Fact or Fiction: Misinformation spreading on social media regarding the Russo-Ukraine conflict

Misinformation surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been spreading like wildfire on social media and mainstream media. Fantastical stories of heroism in Ukraine particularly have become rampant as many onlookers cheer on Ukrainian patriotism. 

But not all of these stories are exactly true. The Lynnwood Times compiled a list of stories surrounding the conflict to determine which are fact and which are fiction. But for some of these stories, the difference between fact and fiction isn’t so clear. 

Fiction: Ghost of Kyiv

The Ghost of Kyiv story blew up on social media with many people rallying around this heroic figure. The rumored airman has shot down numerous Russian aircraft single handedly. But is this man real? And if so, who is he? 

A February 25 viral Twitter post sparked the rumor, stating, “Ukrainian pilot who is 6-0 shoots down a Russian Su-35 with his Mig-29. He’s been nicknamed the ghost of Kyiv, and is the first pilot since WW2 to achieve ace status!”

The attached video, however, is not from the conflict in Ukraine but from a video game called Digital Combat Simulator, first released in 2008. The original video was created by YouTuber Comrade_Corb who later explained, “This footage is from DCS, but is nevertheless made out of respect for ‘The Ghost of Kiev.’ If he is real, may God be with him; if he is fake, I pray for more like ‘him.’”

The legend surrounding the alleged air fighter continued when former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko posted a picture of a pilot, praising him as the Ghost of Kyiv. That picture, too, turns out to be an old photo from a Chinese website. The Chinese website explains the photo is of a Ukrainian soldier testing out new French helmets from years ago.

Since then, the Ukrainian Army Twitter account claimed to finally identify the Ghost of Kyiv as Vladmir Abdonov. The tweet included two pictures, one blurry photo of a soldier and another of a pilot wearing a helmet and his face obscured. So far, there is no hard evidence these pictures are the same man, that he is the Ghost of Kyiv, or that the Ghost of Kyiv exists at all. 

We deem this fiction until evidence indicates otherwise. 

Fact: Ukrainian Soldier and the Bombed Bridge

Ukrainian engineer Vitaly Skakun Volodymyrovych volunteered for what would become a suicide mission – he was tasked with rigging a bridge with explosives en route to Crimea. With Russian forces quickly advancing, the engineer determined he would be unable to complete the mission and get to safety, so he blew up the bridge anyway, killing himself in the process. 

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Video of the aftermath shows the destroyed bridge and a vehicle submerged in the water. Though it’s unclear if the man’s body has been found, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have since verified the story on their Facebook page

His actions reportedly slowed down Russian advancement and allowed the Ukrainian military units to regroup, the Sun reported. 

Some Fact, Some Fiction: 13 Snake Island Guards Killed

Thirteen guards posted on the small Snake Island were rumored to have been killed by an invading warship after saying, “Russian warship, go f–k yourself.” The audio, which has made its rounds on social media, reveals the Ukrainian guard first asks a fellow guard if he should make the statement, and finally tells the warship what it can do. 

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The caption for the audio in the original Twitter post reads, “last words for some incredibly brave ukrainians.” It was widely reported that the 13 guards died defending their post as a result of their inflammatory statement, but later sources determined they are still alive. 

Russian media claimed the Ukrainian guards surrendered, according to the NY Post, and the Ukrainian navy reported the guards are alive and being held captive in a Facebook post

Though these guards did stand their ground with a bold “f–k off,” those were not their “last words.” 

Fiction: President Zelensky on the Frontlines

Photos of Ukrainian President Zelensky wearing a camouflage uniform have circulated the internet for days. These images have been shared as proof of the president’s presence on the frontlines, fighting against Russian aggression. The images were first shared on Facebook by Hananya Naftali, an influencer and writer for the Jerusalem Times.

“He took off his clothes and put on a military uniform to join the troops in fighting to protect the Ukrainian homeland. He is a true leader,” Naftali wrote in one Facebook post. Another image he captioned, “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

A Twitter user reposted the photos with the caption, “Ukraine’s President is on the front lines fighting for his people. President Zelensky has taken up arms and joined the troops to repel Russian invasion.”

But it turns out the circulating images are months old, taken during the president’s meeting with service members back in December in eastern Ukraine, according to Reuters

However, Zelensky has made it clear he will not be leaving Ukraine and intends to stay and defend Ukraine, as he said in this widely circulated video

“We are all here,” Zelensky said.

