In the early morning of 24th of February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Millions of women and children fled to safety, while many remained to defend their homeland. In the time that followed Ukrainian resistance has become a symbol of strength, dignity, and free spirit. People around the globe are showing support by donating money and time, opening their homes for refugees, organising protests and concerts, creating art to raise awareness and funds. Christian Borys, a Canadian marketer and ex-journalist, has a special connection with Ukraine, and like many of us felt the need to do something to help.
The FGM-148 Javelin, an Alabama-made anti-tank weapon, quickly made a strong impact on Ukraine’s war spirit. The missile has been called a “godsend” for Ukraine in its war with Russia. Christian helped develop an image, now known as “Saint Javelin”, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling a Javelin missile. He was hoping to raise a few hundred dollars selling stickers. Little did he know that St. Javelin will become such an overwhelming success, raising over $1 million for Ukraine in just over a month. Even President Zelensky got one!
Tell me a bit about yourself
I was a journalist for several years, and I spent a lot of that time in Ukraine; that’s where the whole desire to do this stems from. After I left Ukraine, I started a marketing company in Toronto. Basically, I had a weird accumulation of skills that really helped make the Saint Javelin campaign possible.
How and when did you start the Saint Javelin campaign?
It started in February 2015. It wasn’t really planned out; It was more just something I wanted to do quickly. It started because some friends of mine who are journalists and defense analysts paid attention to the buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border. They sounded the alarm about what was about to happen. I hadn’t been in journalism for years at that time. Still, I was very interested in what was happening, and it brought back memories of the work I used to do, and thinking about that, I wanted to try to raise some money for the people that I remembered from my previous work.I understood that if this war were about to happen, then a lot of support would be required from outside of Ukraine. So I took this meme that was popular in some of my group chats, nicknamed Saint Javelin, and had one of our designers from Lviv in Ukraine redesign it into a vector file so that we could print stickers of it. My plan with the stickers was to put some on my car and sell them to some friends, and I thought that if I raised $500, that would be great. As soon as I put the vector factor file on Instagram and shared the story on my own personal Instagram, many people messaged me right away and said, “Hey, if you start selling these, where can I buy them?”. I launched that night on Shopify and had two sales right away, which got me really excited. The next day I shared it on my Instagram, and it sold a thousand dollars that day, and I was super excited because I didn’t expect anything. That day I asked the printer to print a hundred stickers to meet the demand of a thousand dollars, and then the next day, the Instagram post just started getting shared a lot and did $5,000. The first day I knew most of the people who were ordering, I could see their emails, and I knew who was ordering, and then the next day, it started to become random people, which made me think there was something to this. The next few days have been $5,000 per day; our print shop couldn’t handle the demand. We raised $20,000 in a few days, and I thought that was an amazing mark to get to the right milestone.
Things kept going, and the day that Russia invaded, it really went viral. Тhat day I started an Instagram account for Saint Javelin, and organically as I’ve never promoted a post and bought followers, it got to 40,000 followers in a month.
What do you feel is the reason for it to be such a success? Тhere’s the obvious timing, but I’m sure many other people are trying to do something similar
Еven though we had no plan to be, we ended up being one of the first campaigns to launch. Immediately when people realized that Russia had started the war, they looked for some way to support Ukraine аnd a lot of people didn’t just want to donate; they wanted to show their support visually. That’s why they wear the t-shirts and put the stickers on their cars and buy the flags so they can put them up in the office and stuff like that. I always encourage people to just donate directly to organizations in Ukraine that provide the aid, but many people just want actually to wear their support. The other reason it’s successful is that we just make decisions really quickly. We’re not bogged down by the bureaucracy of an NGO where ten people have to agree on what to post on Instagram or what kind of decision can be made or what the branding of the project is, or anything like that. Everything just happens extremely quickly with us.
Basically, whatever news comes out that day, we’re sharing it, and people see us as the source of their information about what’s happening in Ukraine. That has really helped us establish amongst all of the other different campaigns.
We’ve been a hundred percent transparent; we’ve shared postings about the sales and the donations. People with us see that things are happening very fast. They spend money on Saint Javelin, and then that money goes to these organizations, and the aid ends up in Ukraine very quickly.
How did you get the domain name Saint Javelin?
I just bought it right away because Saint Javelin wasn’t popular before this. It was a very niche meme; maybe a couple of hundred people knew about it before starting this, so getting the domain was very easy.
You mentioned you are up to something new. What is that?
I don’t want to say it yet because I’m not sure it’ll work, but it will be an extension of Saint Javelin just into a different category of products that will help us continue being sustainable long-term. That’s my goal.
I don’t want Saint Javelin to be a one-time one-off project; I want it to be a sustainable long-term one so that it can be a cash flow machine for rebuilding Ukraine.