At the beginning of March 2022, as Russian armored columns advanced into Ukraine from all directions, the fear that gripped the nation and the world, as the second army in the world attacked Ukraine, was undermined by the images that appeared of a captured Russian soldier, Andrei Ryazantsev. That single photo of him undid the billions spent by Moscow on propaganda, particularly in the minds of Ukrainians.

 

He was quickly nicknamed ‘Chmonya’, a Ukrainian slang term meaning ‘Nincompoop’, as those who saw his image posted on social media asked the question “Is this a Russian superman? How can we lose to this?” Photos and videos of him gained more than 50 million views and he became the ‘hero’ of hundreds of memes.

 

Before the war Ryazantsev worked as a teacher, but was conscripted in Horlivka, in the Donetsk region shortly before the full-scale invasion and was captured a few weeks later. He was released by Ukraine, after almost four months in captivity, as part of a prisoner exchange on 28 June 2022, when 16 Ukrainian service members and one civilian returned home.

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Ryazantsev disappeared off the radar but, a Ukrainian internet site contacted his sister, recently, to ask how he was getting on. She told them he had returned to the front: "They were not allowed to go home; he came back for a week and a half and was sent back to the front again," she said.

 

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Chmonya’s release was mentioned in a news report on Ukrainian TV and was seen as sad by many in Ukraine as his capture had become seen as a symbol of Ukraine's impending victory. Social media’s response to the news item was unanimous, captivity had been good for Chmonya - he was fatter, more human, more handsome.

 

The internet response to the news that he had returned to the fight, was less amused and warned that he would not be so lucky as to be taken prisoner by Ukraine this time.

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