The news from the war in Ukraine tends to focus on physical battles, but there’s another front in the conflict that gets less attention: the tubes of the internet. Russia’s overall strategy involves a vast disinformation campaign, but over the last year, an army of shitposters has started fighting back. It’s a loosely organized but extremely online coalition that calls itself NAFO — short for the North America Fellas Organization — and it’s fighting a meme war against the Russian invasion.
NAFO is less of a group than a movement, united by a distaste for Russian propaganda and a love of “fellas,” which are crudely photoshopped Shiba Inus (aka doges) dressed as Ukrainian soldiers. Like most things on the internet, NAFO started as a joke when an artist named Kama started giving out fellas as a reward for charitable donations. But it quickly blossomed into something much bigger, and somehow more serious.
NAFO (or OFAN, if you prefer the French acronym) fights its disinformation counter-offensive in the comments by shaming propagandists, galvanizing Ukraine supporters, and raising money for charity. It’s an effective strategy. Last summer, NAFO memers ran Russian diplomat Mikhail Ivanovich entirely off Twitter.
Major government figures have taken notice. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has reposted NAFO memes and thanked the group for their service. The legion of self-identified fellas includes US Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. US Army Major General Patrick J. Donahoe even used a fella as his Twitter avatar for a while.
NAFO is a bit hard to define. It has a website (and merch), but there’s no organized leadership. Instead, its extremely online adherents hang out on Discord, Reddit, Twitter, and other channels, landing on their strategy, if you can call it that, through collective action. But rest assured, wherever there’s Russian propaganda, NAFO is watching, and if you call the fellas with the #NAFO hashtag, you can expect them to come knocking on your post.
There’s some speculation (promoted by Russian trolls and propaganda outlets) that NAFO is a CIA funded psy-op, but most credible observers recognize it as a grassroots movement. Regardless, the fellas don’t seem to mind. On an internet that often feels bleak, NAFO is proof that posters can still come together to make something great, or at least something funny and quasi-purposeful.
A year into NAFO’s meme-ing, there are countless examples of fellas fighting on the front lines, standing proud next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and shedding tears of joy at the sight of missile launches. NAFO even raised money and paid the Ukrainian military to paint their memes on a tank, now affectionately known as the Superbonker 9000.
If you want to become a fella, there’s a simple initiation ritual. Donate to Ukraine and send proof to NAFO’s hotline, and they’ll make you a custom fella of your very own.
Click through for some examples of NAFO’s finest memes.