Hamill is also raising funds to buy reconnaissance drones for Ukrainian forces on the front lines. He autographed Star Wars-themed posters that are being raffled off.
“Here I sit in the comfort of my own home when in Ukraine there are power outages and food shortages and people are really suffering,” he said. “It motivates me to do as much as I can.”
Although the app also has a Ukrainian-language setting, voiced by a woman, some Ukrainians prefer to have Hamill breaking the bad news that yet another Russian bombardment might be imminent.
On the worst days, sirens and the app sound every few hours, day and night. Some turn out to be false alarms. But many others are real – nd often deadly.
Bohdan Zvonyk, a 24-year-old app user who lives in the repeatedly struck western city of Lviv, says he chose Hamill’s voiceover rather than the Ukrainian setting because he is trying to improve his English. He’s a Star Wars fan, too.
“Besides,” he said, “we could use a little bit of the power that Hamill wishes us.”
After one alert, Zvonyk was riding a trolley bus when Hamill’s voice rang out from his phone. He said the man in front “turned to me and said, smiling: ‘Oh, those damn Sith,'” to describe Russian forces. The Sith are the malevolent enemies of the do-gooding Jedi.
Olena Yeremina, a 38-year-old business manager in the capital, Kyiv, said Hamill’s “May the Force be with you” signoff at first made her laugh. Now its enduring humour gives her strength.
“It’s a very cool phrase for this situation,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that I feel like a Ukrainian Jedi, but sometimes this phrase reminds me to straighten my shoulders and keep working.”
Sometimes it can be wise to shut Hamill off. Yeremina forgot to do that on a trip outside Ukraine – to Berlin – and paid for the error when the alarm started shrieking at 6am and, again, when she rode the subway in the German capital. She wasn’t alone. Another person in the subway car also had the app and it erupted, too. The two of them first cursed, but then “it made both me and that person smile”, Yeremina recalled.
Ajax Systems, a Ukrainian security systems manufacturer that co-developed the app, hopes Hamill’s star power will encourage people outside Ukraine to download it – so they get a taste of the angst heaped on Ukrainians by nerve-shredding alarms and airborne death and destruction.
“With Mark’s approach, it won’t be so terrifying,” said Valentine Hrytsenko, the chief marketing officer at Ajax. “But they will understand somehow the context.”
In the invasion’s first year, air-raid alarms sounded more than 19,000 times across the country, so “of course people are getting tired”, he said. The app has been downloaded more than 14 million times. Hrytsenko is among those who use its English-language setting to hear Hamill’s voice.
“For Star Wars fans, it sounds really fantastic,” he said. “It’s kind of a Ukrainian mentality to find some humour even in the bad situation or to try to be positive.”
Hamill is pleased that the sci-fi saga is again transporting people, even if just temporarily, to its galaxy far, far away.
“It does inspire people,” he said. “Everyone flashes back to being six years old again. And if the movie can help people get through hard times, so much the better.”