'For Mother': Ukraine's Military Goes Hollywood to Fill Budget Gap

With the protracted conflict in Ukraine's east between government forces and pro-Russian separatists straining the former Soviet state's finances, the Ukrainian government is turning to the public to boost military recruitment and shore up its budget.

Military salaries are low and the army has reportedly struggled to feed its own troops. According to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry, the military has an approximate $247 million hole in its budget that it is struggling to fill. The Ukrainian government is experimenting with ways to replenish its coffers, which the IMF propped up with a $17 billion loan.

Kiev is planning to temporarily institute a 1.5 percent tax dedicated to funding its armed forces. And Ukrainian TV and YouTube channels are teeming with government- and private sector-produced sentimental commercials attempting to tap into rising Ukrainian patriotism by asking for donations and pushing for military enlistment.

One of the videos is modeled after a Budweiser commercial produced for the American military during the Iraq War. Both spots are of soldiers receiving a standing ovation in a busy airport. However, unlike the American version, featuring soldiers returning home, the Ukrainian ad is of government soldiers leaving for the front lines. The clip ends with a plea to help the armed forces by calling the number shown and making a donation.

Another video features a young soldier leaving for eastern Ukraine at an airport where he notices an older veteran and the two men exchange salutes. The video, originally produced by the online news channel Espresso TV, was picked up by major Ukrainian news channels, such as Channel 5, and has reached nearly 60,000 views on YouTube in less than a week. 

Two other videos try to pull at the heartstrings of Ukrainians. One, produced by the TV channel STB, plays up the fraternity and belonging found in the military. The featured soldier composes a video message to his mother back home, saying, "Hi, Mom. Do you remember when I asked you for a brother? Now I have 22 of them." The commercial goes on to dramatize training exercises and closes with a voice saying, "The army is an honor for those who serve and for those who wait."

The armed forces' PR campaign targets Ukrainian mothers, too. One video features soldiers reporting and sounding off in an army barracks. However, the mother of one of the young soldiers, visibly upset, approaches the gate and offers her son a bag of home-cooked food. Embarrassed, the soldier stares at his mother and then stares forward until his commander announces, "For Mother!" All the soldiers then turn and acknowledge the crying woman. The commercial ends by explaining how to make a donation.



Video of Hamas Raid Shows Why Israel Is So Freaked Out About Gaza Tunnels

Three weeks into deadly fighting in Gaza and along its border, Israeli forces have been surprised to encounter an extensive, sophisticated tunnel system that has been used by Hamas to infiltrate Israeli territory and carry out raids. The destruction of that tunnel system has become a focal point of Israeli military operations, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emphasized that any cease-fire must allow his forces to continue identifying and sealing those tunnels.

To understand why these tunnels have become such a hot-button issue, one need look no further than a video released by Hamas by Tuesday, July 29. That video shows a group of fighters exiting such a tunnel and attacking an Israeli military installation. They appear to kill at least one Israeli soldier, though the combat footage is chaotic and not entirely clear. The fighters also make off with an X95 rifle, a sophisticated machine gun used by the Israel Defense Forces.

One can see why the tunnels have become such a focal point for Israeli leaders. They allow Hamas to bypass Israel's border defenses to literally burst out of the ground to stage surprise attacks that are unpredictable in scope and location.

Robust Israeli defenses, from the construction of the security wall to the Iron Dome missile defense system, have mostly succeeded in preventing attacks within Israel proper. The tunnel system is the first time in recent years that Israeli forces are facing a weapon against which they have no immediate response -- and one that leaves many Israeli civilians terrified that they could be the next targets.

Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images