In response to reporting from Breitbart News, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, an American transgender individual claiming to be a “spokesperson” of the Ukrainian military, has criticised Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Moscow for “focussing on the tired trope of gender chaos” after the Republican lawmaker demanded the Biden administration reveal if Ashton-Cirillo receives any American funding or has ties to U.S. intelligence agencies.
On Sunday, Breitbart News revealed that Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio had written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines after apparent Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces spokesperson Sarah Ashton-Cirillo had warned that Russian propagandists will be “hunted down”.
Senator Vance questioned in his letter whether the government has any information suggesting that the Ukrainians are intent on planning to commit acts of violence against those accused of spreading Russian propaganda, whether Ashton-Cirillo is indeed an American citizen in the employ of the Ukrainian military, and if the individual has any ties to U.S. intelligence services or is receiving American resources. He went on to question on Monday if the Ukrainians planned to “kill people who engage in free speech” and asked about the existence of reported “kill lists”, both of which Ashton-Cirillo dismissed as fabrications of Russian propaganda.
The Ohio Republican told Breitbart News on Sunday: “If the Ukrainians want to hire weirdos to threaten Americans and others for speaking their mind, I guess that’s their right. They shouldn’t use our tax dollars to do it. And we shouldn’t pretend this is a war for freedom when our supposed ally is threatening violence to anyone who opposes the war.”
In a video response to the reporting posted on Monday, Ashton-Crillo claimed to be a “Sergeant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” serving as in the “dual role of spokesperson and Russian disinformation analyst” for the media team of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
Without specifically refuting any connections to the American government or intelligence agencies, Ashton-Crillo said: “Simply put I am an American serving as a Ukrainian infantry soldier and combat medic,” adding: “The remaining speculation surrounding me is disappointing.”
Again, without expressly denying any links Ashton-Crillo added: “I only answer to three groups of people: my Ukrainian commanders, the Ukrainian people, and the American taxpayer,” while thanking the U.S. government and people for the military aid to Ukraine.
Special Ukraine in the Know:
My response to Senator Vance’s letter to the US Secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of National Intelligence asking about my role in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/L6KuHgfyC5
— Sarah Ashton-Cirillo (Ukrainian TDF Media) (@SarahAshtonLV) September 18, 2023
Rather than directly answering the questions laid out by Senator Vance, the apparent Ukrainian spokesperson went on to criticise the lawmaker for engaging — alongside figures in Moscow — in the culture war surrounding transgenderism.
“Why when we in Ukraine when we are fighting for global liberty and the ideology of victory, too many in Moscow and across the world are still caught up in focusing on the tired trope of gender chaos,” Ashton-Crillo said.
Continuing, the transgender individual went on to claim that Ukraine is not focused on fighting for the rights of “any one group but for the freedom of every human”. Comparing this struggle to the American Revolution, Ashton-Cirillo said: “I’ve never been more proud to be a U.S. citizen as I am fighting on behalf of the Ukrainian people against the tyranny of Russia and their assorted enablers, all of whom are enemies of the United States.”
Responding to Senator Vance’s stated concerns over threats to “hunt down” those who allegedly spread Russian propaganda, the apparent Ukrainian spokesperson said that the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine “believe journalists are heroes and have the right to report on Ukraine’s war for liberation without interference.”
Despite extolling the virtues of the American First Amendment, Ashton-Cirillo declared that free speech protections should not be extended to people spreading “false narratives” about the war in Ukraine.
“The Russian propagandists and war criminals who are spreading lies and pushing false narratives are not journalists, they are information agents in an extension of the Putin-Prighozin effort to spread chaos and wreak havoc across the globe,” Ashton-Cirillo said, adding that Ukraine will only seek justice and not “vengeance”.
“These enemies of freedom and democracy will have to answer for their crimes in a court of law.”
Since I’ve got your attention, are you/Ukraine still planning to kill people who engage in speech you don’t like? And are there any American citizens on the kill list? https://t.co/x2H8nrChXH
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) September 18, 2023
Questions still remain as to the identity of the “favourite Kremlin propagandist” Ashton-Cirillo was referring to in the video posted last week that prompted the letter from Senator Vance. There has been some speculation that the person in question may be American-Chilean dual citizen and YouTube vlogger, Gonzalo Lira, who was reportedly arrested in Ukraine earlier this year. According to the Daily Beast, Lira was arrested on suspicion of producing pro-Putin propaganda in May and faces between five to eight years in prison.
Lira’s last message on social media was in July when he attempted to flee Ukraine and seek asylum in neighbouring Hungary. In a post before trying to cross the border on July 31, Lira claimed: “All I did was discuss publicly known facts about the war, the epitome of free speech in a democracy.”
The YouTuber, who was apparently unsuccessful in fleeing the country, added: “But Zelensky’s Ukraine is no democracy—it is a thieving, corrupt, murderous gangster regime PRETENDING to be a polite ‘Western’ democracy.”
Last week, Ashton-Cirillo claimed to have testified in the case against Lira and met with him personally, saying: “He was healthy, he was engaged, he, along with his attorney was active in his defence, which included questioning me directly.”
Responding to Asthon-Cirillo on Monday, Senator Vance wrote: “Since I’ve got your attention, are you/Ukraine still planning to kill people who engage in speech you don’t like? And are there any American citizens on the kill list?”
Asthon-Cirillo denied threatening journalists as well as the existence of a Ukrainian “kill list”, saying that such claims were “Kremlin lies and propaganda”.
While not run by the government, there has been considerable controversy surrounding the so-called Mirotvorets list of “enemies of Ukraine”, which has reportedly been compiled by hardline Ukrainian nationalists since 2014. The Ukrainian government has compiled a list of its own of alleged Russian propagandists, which has reportedly included U.S. Senator Rand Paul and former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
.@jdvance1: “If the Ukrainians want to hire weirdos to threaten Americans and others for speaking their mind, I guess that’s their right. They shouldn’t use our tax dollars to do it.” https://t.co/BmTBNObpO5
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) September 18, 2023