It is now well-known that Russian agencies, such as the ‘Internet Research Agency’ in St. Petersburg shown below, operate networks of commentators whose job is to post articles, maintain Facebook accounts, and write comments on Internet sites. Besides running armies of trolls, the agencies also have departments that specialize in subjects like ‘Rapid response,’ ‘Creative work,’ and ‘Social networks.’ They employ hundreds of people across Russia at an average annual salary of around $35,000 (See: http://www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/59889.html). The operators are assigned the job of praising Putin, defending Syria, condemning opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny, and pouring scorn on the US and EU. It is believed that many Twitter accounts are operated by the Russian secret services (http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/documents-show-how-russias-troll-army-hit-america).
Source: Live Journal Magazine, 31 May 2014,
pharaon01.livejournal.com; and novayagazeta.ru
These agencies also work to influence Russian opinion against Ukrainians. As the following examples show, one of their tasks is to spread disinformation by twisting stories and images to suit a predetermined narrative, and by spreading inflammatory and entirely unfounded reports of atrocities.
1. Cheating with photographs is one of the most easily exposed tricks employed. Below left, Dmitry Kiselev, who has been described as the most influential force in Russian TV, is seen giving a report over a headline that reads ‘Banderites and Right Sector Want War.’ To prove his point the screen in the background displays a photograph of Ukrainian demonstrators carrying a banner with the words ‘We Want War.’ On the right one can see what was cut out of the photograph. The banner actually read ‘ We Do Not Want War.’
2. Here is another fabrication. The photograph on the left is allegedly of a bombed building in Sloviansk. On the right is the original photo, which was published in 2010 and, it turns out, was of a building in Serbia.
3. Russian media outlets provide many examples of such deceit. A TV channel (RIA News) claimed recently that the Ukrainian army was using a UN helicopter in Donetsk and published the image (below left) as proof. It was in fact a photograph of a UN helicopter in the Ivory Coast that was taken in 2011.
4. This next photo is of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic derailment in Quebec, Canada. It was presented as ‘Sloviansk burning’ in 2014.
5. Video clips are also frequently manipulated. Below are two, both of a dead soldier’s mother speaking to the media. The first clip, which was aired on Russian TV on 14 May, presented her as calling upon the ‘Kyiv junta.’ However, a quick YouTube search using the words ‘mother of slain slodier makes an address’ (‘обращения матери убитого военного’) reveals that in the tape the mother in fact calls upon President Vladimir Putin to stop military action in Ukraine.
6. In a similar manner, words spoken in video clips are frequently attributed to another event. For example, the TV station Russia Today reported a Rabbi’s flight from Kyiv as a response to antisemitism. It showed Rabbi Misha Kapustin gathering his belongings, while informing that he was escaping from approaching danger. However, his synagogue was not in Kyiv, but in Simferopol. He called for Ukraine and Crimea to be defended against Russia, and was fleeing Russian rule in Crimea ( See: http://www.stopfake.org/kak-raspoznat-fejk/).
7. The same technique of misattribution is used in a tape presenting alleged mass killings by the Ukrainian army in the Donbas that shows troops throwing bodies out of a military transport vehicle.
The tape was in fact made in Dagestan and aired in November 2012. Originally entitled ‘Public brutality of the occupiers,’ it demonstrated how Russian special operations men dealt with the bodies of Chechens and Dagestanis.
This particular deception was so obvious and embarrassing that it caused a backlash. Dmitry Kiselev was forced to go on TV and admit that a ‘mistake’ had been made. He stated that the clip from Russian TV Channel 1 had ‘mistakenly’ described the Ukrainian national guard as killing civilians, when in fact it recorded Russian anti-terrorist actions in North Caucasus on 18 November 2012.
Source: slon.ru. 19 May 2014
8. Another notorious fake represented a clumsy attempt to implicate the ‘Right Sector.’
‘Right Sector’ fighters were reported as killing civilians in the Donbas and absent-mindedly leaving Dmytro Yarosh’s visiting card. During a shootout at a checkpoint on 20 April 2014 two attackers and three civilians were killed. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Russian media immediately blamed the ‘Right Sector,’ producing as evidence Dmytro Yarosh’s visiting card, a German machine gun from WW2, and US dollars found at the scene
The shootout did indeed take place, but the ‘evidence’ was planted by Russian special forces. ‘Dmytro Yarosh’s visiting card’ quickly became a meme.
