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Image of girl with gun is an old meme, not recent Ukraine photo

February 14, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A photo of a girl on a bus with a rifle shows “life in Ukraine, now.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The photo shows a Russian social media influencer, Ekaterina Gladkikh, holding a fake gun after a photo shoot. The photo was taken in March 2020, well before tensions began escalating between Russia and Ukraine in recent weeks.

THE FACTS: A Twitter user shared the photo — which shows a girl scrolling through a smartphone on public transportation while holding a fake gun — over the weekend, with a misleading caption suggesting it was a recent image of life in Ukraine amid warnings of an imminent Russian invasion.

The post was shared more than 1,500 times and gained more than 6,000 likes. Another Saturday post, calling the photo “daily life in Ukraine,” was also shared thousands of times, though many users took to the comments to dispute that the image was taken recently, or in Ukraine.

The image was taken in March 2020, according to Gladkikh, who lists her location on Instagram as Novosibirsk, a city in Siberia.

Gladkikh told The Associated Press through direct messages on Instagram that she was returning from a photo shoot when the photo was taken. “With this fake weapon, I managed to sit in a cafe and, as you can see, and take a ride in transport. None of the passers-by or the guards asked me any questions,” she said.

“I live in Russia, not in Ukraine,” she added.

In other photos posted on Instagram, she can be seen wearing the same beige hat from the widely shared photo. She also posted a story highlight video in March 2020 where she was wearing the same distinctive nail polish as the photo, where one hand was painted with red nail polish, while the other was painted with blue polish.

Reverse image search results show the photo has also appeared over time on Facebook and Twitter, with captions from 2020 and 2021 asserting it showed “a normal day in Russia.” One Facebook post from March 2020, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, captioned the photo: “Slav Girl in need of social distance in bus.” An April 2020 entry on a blog post headlined “Evolution of a Meme: Girl in Belarus on a Bus with AK,” discussed how the image had been repurposed multiple times by online meme pages.

The photo has begun recirculating in recent days as tensions mount between Russia and Ukraine. The two countries have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014. Moscow denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine but has massed well over 130,000 troops near its borders and, in the U.S. view, has built up enough firepower to launch an attack on short notice, the Associated Press has reported.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.