But so far, it doesn’t appear Zelensky has been fighting on the front lines. Instead, he is in a “secret location” in the center of Kyiv, CNN reported Tuesday.

Probably Fact: Man Removes Land Mine 

A Twitter video of a Ukrainian man removing a land mine from a road in Berdyansk has amassed nearly 3 million views. In the video, the man can be seen carefully carrying the land mine with his bare hands, ever so nonchalantly, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He placed the land mine in the bushes a safe distance from the road. 

The video was posted on Sunday by The New Voice of Ukraine, an English-language Ukrainian media source. The caption explained that he “didn’t wait around for a bomb disposal unit.”

So far, the story has yet to be discredited. 

Fiction: Miss Ukraine Joining Ukrainian Forces

Former Miss Grand Ukraine, Anastasiia Lenna, posted a photo of herself last week holding a gun on her Instagram. The photo is captioned “#standwithukraine” and “#handsoffukraine.”

The NY Post then reported that Lenna appears to be “joining the Ukrainian military in its push against the Russian invasion,” and has “swapped plastic pellets for lead bullets.” 

The International Business Report ran a similar story, claiming Lenna has “dropped her crown in exchange for artillery.”

But the former beauty queen later posted that the gun in the image is an airsoft gun. 

“I am not a military, just a woman, just normal human,” she said. “Just a person, like all people of my country. I am also a airsoft player for years. . . . All pictures in my profile to inspire people. I had a normal life just on Wednesday, like millions people.”

It doesn’t appear that she has joined the Ukrainian forces in any way, though she has been actively posting about the situation on her Instagram.

“I don’t do any propaganda except showing that our women of Ukraine – strong, confident and powerful,” she said. 

Some Fact, Some Fiction: Explosion at Luhansk Power Station

A Twitter video depicting a massive fiery explosion has made its rounds after the original poster  captioned the video, “Luhansk power plant in Ukraine.” The video was also used by a German media group to cover the story. 

But it turns out that the footage is from an explosion in Tianjin, China that killed 114 people and hospitalized 700. NBC News originally posted the Tianjin video in its 2015 news article.

While the video footage of the Luhansk power station is fake, Yahoo News reported that the power plant did in fact catch fire. The Ukrainian media claimed a transformer at the power plant caught fire as a result of shelling in the area, and one fire spilled onto another transformer. 

The footage of the “Luhansk explosion,” however, was complete fiction. 

The Strangest Fiction: Hi-Tech Robot Suit Flying above Kiev

CNN analyst and former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa posted an image on Twitter of what appears to be a flying robot. In her now-deleted tweet, Rangappa said, “Multiple reports coming in of an unknown seemingly high-tech ‘robot suit’ seen flying above Kiev.” She added that “Iron man is leading the avengers against the Russian Hitler.” 

One Twitter user, who called Rangappa’s post an “example of crazy propaganda,” pointed out that the image is from a 2020 ABC7 video report of a “mysterious jetpack daredevil” in California. 

The jetpack man, who was seen and reported by multiple pilots, was flying 3000 ft. above the ground and prompted an investigation by the FBI. 

Unfortunately, Iron Man has not come to save the day, though the whereabouts of Tony Stark have yet to be confirmed. 

The Media and Misinformation

Most of these stories originated on social media and were immediately picked up by news sources without verification. And many were quick to repost these news stories, assuming the mainstream media were careful enough to fact-check them. But that’s not always the case. 

MSN, NY Post, International Business Report, and others ran stories that were unverified and based on the tweets and Facebook posts of random users. 

In some cases, individuals who should be more credible sources, such as CNN Analyst Asha Rangappa, the Jerusalem Times’ writer Hananya Naftali, and former president Poroshenko, ignited the fire of misinformation. 

Particularly in times of war, grand and heroic stories can easily be used as propaganda, whether to drum up support, create a stronger image of victory, or drop the enemy’s morale. It’s important to verify these kinds of stories before spreading them on social media. 

The best option? Wait a few days. Usually the truth will come out soon enough. 

Olivia Thiessen

Olivia graduated with her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction in English in 2020. While completing her degree, Olivia worked as a college grammar and composition teacher and wrote for various magazines and websites. She spent the last year writing secondary English and history textbooks but has recently shifted gears to focus on writing for the media. She believes journalism is the greatest tool within a free society and is passionate about bringing truth to local citizens.

Olivia Thiessen has 32 posts and counting. See all posts by Olivia Thiessen

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