Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the first major European land war since World War II. It is also the first fully wired conflict of the social-media era, which means there are a multitude of new ways to glean and transmit information about the militaries and governments involved. This also means there are a multitude of new ways to affect the war’s course, or at least try. Even some kid sitting in an Orlando dorm room, 5,600 miles away from Kyiv, can play a part.
An unfortunate truth about wars is that teenagers have been fighting and dying in them ever since they began, including on both sides in Ukraine today. But Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old who attends the University of Central Florida, has found a way to contribute from the safety of the U.S. Last month, two days after missiles started flying and Russian troops crossed the border, Jack created a Twitter bot that tracks the movements of private jets owned by the country’s oligarchs—the wealthy business people surrounding President Vladimir Putin who help keep him in power and, in the process, grow even richer.
It’s nice work if you can get it. Or was. Among the sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and other countries opposed to the war—i.e. most of the world—has been the freezing of oligarchs’ assets outside of Russia: their bank accounts, their homes, and anything else they own. They tend to park a lot of money in countries like the U.S., the U.K., and France, which they view as more economically stable than their own.
But as President Joe Biden vowed in his recent State of the Union Address, speaking to Russian elites, “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.” The hope is that Russian elites will turn against Putin and persuade him to change course, or even shove him out of office. (Perhaps literally: people in disfavor have an unfortunate habit of falling from windows in Putin’s Russia.)
So Jack Sweeney’s jet-tracking bot, besides being a source of annoyance for oligarchs, who generally like their privacy, is potentially a tool. “I think it’s helpful,” he told The Times of London. Pitching further in, he launched a second bot to track oligarchs’ super-luxury yachts, the kinds with discos and helipads. “I just kept getting more and more people in my direct messages saying, ‘Can you do the yachts, too?’ So I did it,” he verbally shrugged in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Jack, who is studying information technology, created an algorithm that synthesizes publicly available data from safety devices on planes and large boats. “People want to know where these things are, what these people own—and they own some big stuff,” he told the Times. “I put it all in one place.”
It’s not clear whether world governments are taking advantage of Jack’s work, but last week German officials essentially seized a yacht owned by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian billionaire who controls a bunch of mining and tech companies. His boat—the Dilbar, named after his mom; awww—is the fourth-longest yacht in the world, and the largest in terms of gross tonnage. It’s said to have cost $600 million. Right now it’s docked in a Hamburg shipyard, but here’s a thought: Why not sail it over to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, where it could serve as a floating hospital to replace the maternity and children’s hospital that Russia bombed on Wednesday? —Bruce Handy
The Great Escape
In war-torn Ukraine, an 11-year-old boy set off on an arduous journey. Since Russia invaded the country last week, more than two million Ukranians have fled their home to find safety. While many families are making the dangerous journey together, the young boy, who remains unnamed for his privacy, is doing it alone.
The boy lives in Zaporizhzhya, a city in the southeastern region of Ukraine. He and his family have followed the Russian invasion with growing apprehension. Increasingly, Russian shelling has targeted civilians, and evacuation corridors are becoming overcrowded. On Friday, the danger came even closer to the boy as Russian troops took over Zaporizhzhya’s nuclear power plant, which is the largest in Europe.
The boy’s mother and grandmother can’t travel. “I was sick, I couldn’t leave my mum” his mother told The Times. “She can’t move independently.” With violence increasing, it became clear that the 11-year-old needed to leave Ukraine. “I put my son in the direction of the Slovakian border,” she explained. “In [that] small country live people with big hearts.”
He set off on the 700-mile trek to Slovakia, where he has extended family, in just a dark blue jacket, jeans, and sneakers. He carried his passport in a plastic bag. On his hand, his mother hurriedly wrote a phone number to call when he reached Slovakia.
For days, the young boy lived off food scraps strangers gave him. Despite President Vladimir Putin’s endless shelling, he kept going.
When he eventually made it to the Slovakian border, officials were touched by his innocence. A spokesman for the Slovakian Ministry of the Interior published a message online praising the boy: “He won everyone over with his smile, fearlessness and determination, worthy of a true hero.”
Upon the boy’s arrival, policemen and civilians made sure he was warm and well-fed. Using the number on his hand, police contacted his relatives, who live in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. They quickly picked up the boy and took him home.
Hopefully, the boy’s mother and grandmother will join him soon. —Elena Clavarino
Cross to Bear
Bored of your desk job? Underpaid and overworked? Well, consider the days of scrolling through endless job listings over, because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has just the career for you: grizzly bear conflict manager.
Based in Montana, the position offers a yearly salary of up to $103,176 and the priceless opportunity to spend your days in beautiful mountain ranges. Tasks include the “trapping, chemical immobilization, monitoring, conflict prevention, and relocation efforts” of grizzly bears. Don’t worry, you’ll have a team of two to four people working under you to help capture the bears, who can weigh more than 600 pounds.
Luckily, the “conflict” in the job title doesn’t refer to spars between bears. Rather, the position is to resolve conflicts between bears and humans.
Grizzly bears are an endangered species, with just 58,500 of them in Canada and the U.S. Thanks to the work of conservationists, that number is increasing, especially in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. But human populations in those areas are growing, too, and farmers and locals are becoming wary of their new neighbors.
Human-bear conflict is up in North America, according to Kim Titchener, a researcher who teaches bear safety in Alberta, Canada. Grizzly bears fatally attacked four people last year. “In some cases these incidents were wrong place, wrong time,” she told The Times of London. “Others could have possibly been prevented if people had more awareness of bear safety.”
To resolve the issue, Republican legislators in Montana want to let people hunt grizzlies again, a practice banned since 1991. Democrats prefer a softer approach, like using better fencing for livestock and telling campers to avoid keeping food in their tents. The bear whisperer position is the state’s newest approach to the problem.
Grizzly-bear manager isn’t a role for everyone. It’s an in-the-field role that requires the use of boats and small aircrafts, as well on-foot navigation in rocky terrains. As the job listing states, it demands “extended periods of camping in tents or cabins in remote field camps.” Plus, “the incumbent may be subject to large numbers of biting insects.” The manager might even encounter a moose while on duty.
The good news? Wrestling with a bear “is not required or encouraged.” —Bridget Arsenault