Westwood said. “I hope one day I can return to my home.”
Others have taken to platforms like Twitter to seek financial aid, where their appeals are likely to catch more eyes. Several cosplay stars, including Venus Blessing, Katsumi, Sakushi Sama and Mizuki, announced their hiatus from OnlyFans on the social media site, urging their Twitter followers to support them with money. “I hope you are well, my beautiful goddess,” one fan responded to a tweet by Blessing. “I wish I could do something for you (apart from money), but I think that’s all I can do, since I live on the other side of the world. I hope you and your loved ones come out of all of this safe and sound.”
Speaking to me via DM, Mizuki says her subscribers have been “helping [her] in any way they can, with support and money” since she tweeted about the situation in her hometown, Kyiv, last week. “Every day I feel fear for my family and friends,” she says. “I’m afraid to sleep at night because there’s always an air-raid alert.” Mizuki adds that she’ll continue to “periodically tweet what is happening” with her and her family, and is grateful for her fans’ “words of support.”
This use of OnlyFans as a sort of war correspondence site marks a huge shift not only for individuals’ wartime communication and financial relief efforts, but also for sex workers more broadly. That adult creators’ voices are being heard, not just by allies in their own community, but the wider world, is a novel occurrence, as is the fact that they can be directly supported during this time (we saw hints of this during the pandemic, but at not nearly the scale).
It’s easy to see why. OnlyFans isn’t just a porn site, it’s a platform where relationships — at least perceived ones — have currency. Given fans’ dedication to the models they subscribe to and the “intimacy” they share with them, it’s easy to see why they’d want regular updates about the devolving situation from the performers they know and love. The fact that the mood has shifted from sexy to shocking likely only intensifies their desire to tune in, tip and show their support.
Elsewhere, sex workers across the world are also figuring out unique ways to encourage people to donate to Ukrainian citizens and causes. Irish OnlyFans star Megan offered free subscriptions to anyone (with proof) who donated to a “verified Ukrainian charity.” Although this technique has been praised in the past — most notably in January 2020, when sex workers across the world sold nudes in exchange for donations to fundraisers helping with the Australian wildfires — Megan’s charitable efforts appeared to be denounced by some. Just hours after announcing the offer, Megan tweeted: “Going to go back to taking proper subs for OnlyFans, I was genuinely just trying to do something good, I’m sorry, and I’m glad a few hundred was donated to various Ukraine charities.” She added: “Just not worth people taking it the wrong way. If it was any other business doing it, nothing would be said. I just hate being powerless and wanted to help.”
OnlyFans itself hasn’t directly spoken out about the war, but it has gestured its support by changing its logo to blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag — a move that’s been criticized in comparison to tangible actions by other sites like JustForFans, which increased creators’ payouts to 100 percent. According to UkraineDAO, a new community donation platform co-established by Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova, OnlyFans did donate approximately $1.5 million in cryptocurrency. (OnlyFans’ owner Leonid Radvinsky is Ukrainian-American.) This made up part of the $4.2 million raised by UkraineDAO in just three days, and was given to Come Back Alive, a Ukraine-based military charity.
However, OnlyFans also quietly responded to the war by locking Russian creators out of their accounts, blocking their access to their own earnings. Despite the decision being reversed on February 27th, an OnlyFans spokesperson told Rolling Stone that it was made because of “worldwide financial restrictions” imposed on Russia, meaning the platform has “very limited methods to pay creator accounts linked to Russia and Belarus.” While financial sanctions have been imposed on Russia, OnlyFans’ failure to warn creators about the upcoming freeze on their accounts has led many to question whether the platform was simply punishing Russia’s citizens — many of whom do not support the invasion of Ukraine — for Putin’s actions. One creator told Rolling Stone that she lost about $8,000 of her earnings during the lockdown of Russia-based accounts.
Nevertheless, for many Ukrainian creators, OnlyFans has provided a platform to speak out about the war, and seek financial help at a time when their usual way of earning is temporarily unviable. “I used my OnlyFans to convey to people from all over the world what terrible things are happening because of the inadequate tyrant Putin,” says Miller, “so they will go to rallies and support Ukraine. I am very grateful to many of my subscribers who sincerely worry and constantly offer their help, send money and write [heartwarming] words in support of me and my people. I am really proud of every person who has not remained indifferent during this terrible time for my people.”