Fact Check

Is This a Real Recruitment Poster to US Welfare Recipients for the International Legion of Ukraine?

"This episode is to be investigated by local security authorities," a spokesperson for the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA told Snopes.

Published April 6, 2023

A photograph of a poster depicting a homeless man on a subway that reads "tired of living on welfare?" shows a genuine recruitment poster for the International Legion of Ukraine.

In early April 2023, a photograph of a poster apparently advertising the International Legion of Ukraine to American welfare recipients went viral. The earliest appearance of the image Snopes identified comes from April 3, when a pro-Russian Twitter account tweeted it with the caption, "Homeless Americans lured to Ukraine with promises of monthly wages and health insurance."

Though formatted in the way that would appear familiar to viewers in former Soviet states, the phone number listed on the poster is that of the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA in Washington, D.C. A later iteration of the poster photograph that crops this suspiciously formatted number out of view went viral:

Halyna Yusypiuk, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA, told Snopes by email that "Neither Ukrainian MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs], MOD [Ministry of Defense], nor the Embassy ever produced any materials marketing the recruitment of the US citizens to the Legion," adding that "this episode" would be "investigated by local security authorities." 

Even without an official denial from Ukrainian officials, however, several features of the poster raise suspicions of its authenticity. 

Wrong Phone Number Format 

The picture was taken, or is made to look like it was taken, in some sort of unemployment benefits office. Two phone numbers in the top of the photograph are for the Idaho Department of Unemployment Labor and the Hawaii Department of Unemployment Insurance. This is suggestive of a poster targeting unemployed Americans. 

Despite that not-so-subtle suggestion, the number an American would have to call to sign up is formatted in a way that is quite literally foreign to Americans. However, the number's formatting would look familiar to Ukrainians and Russians. In fact, the format is one that some official Ukrainian websites use, and it is similar to how the Russian Embassies in America have posted their phone numbers to their citizens

The Ukrainian Embassy would, indeed, be the first place to go if you were to sign up for the International Legion of Ukraine. That's about all the alleged poster gets right about the organization, however.

Incorrect Info About Legion

The International Legion, formed by a presidential decree following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, does not take just anyone — they require volunteers with not only military experience but also actual combat experience. 

While there are no doubt countless American veterans who are unemployed or on welfare and who have combat experience, the implication that the legion is actively recruiting from this pool is false. It is unclear what the poster's author means by "International Volunteer Status," but this does not appear to be a title associated with service in the legion. It is also unclear what is meant, in the context of active military duty, by "medical insurance." 

Service in the legion is far from lucrative. According to an early contract signed by a foreign legionnaire, the pay amounted to about $230 a month. In an emailed statement, embassy spokesperson Yusypiuk told Snopes:

After Russia launched large-scale aggression against Ukraine on 24 February 2022 President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky created the International Legion of Ukraine. It consists of foreign citizens wishing to join the resistance against the Russian occupiers and fight for global security. [...]

From the beginning of the war thousands of Americans approached the Embassy seeking more information on how to join the Armed forces of Ukraine. Many of them signed the contract with the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and are now part of our fight for freedom and independence.

They are not mercenaries who are coming to earn money. They are people who signed an official contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine - people of goodwill who are assisting Ukraine to fight for our independence. Some of them paid the highest price defending our joint values. Ukraine highly values every member of the Legion as well as all American citizens who render support to Ukraine.

The purported recruitment poster, in other words, misrepresents the very organization it alleges to speak for. 

Tell-Tale Signs of Propaganda

Creating dubious-looking posters and posting the phone number of a Ukrainian or American embassy is a Russian misinformation tactic that has already been employed during the war. In March 2023, for example, Snopes examined claims that a "dementia center" was advertising itself by using a picture of Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The poster, which was not legitimate, included the contact number of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Further, highlighting or discussing the American welfare state, a polarizing topic in American politics, is a common feature of American-targeted Russian propaganda. 

Regardless of its actual origin, however, the poster is not legitimate. Not only is it riddled with suspicious errors, the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA has denied authorship of, or support for, the poster. For these reasons, we rate the claim as "False."



"Fighters with Ukraine's Foreign Legion Are Being Asked to Sign Indefinite Contracts. Some Have Refused." The Economist. The Economist, https://www.economist.com/1843/2022/03/11/fighters-with-ukraines-foreign-legion-are-being-asked-to-sign-indefinite-contracts-some-have-refused. Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.

McCarthy, Tom. "How Russia Used Social Media to Divide Americans." The Guardian, 14 Oct. 2017. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/14/russia-us-politics-social-media-facebook.

О Выборах в Государственную Думу Федерального Собрания Российской Федерации Восьмого Созыва. Embassy of Russia in the USA / Посольство России в США, https://www.facebook.com/RusEmbUSA/posts/pfbid02QGRJ3GuGLR3vDmGpBdBfesM1KDF1bDVq8TMkAJ6zBgCTQxcfTTkRMg4uZeeDhF6Vl. Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.

"Телефони Посольств." AidUnit, https://aidunit.org/information-assistance/embassy-phones/page/2. Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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