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Fake news further fogs Russia's war on Ukraine

Kathrin Wesolowski
April 28, 2022

Manipulated photos, false statements, state propaganda and deepfake videos are all part of the war between Russia and Ukraine. We debunk some examples and show how to spot the deception.

 Ukrainian serviceman walks on a destroyed Russian fighting vehicle in Bucha, Ukraine
The war in Ukraine has spawned plenty of disinformationImage: Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo/picture alliance

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, an information war has been raging online. This battle for the truth is being fought on many levels. DW's fact-checking team has compiled some of the false claims and propaganda from both sides, revealing what is behind them.

Note: This article is being updated continuously and was last updated on May 12.

On the occasion of the annual military parade on Moscow's Red Square, Russian President Vladimir Putin leveled serious allegations against Ukraine and the West. DW Fact Check examines some of the key statements from Putin's speech on May 9.

Ukrainian nuclear weapons?

Claim: "In Kyiv, they announced a possible acquisition of nuclear weapons. The NATO bloc has begun active military development of the territories bordering us," Putin said in his speech.

DW fact check: False.

Putin is likely referring to a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Munich Security Conference last February. In it, Zelenskyy mentions the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which ensures that the sovereignty and national borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are respected vis-à-vis the signatory states that include the US, UK and Russia.

In exchange, Ukraine handed over its nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union to Russia or partially destroyed them. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 violated Ukrainian sovereignty, Zelenskyy hinted in Munich that he would withdraw from the agreement. However, there is no evidence to date that suggests Kyiv is proactively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, as DW fact check proves.

No evidence of an imminent 'invasion' of Crimea by Ukraine

Ukraine Russian military deployment in eastern Ukraine | Armyansk
It was not Ukraine that launched an invasion, but Russia: Here is a picture from a surveillance camera at a border crossing in Crimea on February 24Image: BORDER SERVICE OF UKRAINE/AP Photo/picture alliance

Claim: Russia is carrying out a pre-emptive "military operation" against Ukraine, according to Putin. Ukraine, he said, had openly prepared for a new "punitive operation in the Donbas" and an "invasion" of Russian "historical territories, including Crimea." NATO countries would have supplied Ukraine with state-of-the-art weapons, Putin added.

DW fact check: False.

The Ukrainian leadership has stressed several times that it is seeking a diplomatic and not a military solution to the conflict in the Donbas, including through President Zelenskyy at the Munich Security Conference shortly before the war's outbreak.

When Russia massed its troops along the Ukrainian border in the autumn of 2021, there were no signs of an imminent Ukrainian offensive. This is also true for annexed Crimea. Since 2014, Russia has turned the peninsula into a de facto military fortress and equipped it with state-of-the-art weapons. The Ukrainian armed forces do not have such weapons and are heavily outnumbered by Russian troops in Crimea.

That the territories mentioned are "historical territories" of Russia is also incorrect, as DW fact check shows: Under international law, both Crimea and the territories in the Donbas belong to Ukraine. A UN resolution of 2020 stated that the General Assembly condemned the annexation of Crimea and that it would not be recognized.

Renewed neo-Nazi accusations toward Ukraine

Claim: Putin again made the accusation that "neo-Nazis" were steering Ukraine, with whom a clash would be "inevitable." Later in the speech, he spoke of civilians in the Donbas who "died as a result of reckless shelling and barbaric attacks by neo-Nazis."

DW fact check: False.

Equating Ukraine with "neo-Nazis" is a claim repeated again and again by Putin, his government, as well as the Russian state media which, however, is false. 

But the comparison between Nazi Germany until 1945 and the democratically elected leaders of Ukraine in the present is obviously misplaced, a DW fact check states. A totalitarian system does not exist in Ukraine, nor are there far-right forces in power.

In the last parliamentary elections in 2019, a united front of far-right parties got just 2.15% percent of the vote (election results are in Ukrainian).  

Misleading portrayal of the dialogue between Russia and NATO

Claim: "Last December, we proposed to conclude an agreement on security guarantees. Russia called on the West to engage in an honest dialogue, to find reasonable compromise solutions, to take into account mutual interests. All in vain. NATO countries didn't want to hear us, which means that they actually had quite different plans."

DW fact check: Misleading.

