Fact Check

Does This Video Show Ukrainian Soldiers Terrorizing a Mother and Her Child?

"In carrying out such information operations, ours still has to learn …," a Russian Telegram account acknowledged.

Published Mar 29, 2023

Claim:
A video shows Ukrainian military "berate and shoot" at a mother and child "simply for speaking Russian."

On March 27, 2023, the official Twitter account of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) tweeted a video it described as depicting Ukrainian military personnel accosting and terrorizing a mother and child:

"This is the kind of terror Ukrainians are living in," the Russian MFA said. "Witness Ukrainian military berate and shoot at a mother with a child in the backseat, calling her 'pig' & 'scum' simply for ... speaking Russian." The tweet, which was later deleted, included the hashtags "#Think4Yourself and #See4Yourself." 

The problem? It was filmed in territory that has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014. 

Background

According to the timestamp shown on the video, the alleged altercation took place on March 24, 2023. According to investigative outlet Bellingcat, the earliest appearance of the video located thus far comes from the Telegram account Two Majors, which is a "a pro-Russian Telegram channel which regularly posts footage from the frontline in Ukraine." The video went even more viral on Telegram — a social media app popular in Russia — when a Russian state sponsored media outlet, Readovka, shared it on the app with this description (translated by Google):

"Scum, give us documents" - a militant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine stopped a car with a mother and a child for "violating traffic rules," and then fired at a car for speaking in Russian. The Ukrainian militant inadequately began to knock on the car so that the girl would give him her documents. The reason for the stop was that her car overtook a military convoy.

The girl asked the military to speak adequately, but, apparently, the Ukrainian army does not understand such words. When she spoke to him in Russian, the Nazi called her "a pig, stupid and filthy." In the end, the mother of a small child began to become hysterical and panic, but the militant did not stop there either - he stood next to the car and fired several times, which frightened the baby very much.

At the end of the video, both the girl and the child can be heard screaming loudly. The insignia on the vehicle of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is also noteworthy - it was with such signs that the Nazis designated themselves, who destroyed the Russian people on the territory of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War.

The video gained further virality within Russia when popular pro-Russia accounts, including one named Veteran Record, re-shared the video.

Thinking for Yourself

Russia observers were immediately suspicious of several elements in the video. As described by Bellingcat, the very existence of dash-cam footage from Ukraine, or the military ignoring an obviously placed camera, is unlikely, as the devices have been banned there:

Early reactions suggested that the footage, or the way it was presented by pro-Russian actors, was suspicious. Ukrainian social media users were quick to note that dashcams had been banned in the country for nearly a year, in attempts to stop the spread of information about Ukraine's armed forces.

Other users noted the cross symbol painted on the rear of the alleged Ukrainian vehicle is drawn in a style (a white outline whose negative space creates the cross shape) that closely resembles that used by Nazi Germany. The Ukrainian military typically uses a simple, single-line white cross. 

More problematic, however, is the location of the video. Several online sleuths independently geo-located the video to a position held by Russian troops since 2014. Generally, these users use identifiable structures like power lines, branches, and rocks, and then find satellite or map-based imagery that matches those features:

This process led multiple researchers to independently and conclusively place the video in the town of Makiivka, just outside of Donetsk, Ukraine — a region that has been occupied by Russia-aligned forces since 2014:

It is unlikely that an entire Ukrainian "military convoy," as alleged in news descriptions of the altercation, could travel with such impunity this deep into enemy territory. 

Seeing For Yourself

The geo-location confirmation was made not only by people using Google maps and other satellite images. Another user physically went to the spot identified by online sleuths, photographed the branches above that location, and found they were a perfect match for the branches that appear in the video.

Ultimately, even the most aggressive pro-Russia accounts would apparently concede the video was staged. "Video fake. Our crooked exercise,"  the aforementioned Russian Telegram account Veteran Record wrote hours after initially sharing the video. "In carrying out such information operations, ours still has to learn and learn." 

Another user, whose message was re-shared by Veteran Record, chastised their own side for failing at this propaganda effort (translated by Google):

Any fakes from the right side will be grabbed by the enemy, rumbling, and used in their own interests, because, being a Lie, they can turn any nonsense in their favor. [...] It is not possible to defeat the Lie with the Truth right now (we didn't study, we don't know how), then the Lie must be defeated by the Lie. But not before we master this art better than the enemy.

The Russia MFA Twitter account deleted the tweet the next day, on March 28, 2023

The Bottom Line

Though the Russian MFA had not acknowledged the video was staged, the description presented in the tweet and other pro-Russia posts was wholly incompatible with the location in which it was filmed.

This evidence was convincing enough for several rabidly pro-Russia accounts to conclude that it was a failed Russian propaganda effort, and it was convincing enough for the Russian MFA to delete its tweet. For that reason, we rate claims about this video as "False."

Sources

Dashcams Temporarily Banned in Ukraine. 21 Mar. 2022, https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3435379-dashcams-temporarily-banned-in-ukraine.html.

dva_majors. "ВСУшники Назвали Мусульманку с Ребенком 'Свиньей' За Обгон Воинской Колонны." Telegram, https://t.me/notes_veterans/8659.

German Armor Balkenkreuz and Tactical Numbers. https://panzerworld.com/german-armor-balkenkreuz-tactical-numbers. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.

Higgins, Eliot. "How Online Investigators Proved Video of Ukrainian Soldiers Harassing Woman Was Staged." Bellingcat, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2023/03/29/how-online-investigators-proved-video-of-ukrainian-soldiers-harassing-woman-was-staged/.

m0sc0wcalling. "Идёшь в Разведку - Гляди На Ветки. Народная Мудрость Времён Финской Войны." Telegram, https://t.me/m0sc0wcalling/21934.

mfa_russia. "#Think4Yourself #See4Yourself." Twitter, https://archive.is/h4zZI.

notes_veterans. "'Асвабадители' Из ВСУ Общаются Со Своими Украинскими Гражданами." Telegram, https://t.me/notes_veterans/8659.

"The Symbol That the Ukrainians Paint on Their Military Vehicles against the Z of the Russians." Defensa y Aviación, https://www.outono.net/elentir/2022/09/08/the-symbol-that-the-ukrainians-paint-on-their-military-vehicles-against-the-z-of-the-russians/. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.
 

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

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