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Posts misrepresent image of Ukrainians training with fake guns

February 28, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: An image of two Ukrainian men armed with mock rifles indicates that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is staged or fake and does not involve real combat.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The image shows Ukrainian citizens training for combat with fake rifles before the invasion began, not engaged in actual fighting. Russia has attacked several cities in Ukraine, including its capital, Kyiv, and Ukraine’s military and civilian soldiers have mobilized to fight off the invasion.

THE FACTS: As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued for a fifth day on Monday, an image of two Ukrainian men armed with fake guns circulated online with misleading text.

The image, which briefly aired over the weekend in a Fox News broadcast about Ukrainians preparing to fight back against Russia, shows two men in black jackets and beanie hats holding up thin, rifle-shaped objects that appear to be cut out of wood. Some social media users shared a screenshot of the broadcast with false claims the fake guns in the image proved Russia’s war on Ukraine was “staged” or a “movie.”

“None of it is even real,” wrote one Twitter user who shared the image. “I’m beginning to think that Biden needed Americans to believe his prediction and the MSM is playing it for you. Cardboard guns, really?”

“For those not aware, there is so much fake stuff being shown on TV about the Ukraine war, it’s getting ridiculous,” a Facebook user wrote alongside the image. “Kyiv is NOT under attack by Russians.”

It’s true that propaganda and decontextualized footage shared on social media have made it difficult to discern the truth during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, this image of two men with fake rifles does not indicate that combat in Ukraine is fake or that the attack on Kyiv isn’t happening.

Instead, as a reverse-image search reveals, the photo shows Ukrainian civilians training for combat using fake weapons before Russia launched its invasion.

“Two men with rifle cutouts take cover behind a corner during the territorial defence drill for civilians given by Azov Regiment veterans under the slogan ‘Don’t Panic! Get Ready!,’ Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine,” read a caption for the photo from Ukrinform, a Ukrainian state news agency, which multiple photo-sharing websites also cited as the original source of the image. The caption said the photo was taken on Feb. 19 – five days before the Russian invasion began.

Several legitimate news reports in recent weeks, including from The Associated Press, have shown Ukrainian citizens participating in weapons trainings using wooden cutout rifles.

The Feb. 26 Fox News segment showed the photo alongside several other images and footage from Ukraine during an interview with Ukrainian Parliament member Kira Rudik about the violent conflict. The segment did not give context for the image of the men with the fake guns, nor mention that it was a week old.

A spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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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.