When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Ukraine

Spunky Kiev Journalism Students Expose Bogus Kremlin Reports

StopFake, established by Kiev journalism students, analyzes media coverage in both Russia and Ukraine, fact-checking reports -- and separating fact from prolific fiction.

StopFake's Margo Gontar (above) and Alina Sugonyako
StopFake's Margo Gontar (above) and Alina Sugonyako
Inga Pylypchuk

KIEV — Journalism students in Kiev are operating an Internet platform called StopFake, which has emerged as arguably the most powerful tool in the media war between Russia and Ukraine, because it is fact-checking assertions by the Kremlin and exposing them when they are patently untrue.

How do you distinguish a real piece of news from a concocted one? The Ukrainian initiative has been analyzing news coverage of the war in Ukraine for more than a year now, and with just one click readers can discover whether a photo that supposedly depicts atrocities committed by the Ukrainian Army in Donbass is fake or real.

The results are often quite amazing. With some pictures, it becomes clear almost instantaneously that they were photoshopped from an original photo that had been freely available on the Internet for years — minus the fire, smoke and hand grenade splinters, of course. Other photos weren't taken in Ukraine at all but instead in Chechnya — more than 20 years ago.

"Expose the lies"

StopFake was founded in March 2014 by journalism students and graduates of the journalism department at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. One of the founders is 27-year-old Alina Sugonjako from Kharkiv. "The false reports, issued by the Kremlin-controlled media, have increased significantly since the beginning of the Crimea crisis," Sugonjako says. "We wanted to at least be a part of this media war, even if we can't win it, and it seemed most effective to simply expose the lies."

As the military action in Donbass increased, Russian methods became ever more brazen. On Russian television, the same actors who first portrayed mercenaries later on posed as injured civilians. The peak of absurdity came when a Russian TV channel broadcast the story of a 3-year-old boy in Sloviansk, whom Ukrainian soldiers had supposedly crucified on a notice board. Even though it later emerged that the journalists reporting the story had no evidence that it really happened, and that the statement from the supposed witness was nothing but the result of an overactive imagination, no official correction was ever broadcast.

But such lies are common enough on Russian television. In conjunction with other manipulative strategies, they have come to be known simply as "Russian propaganda."

The StopFake project is bankrolled through crowdfunding and with promotional funds from the International Renaissance Foundation, founded by George Soros, as well as with money from the National Endowment for Democracy. A team of 20 journalists researches social media, Russian and Ukrainian media as well as websites of the so-called People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. It releases a video every week featuring "Exposures of the Week." Sugonjako hosts the show, and its most successful videos have been viewed more than 130,000 times.

Busted

One recent one debunks a report asserting that the public prosecutor's office of the "People's Republic of Luhansk" discovered American "Stinger" anti-aircraft missiles at Luhansk airport. These missiles were supposedly left behind by the Ukrainian Army after it abandoned the stronghold in the summer of 2014. The report shows boxes with the inscription "Tracking Rainer." A blogger exposed these pictures as fake, saying that the correct term for that missile type is "Tracking Trainer" and that "Tracking Rainer" is the fake name used for their virtual counterparts in the computer game Battlefield 3.

The next item in the show actually exposed a fake report from Ukraine. Channel STB had broadcast images of a severely injured Ukrainian soldier who was supposedly denied necessary medical attention by doctors in Donetsk. But StopFake showed that medical procedures were indeed undertaken, and even interviewed the surgeon who took charge of the injured soldier after he had been treated in Donetsk.

It's a mystery to Sugonjako why the channel broadcast the fake information. "I am assuming that the channel wanted to incite people," she says. "People love to hate." But unlike the practice of Russian media, Ukrainian media are typically only guilty of broadcasting incorrect information because they didn't research the topic properly.

"There is no uniform propaganda that is filtered down from the highest ranks as is the case in Russia," Sugonjako says. "But, nonetheless, no fakes should come about when real journalism is applied."

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How South American Oceans Can Sway The U.S.-China Showdown

As global rivalries and over-fishing impact the seas around South America, countries there must find a common strategy to protect their maritime backyards.

RIMPAC 2022

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — As the U.S.-China rivalry gathers pace, oceans matter more than ever. This is evident just looking at the declarations and initiatives enacted concerning the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Yet there is very little debate in South America on the Sino-American confrontation and its impact on seas around South America, specifically the South-Eastern Pacific (SEP) and South-Western Atlantic (SWA). These have long ceased to be empty spaces — and their importance to the world's superpowers can only grow.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