Fact Check: Poster Does NOT Show A Real War Recruiting Campaign Launched By Ukraine In The U.S. To Target Low-Income Populations

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Poster Does NOT Show A Real War Recruiting Campaign Launched By Ukraine In The U.S. To Target Low-Income Populations Did Not Happen

Does a viral snapshot of a poster portray authentic recruiting efforts of Ukraine to encourage the homeless and welfare recipients in the United States to join the fight against Russia? No, that's not true: The rumor was promoted by Kremlin-affiliated entities citing unidentified and unconfirmed social media posts. The Ukrainian Embassy in the United States denied the country's involvement in such a campaign. "This episode is to be investigated by local security authorities," added the Embassy's representative replying to an inquiry from Lead Stories.

The claim appeared in a tweet (archived here) published on April 6, 2023. It said: "Ok. Ukraine is now recruiting homeless and welfare bludgers...."

The tweet contained a poster showing a man sleeping on a subway train that continued:

Tired of living on welfare?

Join the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine

International volunteer status

Medical insurance

Monthly payments

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2023-04-06 at 2.07.47 PM.png

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Thu Apr 6 18:54:44 2023 UTC)

The claim quickly spread across social platforms and languages, showing signs of a coordinated campaign. Lead Stories found examples of such posts in Italian and Russian.

One of the first accounts to promote the rumor on Twitter (archived here) had already posted false claims at least twice (they were debunked by Lead Stories here and here). Yet, it was still cited as a single unnamed source by the Kremlin-controlled Russian-language media organization Ria Fan that reported the "news" without verifying the identity of the person behind the account and without obtaining any additional confirmation.

The image of the man sleeping on the train in the New York City subway appears to be authentic: It matches the color of the seats and the overall interior design of NYC subway cars. But that photo, originally posted on a stock image website, did not contain a reference to any recruitment campaign -- it only captured a scene.

The poster reused the photo, but, contrary to what some social media posts claimed, there is no evidence that the snapshot of it was taken in New York City.

An uncropped version of the poster published on April 4, 2023, on Reddit in the section "Best conspiracy memes" shows the poster in question placed in a plastic folder attached apparently to a wall some office.

Furthermore, the poster contained signs of digital manipulation. In the original photo, a piece of cardboard wasn't fully visible. It had a different shape and did not contain any inscriptions. A tattoo on a man's arm was removed, and his jeans' color was lightened:

Screen Shot 2023-04-06 at 1.32.38 PM.png

(Sources: Reddit screenshot taken on Thu Apr 6 17:23:28 2023 UTC; Pexels screenshot taken on Thu Apr 6 17:26:03 2023 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)

The supposed official logo didn't entirely match the emblem of Ukraine's International Legion either: The latter contains visible black lines within the yellow trident, and the quality of the photo in question didn't appear to be so low that those nuances would disappear:

Screen Shot 2023-04-06 at 12.59.46 PM.png

(Sources: Reddit screenshot taken on Thu Apr 6 17:23:28 2023 UTC; Fightforua screenshot taken on Apr 6 16:53:23 2023 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)

The uncropped poster contained a specific phone number Lead Stories dialed repeatedly, but the call never went through. It was one of the numbers listed on the Ukraine International Legion website. However, the website made no mention of a new campaign to recruit the homeless or welfare recipients in the U.S. Contrary to the claim, which did not mention any terms and conditions, the International Legion website emphasized that only those with confirmed combat experience and no criminal record will be considered.

In response to an inquiry from Lead Stories, the communication department of Ukraine's Embassy in the U.S. said via email on April 6, 2023:

The posters you are asking about are not real. Neither Ukrainian MFA, MOD, nor the Embassy ever produced any materials marketing the recruitment of the US citizens to the Legion. This episode is to be investigated by local security authorities.

The embassy added that many of the volunteers fighting in Ukraine's armed forces "signed an official contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine" and that they "are not mercenaries," but the embassy did not specify whether any of them were U.S. citizens.

In spring 2022, as the full-scale war continued to unfold in Ukraine, small groups of qualified American veterans headed overseas, responding to the call of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Yet, those were the efforts coordinated through a relevant nonprofit that screened candidates, and no credible sources mentioned specific recruitment campaigns targeting low-income Americans on U.S. soil.

In contrast, independent media organizations reported (for example, here, here and here) that Russia, trying to bring more people to fight on its side in the war zone, expanded its recruiting efforts not only to prisoners but also to Russia's homeless.

Other Lead Stories fact-checks about the war in Ukraine can be found here.

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  Uliana Malashenko

Uliana Malashenko is a New York-based freelance writer and fact checker.

Read more about or contact Uliana Malashenko

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