Russian propagandists are using sophisticated fakes to spread disinformation about supposed Ukrainian casualties during its summer counter-offensive, it has been revealed by StopFake.org, an independent fact checker.

StopFake, which is affiliated with the School of Journalism at the highly-regarded Kyiv Mohyla University, said that “Russian Telegram channels, as well as social media trolls, are spreading disinformation about alleged Ukrainian sites showing a large number of ‘victims of the counteroffensive’.”

 “They mention 88,000 people who are ‘dead and wounded among the Ukrainian military as a result of the counter-offensive launched by Kyiv’,” StopFake, founded in 2014, reports.

 The material that is being spread includes manufactured screenshots from fake sites designed to look like independent projects from Ukraine-based non-government organizations.

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StopFake points out that there is no publicly available information about Ukrainian war casualties, as it is the Ukrainian government’s and military’s policy to maintain confidentiality about this aspect, nor are there any known independent projects in this regard.

If real, which it is not, a casualty count of 88,000 over the first month of the counteroffensive would mean that Ukraine has supposedly lost the equivalent of some 18 brigades of troops. Ukrainian officials have in the past indicated that it has formed somewhere between 8 to 10 new brigades in preparation for the counteroffensive – or approximately 40,000 soldiers.

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An analysis of one screenshot being disseminated by Russian propagandists was undertaken by StopFake.

“We analyzed the shared screenshot from the alleged ‘Ukrainian resource’ with information about ‘casualties of the counter-offensive’ and came to this conclusion: it has many nuances that show it was created by Russian propagandists,” StopFake said.

StopFake point out that:

·      There is no such site as https://www.stayingalive.in.ua/ ;

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·      There is no related site domain information on resources such as  whois, whoxy, and;

·      The only web cache that has the alleged website is Russian-operated Yandex where the propagandistic claims are repeated.

 

The following is a screenshot from yandexwebcache.net .

The name of the fake site – stayingalive.in.ua – is also designed to mimic the name of the actual Ukrainian voluntary organization ‘Come Back Alive’, StopFake noted. 

That NGO is a well-established supporter of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and provides telecommunications equipment, vehicles, quad bikes, night vision equipment and other materiel. It has very strong credibility among many Ukrainians.

“Searching for people, who have disappeared, as well as general counts of killed and wounded, is not an activity of ‘Come Back Alive’”, StopFake said. 

Since May 2023, StopFake points out, there is only one register in Ukraine of individuals who have disappeared during the war, including soldiers, and are being searched for. Established by Radio Liberty, it provides details to relatives about what to do if their loved ones, including military members, are unaccounted for.

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In an interview with El Mundo, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that it is “impossible” to know the exact number of casualties, but that Russia has publicly acknowledged substantially more losses than Ukraine.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in early July that on average Russian losses are estimated as five times greater than Ukrainian losses – and eight times greater on the eastern front.

Experts point out that, since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, Russia has accelerated its used of technology and available media for propaganda purposes – which is an acknowledged part of Russian military doctrine.

“We characterize the contemporary Russian model for propaganda as ‘the firehose of falsehood’ because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions,” a recent analysis by strategic thinktank, Rand Corporation, said.

Another key aspect of contemporary Russian propaganda is leveraging “the views of others, especially the views of those who are similar to the message recipient,” as is the case with a fake from a purported Ukrainian sources purporting to be concerned about Ukrainian war casualties.

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“Communications from groups to which the recipient belongs are more likely to be perceived as credible,” Rand Corporation wrote. “If a propaganda channel is (or purports to be) from a group the recipient identifies with, it is more likely to be persuasive.”

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