President Vladimir Putin is referring to a list of demands that Russia handed over to NATO on

December 17, 2021, in the run-up to the war in Ukraine. It included eight demands that NATO countries and Russia should agree on to avoid conflict.

The NATO countries reacted to the letter at the beginning of 2022, DW fact check documents. For example, the U.S. and its allies submitted proposals for defusing the crisis. However, the alliance rejected central demands such as the granting of a zone of influence in Russia's neighborhood. Each state should have the right to decide for itself on its alliances. 

Putin's account of the dialogue between Russia and NATO in the run-up to the war in Ukraine is one-sided and misleading.

No, that's not an image of Zelenskyy's daughter 'fleeing' to Poland

Fact check image combo | Crying woman is supposed to represent daughter of Selenskyj
Not the same person: on the left a crying woman, on the right the daughter of President Selenskyj and familyImage: youtube.com/watch?v=P6ZmHKD8o_w / instagram.com/olenazelenska_official

Claim: Social media sites are  currently spreading an image of a young crying woman, claiming in various languages that the president's 17-year-old daughter, Oleksandra Zelenska, "hates her father" and had called him a "Nazi" and "murderer of the Ukrainian people." Russian websites have also shared the claim. 

DW fact check: False

The pictured woman is not Zelenska, as a reverse image search of DW fact check shows. The photo was taken from a video that had appeared on the internet in 2017. Zelenskyy's daughter, born in 2004, was significantly younger than the woman in the video. For comparison, this video shows Zelenska at 11 years of age.

No, this Russian weapons train was not sabotaged by partisans

Claim: An widely shared video shows a derailed military train, allegedly on its way to war in Ukraine. The scene is said to be Bryansk, which is just over 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. "They (the Russians, editor's note) don't even manage to transport their equipment," one Twitter user mocks (archived here), and for other users the case is clear: "partisans" sabotaged the Russian train. 

DW fact check: False

The video has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine and is older, a DW fact check shows. We took a screenshot of the video and then used it to perform reverse image searches. Result: The oldest versions of the video are from 2017 and the location of the event is a good 6000 kilometers away from Bryansk.

Jubilant videos of military success

Screenshot Twitter
Image: Twitter

Claim: An unofficial Twitter page with more than 450,000 followers supporting the armed forces of Ukraine (@ArmedForcesUkr) posted a short video allegedly showing Ukrainian military successes against the Russian army. 

DW fact check: Misleading

DW has established that six of the incidents in the film predate the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war and show conflicts in other regions. One of those scenes actually shows Russian snipers at work in Syria. The remaining 10 incidents might be legitimate, but cannot be 100% verified.

Solidarity among firefighters

Claim: A CNN reporter reports live from a fuel depot near Lviv that is on fire after a Russian missile attack. Some viewers have claimed the pictures are fake. One firefighter is wearing a jacket with the word "Edmonton" on it. They are, therefore, not pictures from Ukraine.

DW fact check: False

In our Ukraine fact-checking video we proved that the pictures are authentic. In 2017, the Edmonton Fire Department donated 600 fire suits and other equipment to Ukraine. That is why the firefighters are wearing Canadian suits.

This was confirmed by the head of the Firefighter Aid Ukraine project, Kevin Royle, in a DW interview.

Corpses on the streets of Bucha

Fact-check: What really happened in Bucha?

Claim: The Russian government has said that when the Russian army left the Kyiv suburb of Bucha on March 30, there were no bodies on the streets. 

DW fact check: False

Our fact-check video on Bucha (see above) showed that this claim is false. Satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts show that there were already dead bodies on the streets of Bucha in March. 

'Living corpses' of Bucha 

Claim: Official Russian and pro-Russian accounts have claimed that the killings and images of dead bodies in Bucha were staged. It is alleged that one video from Bucha shows people pretending to be corpses. 

DW fact check: False

Our video analysis (see above) shows that the bodies in the video are not moving — it's just an optical illusion. Analyses by other media have reached the same conclusion. 

Russia bombing cities in Ukraine 

Claim: Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry, has said that Russia is not bombing cities in Ukraine. She has alleged that pictures showing the attacks are manipulated videos from NATO countries. 

DW fact check: False

Russian attacks on civilians and non-military targets in Ukraine have been well documented. Our in-depth fact-check video on the Russia-Ukraine war (see below) cites a few examples. Two reliable sources tracking reports of civilian victims in Ukraine are the investigative site Bellingcat and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Russian murdered by Ukrainian refugees in Germany?

