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Master Sgt. Valerii Markus is known in Ukraine for his exploits as a soldier, an adventurer, a best-selling author and a social-media phenomenon.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Valerii Markus

The pitch: Raising money for a battalion in the Ukrainian army

Valerii Markus has become one of the most-popular figures in Ukraine owing to his exploits as a soldier, an adventurer, a best-selling author and a social-media phenomenon. He’s also something of a maverick, especially when it comes to the Ukrainian army.

Master Sgt. Valerii Markus was recently asked to form a special battalion and he used his popularity to recruit new members.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

He joined the military 10 years ago and dreamed about becoming an officer. But he grew disillusioned and quit in 2016. “The army at those times disappointed me and frustrated me so much,” he said in a recent interview in Kyiv.

He spent the next few years travelling, writing a popular book called Footprints on the Road and building a massive following online.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, he rejoined the army as a master sergeant. He was recently asked to form a special battalion and he used his popularity to recruit new members. The response to his call to arms was overwhelming and thousands of men applied for 400 positions in the 47th battalion.

Recruits gathered in Kyiv for selection to the new unit led by Master Sgt. Valerii Markus in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 5.ANTON SKYBA/The Globe and Mail

Master Sgt. Markus, 28, said the unit will specialize in hit-and-run strikes. And to ensure that his men are properly equipped, he’s set up a charitable foundation to raise money for extra gear. “Everything which can’t be supplied by the Ministry of Defence, including specific weapons, will be done through donations. People will donate money and we will buy those things for the battalion,” he explained.

He has no qualms about leveraging his popularity for donations and he doesn’t care if other battalions get jealous. “If some other commanders created the conditions that people do not want to serve under their command, that’s their problem, not mine,” he said. “I don’t care about that.”

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