Does the Ukrainian Military Display a 'Nazi Cross' on Some Vehicles or Tanks?

Video ostensibly showing a Ukrainian service member driving away in a car marked with a cross once used by Nazi Germany reignited an old debate.

Published Jun 28, 2023

 (OSINTDefender / Reuters)
Image Via OSINTDefender / Reuters

On June 25, 2023, a video of what appears to be a member of the Ukrainian military driving a personal car adorned with a black cross outlined with white bars sparked intense debate over Nazi symbolism in the Ukrainian military. The Ukraine war monitoring and open source intelligence account OSINTdefender highlighted this video as an example of problematic symbolism — the Balkenkreuz — that Ukraine should avoid:

"Ukrainian Military Officials and Equipment using the 'Balkenkreuz' or Iron Cross from the Imperial/Nazi Germany-Era is an extremely bad look and needs to be talked about more," the account tweeted. "I'm not sure why this is continued to be allowed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, there should be harsh punishments for anyone who is seen to be using these Symbols."

Several online users attempted to add Community Notes — a Twitter fact-checking feature — to this tweet, suggesting OSINTdefender's text contained a factual error. The primary claim, in this regard, was that the cross displayed was not a Nazi symbol but was, instead, the Iron Cross used by the modern German army. This is not the case. That army's present cross, while equidistant and outlined by white marks, contains flared edges:

Others suggested the cross was the same as the white equidistant cross painted on nearly all Ukrainian military vehicles for identification purposes. This is not the case either. The cross used by the Ukrainian military is a simple white equidistant cross, not a shape created by negative space:


The cross at issue in the viral video is neither a modern-era German Iron Cross nor the simple cross used as an indicator by the Ukrainian army. It is true that variants similar to the cross in the viral video had been used by the Nazis in World War II.

This type of cross has a specific history in Ukraine, however, that predated its use in Nazi Germany. A guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the Ukrainian National Army against the Red Army and other forces from 1919 to 1920 is known as the First Winter Campaign. As described in an article posted by the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine:

At the end of November 1919, the remnants of the Ukrainian army found themselves in the so-called "triangle of death" - a small patch of territory near the towns of Chudniv and Lubar (now Zhytomyr region), surrounded by the Red, Volunteer and Polish armies. At that time, reconciliation was achieved with the Poles. 

The Command of the UPR troops faced a choice: either move to Polish territory and be interned, or seek a compromise with the Bolsheviks, or continue the struggle. At the military meeting, they came to the conclusion that it was impossible to continue the front-line war with the regular army. 

So they decided to conduct a raid on the Ukrainian territory with combat-capable units through the rear of the Bolsheviks and Denikinites, and in the spring to raise an uprising in all of Ukraine.

The campaign, the article continued, led to a Ukrainian "national consciousness" and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance:

The Winter Campaign contributed to the significant rise of the spirit of the Army and national consciousness among the masses of the Ukrainian population. [...] The Ukrainian population realized the true essence of its slogans. The Winter Campaign also laid the traditions of successful armed struggle in the rear of the enemy, which was repeatedly used in different periods of Ukrainian history.

A "steel cross," as it is sometimes described in Ukraine, was the symbol of that Winter Campaign — the military award given for participation in these campaigns contained that equidistant cross. In this case, the cross is created by the negative space between gold lines. The medal looks like this:


In 2019, a Ukrainian military unit that has been fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine since 2014 — the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade — was renamed "Knights of the First Winter Campaign." That Brigade's insignia, approved by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, presently contains this same cross:

Several Ukrainian tanks or other military vehicles have been photographed with similar crosses painted on their exterior, particularly those fighting in and around the highly contested city of Bakhmut. 

The 28th Mechanized Brigade, among others, suffered heavy losses in defense of this city. While it is hard to infer intent from a photograph or a video, the use of such a cross in Ukraine must be considered in this specific context before concluding its use is a reference to a movement — Nazism — whose armed forces used the same symbol 20 years later. 

With respect to the specific viral video, Snopes has no reason to doubt its authenticity. The license plate is clearly visible, and a car matching the one in the video with that same plate is listed and photographed in open-source records of Ukrainian license plates. 

While its resolution is too low for a positive identification, the patch on the arm of this car's driver is consistent with a symbol associated with members of the Ukrainian military serving in mechanized infantry brigades:


Far from a specific identification — as it refers to the primary type of soldier in the Ukrainian ground forces — mechanized infantry brigades fighting in Donbass include those whose tanks are sometimes photographed with a cross similar to the car in the video.

While one could debate the merits of using a symbol that has since become complicated by its use in other contexts, there is no reason to interpret such cross's use in Ukraine as a reference to Nazism. 



Balmforth, Tom. "Joy in Northeast Ukraine as Residents Return after Russian Retreat." Reuters, 12 Sept. 2022.,

"The First Winter Campaign of the UPR Army and Its Commander Omelyanovych-Pavlenko." Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine,

The Power of the "Steel Cross" | Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Accessed 28 June 2023.

"The Symbol That the Ukrainians Paint on Their Military Vehicles against the Z of the Russians." Defensa y Aviación, Accessed 28 June 2023.

"UA 13067125." Platesmania.Com,

Ukrainian Tanks Fire Shells near Bakhmut amid Bloodiest Battle of War., Accessed 28 June 2023.

"Беретний знак Механізовані війська ціни в Києві, Харкові, Дніпрі, Одесі, Запоріжжі | купити в інтернет-магазині Мілітарист." Militarist, Accessed 28 June 2023.

Затверджено Нарукавник 28-ї Механізованої Бригади. 3 Oct. 2019,

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

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