Claim: A woman said in a TikTok video that a 16-year-old Russian-born refugee was beaten up by Ukrainian refugees at a train station in the western German town of Euskirchen. The boy allegedly died of his injuries.

A screenshot from Twitter about an alleged murder in Euskirchen, showing the face of a woman, her eyes covered by a black bar
This claim about an alleged murder in Euskirchen went viralImage: Twitter.com

DW fact check: False

The allegation was false, as shown in our fact check. The local police confirmed that no such crime had taken place and requested that the video be removed.

The woman later apologized in another video, saying she had been deceived by an acquaintance.

Surprising videos of Putin, Zelenskyy

Claim: In one video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appears to announce his country's surrender. In another video, Russia's Vladimir Putin seems to be announcing peace with Ukraine.

DW fact check: False

Our video analysis revealed both videos to be deepfakes. Highly complex computer programs (machine learning) are used to generate video and sound from other sources to create an almost convincing impression.

Zelenskyy's whereabouts 

Claim: Two days after the Russian invasion began in late February,  Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said Zelenskyy had fled the capital, Kyiv. The claim was repeated many times by internet users.

DW fact check: False

There are countless instances of people claiming that the Ukrainian president has left Kyiv. Our fact-check video shows verifiable evidence that Zelenskyy has remained based in Kyiv throughout the war.

Old explosion footage passed off as new

Claim: In her video, a TikToker shows a huge explosion that allegedly occurred in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The same video is shared on Facebook, this time supposedly showing the bombing of the "Ukrainian headquarters," as stated in the video.

DW fact check: False

The footage comes from Lebanon and shows the huge explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, as we showed in our Ukraine fact-checking video. A direct comparison of the video sequences proves the original source beyond a doubt.

Old photo of Klitschko passed off as current

Claim: A photo of Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko went viral in the first days of the war, suggesting he was defending his country on the front line. 

DW fact check: False

A quick reverse-image search, as described in our Ukraine fact-checking video, reveals the image was from 2021. It was posted on Instagram by Klitschko himself and shows him exercising with Ukrainian reservists.

Weightlifter Maryana Naumova's response to Arnold Schwarzenegger

Claim: In a viral video shared by Russia's Foreign Ministry, powerlifter Maryana Naumova claims that Ukraine is "under the yoke" of neo-Nazis and that Russia is not attacking civilians. 

DW fact check: False

DW has shown (in German) how Maryana Naumova countered Arnold Schwarzenegger's appeal to Russians with a series of false statements. Her argumentation is in line with official Russian propaganda and lacks any factual basis on crucial points.

Is Russia using 'butterfly mines' in Ukraine?

Claim: Various media reports and social media posts have spread accusations that Russia is using banned "butterfly mines" in Ukraine. These look like toys, and are therefore especially dangerous to children.

Close-Up Butterfly mine
There is no reliable evidence that Russia has used mines similar to this oneImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

DW fact check: Unproven

A DW investigation could not find reliable evidence of Russian use of butterfly mines in Ukraine. 

Alleged emotional farewells of Ukrainian soldiers

Claim: A viral video shows what it says are Ukrainian soldiers saying goodbye to their wives and going off to war.

DW fact check: False

Film scenes are often presented as real-life videos. Our fact check (in German) shows which film was used in this case, and why such videos still spread online long after they have been debunked.

Not footage of war, just 'Star Wars'

Screenshot of Channel 13 coverage
Channel 13 included this clip featuring a spacecraft from 'Star Wars'Image: DrEliDavid/Twitter

Claim: Israeli broadcaster Channel 13 News used a short video sequence purporting to show destruction in Ukraine.

DW fact check: False

The broadcaster obviously did not look closely at the source of the images used. The video is not of images from Ukraine, but actually a "Star Wars" video, as our fact check (in German) shows. 

Who started the war?

Claim: Four days after Russia began its invasion, Russian spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed Ukraine had started the war, not Russia. She referred to the armed conflict ongoing since 2014 in the east of Ukraine. Moreover, Zakharova said Ukraine had planned the "systematic extermination of the Donbas population."