9. The ‘Right Sector’ is a favourite boogeyman of the Russian press, and seems to appear everywhere. One report has the ‘Right Sector’ deliberately murdering Jews in Odesa during the events of 2 May, and of preventing the wounded in the trade Union building from receiving help. Russian Facebook spread the story (later removed) of a doctor named Igor Rozovsky, who claimed that he was prevented by fighters from attending to the wounded. One fighter allegedly stated that ‘all Jews in Odesa’ would suffer the same fate.
The truth is that no such doctor exists in Odesa and the photo in the report is that of a dentist called Ruslan Khadzhi-Muratovich Semenov, who works in Ust-Dzhegutinsk dental clinic in Russia’s Karataevo-Cherkesk Republic. The ‘Rozovsky’ facebook account was created on 3 May and then removed after the information had been spread through the Internet. Here is his phoney facebook picture.
The pseudo-doctor is reported as saying: ‘In my own town something happened that could not have happened even during the Nazi occupation.’ His post received more than 2000 shares in just 15 hours. Russian propaganda services first spread this information through large networks of bots and several popular Internet communities. Translations of the posting appeared in several languages. The translations — whether into German, English, or Bulgarian – were all identical. An effort was also made to actively disseminate the information across Jewish social media.
10. It was reported that a pregnant woman and children had been killed during the fire in the Trade Union building in Odesa. A photo, allegedly taken in the building, was widely broadcast, as was information about ‘Banderites’ killing children.
Odesa authorities report that no bodies of pregnant women or children were found either in the building or in the morgues. An analysis of the photograph indicates that the woman is elderly.
11. Odesa’s chief Rabbi was reported as warning that Jews faced a genocidal threat in Ukraine and should prepare to flee persecution. Russian media reported that Avraam Volf, the Rabbi of Odesa and Southern Ukraine, had called upon the city’s inhabitants ‘not to allow fascism to spread in Odesa and Ukraine as a whole.’ Allegedly, he asked for military help from Israel because of the threat of genocide.
The report was a fabrication, and was immediately denounced by Berl Kapulkin, the press secretary of Odesa’s Jewish community.
12. On 2 May it was reported that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft crew had deserted to the separatist side and had shot down a helicopter with American mercenaries. According to the report, the helicopter was downed in Sloviansk with 13 Americans aboard. All were supposedly from Greystone, and the US had refused to accept their bodies.
In fact, a group from the Russian Federation had downed the helicopter, killing two pilots. A third pilot, Captain Savuilov from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was wounded and taken prisoner when the terrorists fired at the medics who were trying to evacuate him. A story was then constructed about him being an American and an agent of the CIA.
13. In late March Russian TV reported congestion at border crossings into Russia as people tried to leave Ukraine. Russian TV Channel 1 reported that for two weeks crossings into Russia had been crowded with 140,000 people escaping eastern and western Ukraine, the ‘junta,’ and ‘Right Sector.’
In reality, there had been no change in the volume of people moving across the border. The photograph (below) was of a border crossing into Poland and not Russia.
14. It was reported that the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers had forbidden the celebration of 9 May. Russian media reported that order no. 65 of 1 March 2014 had banned celebrations on that day.
In truth, the order stipulates that state funding for events celebrating historical dates, jubilees of firms, institutions, organizations, and famous people would be provided only if approved by the Ministry of Culture. 9 May is an approved event.
15. Russian media reported that Ukraine has no officially defined borders. It was alleged that after the fall of the Soviet Union the Ukraine’s border was never registered at the UN, and therefore has no validity.
In fact, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia mutually defined the border in 2003 and the two parliaments then ratified the agreement in 2004. The only remaining disputed boundary was the line dividing the Kerch straits. There is no such practice as registering borders at the UN.
16. Ihor Kolomoysky was reported as offering money for the killing of Putin. Russian media announced that the governor of Dnipropetrovsk oblast had offered $100 million for Putin’s assassination or removal from the presidency. The image below was offered as evidence.
Neither Kolomoysky nor the PrivatBank ever announced anything similar. They immediately denied the accusation.
17. It was reported that Oleksandr Turchynov, the parliamentary speaker, would lead the Ukrainian gay parade. This story appeared simultaneously in several places on the Internet at the beginning of May, claiming that the acting president would lead Lviv’s first gay parade. The story referenced the UNIAN site, which never published anything of the kind.
According Ukraine’s LGBT organizations, no parades were planned for that time.
18. On May 25, as Russian TV Channel 1 was announcing the election results in Ukraine, it temporarily placed Dmytro Yarosh in the lead. (He eventually received 0.9%.) Watch for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9RF2s3Kvzo.
