Fact Check

Is This Image of a Mass Grave from the War in Ukraine?

Pro-Putin trolls were pushing context-free photos as evidence of heavy Ukrainian losses.

Published Mar 14, 2023

A photograph of bodies lined up in a ditch shows Ukrainians killed by Russians during Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

A photograph shared by pro-Vladimir Putin social media accounts purports to show the bodies of dead Ukrainians in an open ditch killed by Russians during their full-scale invasion of Ukraine:

However, this picture predates the most recent Ukraine-Russia conflict by well over a decade, and depicts a mass burial site created during the First Chechnyan War. Several versions of the picture were published prior to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, with the earliest example identified by Snopes dating back to at least 2006.

The photograph appears to have been taken by Georgian photojournalist Shakh Aivazov, who worked for The Associated Press during several Russian wars. It is included in a gallery of the Georgian Museum of Photography attributed to him and labeled "Chechnya, 1996." 

These pictures appear to match video and other photographs of a graveyard on the outskirts of the Chechnyan capital of Grozny during the first Chechnyan war:

A 2019 interview with Aivazov published by a Georgian media outlet included this photograph, as well. In that interview, Aivazov described the effect witnessing such burial sites had on him [via Google Translate]:

A large pit has been cut lengthwise and many corpses have been laid to rest. Relatives came to identify them. I felt sick when I saw this scene.

Because the image predates the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2021, and because the photograph was taken in Chechnya in the 1990s, we rate this claim as "False."


AP. https://newsroom.ap.org/editorial-photos-videos/detail?itemid=cce7108220fc9561adecb9a183446123&mediatype=video&source=youtube. Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.

Kavkaz-Center. "От красного террора к путинскому." Kavkazcenter.com, https://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2004/04/26/20175/ot-krasnogo-terrora-k-putinskomu.shtml. Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.

Shakhvalad Aivazov. http://www.photomuseum.org.ge/aivazov/photos_en.htm. Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.

"რა საშინელებების შემსწრე გახდა შახ აივაზოვი შვიდ ომში." თბილისელები, http://old.tbiliselebi.ge/index.php?newsid=268456907. Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.

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

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