DW fact check: False

Our fact check explains why Zakharova's claim that Ukraine started the war is not true. In March 2014, Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula. On February 24, 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine from the north, northeast and via Crimea in the south, initiating a war between Russia and Ukraine.

Not the first American victim of the Ukraine war 

Screenshots from Twitter showing a smiling man and text
This man has allegedly died twice — both news items are fakeImage: Twitter/joshallanmpls2

Claim: A Twitter account posing as CNN reported the death of a US activist in Ukraine. The post went viral because it showed a person who had allegedly already died in Afghanistan. 

DW fact check: False

For our fact check (in German), we turned to CNN. Their spokesperson stressed that "the pictures, the posts, the related stories and also social media accounts that published the tweets are all fake." A reverse image search revealed the real person in photos to be a US YouTube personality.

Polish air support for Ukraine 

Claim: The Ukrainian Air Force has claimed that in the future it could take off for "combat missions" from Polish airports.

DW fact check: Misleading

Our research showed (in German) that the Ukrainian Air Force was incorrect in claiming that its fighter jets could launch combat missions from Poland. One analyst we spoke with said this would be tantamount to NATO entering the war.

Chasing the 'Ghost of Kyiv'

Claim: A Ukrainian fighter pilot is said to have shot down six Russian aircraft and is being celebrated as a war hero on social media. Alleged pictures of him are also shown.

DW fact check: False

Our fact check showed that the majority of videos and photos posted in connection with the "Ghost of Kyiv" story are fakes. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has not responded to DW's questions about the pilot's identity.

Even more old explosion footage passed off as current

Claim: A TikTok video shows a huge explosion, allegedly an attack in Ukraine one day before the invasion by the Russian army.

DW fact check: False

Our first fact-check video (see below) showed that the explosion occurred in 2021 in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, and shows a petrol station there bursting into flames. 

5 fakes of the war in Ukraine

A parachute operation in Ukraine

Claim: A presenter on the TV channel of Germany's "Bild" newspaper said a video shows hundreds of Russian soldiers parachuting into Kharkiv.

DW fact check: False

In our fact check of five Ukrainian videos we clarified that the footage is not from the Russia-Ukraine war. It was published as early as 2016 on various social networks and claims to show Russian paratroopers during training in Russia.

An impressive flyover, but where?  

Claim: A Twitter user posted a video alleging the "live broadcast of the war in Ukraine." A formation of fighter jets can be seen flying menacingly close over an urban area. 

DW fact check: False 

Our fact check revealed that the video was already circulating on the internet in 2020 and shows an air show north of Moscow. 

Difference between real battle scenes, computer games  

Claim: An early viral video in the Russia-Ukraine war allegedly showed spectacular air-to-ground combat between Ukraine and Russia. 

DW fact check: False 

DW’s fact check of five videos from the conflict traced the footage to the 2013 computer game "Arma 3." It's not the first time such game sequences have been posted as supposedly real combat images. 

Did Russian soldiers celebrate the start of the war? 

Claim: A viral video on social media claims to show Russian soldiers dancing and celebrating just before they go to war in Ukraine. 

DW fact check: False

Our fact check revealed the original video to be from 2018, and it's not from Russia. It shows an Uzbek military band at a concert in a subway station of the capital, Tashkent. 

'Denazification' and other alleged reasons for war 

Claim: As his troops attacked Ukraine, President Putin justified the invasion, saying Russia needed to "defend itself," stop a "genocide" and "denazify" Ukraine. 

DW fact check: False/misleading

This DW fact check analyzes numerous claims made by Putin and shows that his assertions are often false or misleading. There is no case of defense; Russia is waging a war of aggression in Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Moscow
Assertions made by Putin are often false or misleadingImage: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik Kremlin/AP Photo/picture alliance

Was Ukraine 'created by Russia'?

Claim: Putin claimed in a TV broadcast that modern Ukraine was created by Russia, and has never had stable traditions of genuine statehood.  

DW fact check: False/misleading

In this fact check (in German), we discussed with experts why Putin's statements are false or misleading. The fact is that modern Ukraine was not "created" by Russia, because the Ukrainian People's Republic had existed for about two years before it was taken over by Russia's Red Army in 1920. The republic was the result of the Ukrainian independence movement under the rule of the Russian czar. The territories that make up today's Ukraine were largely incorporated into the Russian Empire until its collapse in 1917.

This article was adapted from German by Michael Trobridge