Why did Russian TV announce Yarosh, the leader of ‘Right Sector,’ as winning 37% of vote? It appears that the plan was for a hacking group called CyberBerkut to alter the Ukrainian presidential election by planting a virus in the computer of the Central Election Commission (CEC). Loss of data would have created the illusion of election fraud. The virus released by CyberBerkut destroyed all the internal data of the CEC servers on May 22. However, the lost data was restored from a backup server by 4 pm on May 22. (Source: http://guardianlv.com/2014/05/cyberberkut-attempt-to-alter-ukrainian-election/).
19. On 27 May a journalist with LifeNews published a photograph of an 8-year-old boy who had supposedly been killed by Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk airport. The same photo had already appeared on 10 May and was tagged to events in Sloviansk. ‘I cannot hold back my tears’ read the Twitter heading.
The above photo purports to be from the Donetsk airport on 13 May.
This one purports to be from Sloviansk on 10 May. The heading says: ‘Soldiers wounded a boy wearing the St. George ribbon.’
Above is the original photograph and report about the boy’s death in Aleppo, Syria, on 7 April 2013.
20. On 27 May 2014 Russian bloggers and social media spread the image of a young girl sitting by a dead woman, suggesting that the photo was taken in the Donbas.
In fact, it was taken from a poster advertising the Moscow International Film Festival, which took place 23 June to 2 July 2011 (see below).
21. On 17 May a photo was circulated in the Russian media showing dead Ukrainian soldiers, national guardsmen and men of the ‘Right Sector’ in the Sloviansk morgue. It was reported that they were to be buried without identification. The photo was in fact from an Associated Press story that aired on 18 February 2009. It is of a morgue in Mexico and shows victims of a fight between drug cartels.
22. The Russian media showed this photograph of a drone allegedly downed by separatist fighters in Donetsk. However, the photograph was taken in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2011.
So many false reports have appeared that they have led to some wry political humour. For example, the following slide of the Roman Colosseum appeared recently on the Internet.
Purporting to be an item from ‘LifeNevs’ (the Russian new channel is called LifeNews), it announces: ‘SHOCK! Ukrainian troops bomb a residential building in Donetsk. Children are victims!’
Garmazhapova, Aleksandra. ‘Где живут тролли. Как работают интернет-провокаторы в Санкт-Петербурге и кто ими заправляет.’ Novaia gazeta. 9 September 2013
<img src=”/views_counter/?id=59903&class=NovayaGazeta::Content::Article” width=”0″ height=”0″>
‘How to Identify a Fake.’ StopFake.org. <http://www.stopfake.org/en/how-to-identity-a-fake/>
Khazan, Olga. ‘Russia’s Online-Comment Propaganda Army.’ Atlantic. 9 October 2013
Malgin, Andrei. Zapiski mizantropa <http://avmalgin.livejournal.com/4628235.html>
‘Rosiiske telebachennia povidomliaie pro peremohu Iarosha.’ Rakurs. 4 June 2014 <http://ua.racurs.ua/news/27961-rosiyske-telebachennya-povidomlyaie-pro-peremogu-yarosha-foto>
Seddon, Max. ‘Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America.’ BuzzFeed. 2 June 2014. http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/documents-show-how-russias-troll-army-hit-america
Shepelin, Ilia. ‘Dmitrii Kiselev nazval ‘sluchainostiu’ kadry s Severnogo Kavkaza v siuzhete ‘Rossii 1’ pro Ukrainu.’ Slon.ru. 19 May 2014 <http://slon.ru/fast/russia/dmitriy-kiselev-nazval-sluchaynostyu-kadry-s-terroristam-kavkaza-v-syuzhete-o-pravom-sektore-1100120.xhtml>
‘Top-20 feikiv rosiiskoho ahitpromy.‘ Tyzhden.ua <http://tyzhden.ua/Gallery/110422/1#gallery>
Vovk, Iryna. ‘Dosyt brekhaty : 20 naiohydnishykh liapiv rosiiskykh ZMI pro podii na skhodi Ukrainy.’ Telekanal novyn 24. 31 May 2014. <http://24tv.ua/home/showSingleNews.do?dosit_brehati_20_nayogidnishih_lyapiv_rosiyskih_zmi_pro_podiyi_na_shodi_ukrayini&objectId=448747>
Yates, Brian T. ‘CyberBerkut Atempt to Alter Ukrainian Election.’ Liberty Voice <http://guardianlv.com/2014/05/cyberberkut-attempt-to-alter-ukrainian-election/>
Young, Cathy. ‘Want a good look at Putin’s Pervy Propaganda? See ‘The Furies of Maidan’.’ The Daily Beast. 25 April 2014