Fact Check: Photo Of A Woman At An 'International Airport' Does NOT Show The Wife Of Russia's Belgorod Region Governor Fleeing Country

Fact Check

  • by: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Photo Of A Woman At An 'International Airport' Does NOT Show The Wife Of Russia's Belgorod Region Governor Fleeing Country Old Photo

Does a photo shared on social media during the May 22, 2023, attack on the Russian region of Belgorod by two paramilitary groups show the wife of the region's governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, at an "international airport" with her "belongings"? No, that's not true: This photo was distributed by the Russian airline Azur Air at least three months before these groups crossed the border into Russia and attacked the Belgorod region. The original photo, which shows more of the airport area, makes plain that the woman at the airport is not Gladkov's wife, Marina Gladkova, whose recent photos can be found on the governor's account on the Russian social-media app VKontakte and in a Google search.

The claims appeared in a post on Twitter (archived here) published by Eva K. @EvaTrmx86qc7r on May 22, 2023. Text for the tweeted photo he tweet said:

The wife of Belgorod Region Governor Gladkov was spotted at the international airport with belongings.

We don't leave ours


"We don't leave ours" could be a literal translation of the Russian expression "Своих не бросаем." It means "We don't leave our people behind."

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

gladkova1_thumb.png
(Source: Twitter.com screenshot taken on Tue May 30 13:44:23 2023 UTC)

On the day the video was published, May 22, 2023, two paramilitary groups, Freedom of Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps, identifying themselves as Russian volunteers fighting for Ukraine, announced that they had crossed the Ukrainian border into Russia's Belgorod region and were creating a "demilitarized zone" there.

This triggered a wave of memes and disinformation in English, Ukrainian and Russian about the departure of residents from the regional seat, Belgorod, and the surrounding area. The claim about Marina Gladkova at an "international airport" featured among them.

The posted image of the airport shows a billboard in the upper lefthand corner of the image. The cropped part of a logo with the word "air" in Latin letters and part of a sentence in Russian can be seen:

(...)й элемент

(...)его отдыха


Lead Stories translation:

(...)th element

(...)ur vacation


gladkova3_billboard.png
(Source: Twitter.com screenshot taken on Thu 25 13:42:45 2023 UTC; collage by Lead Stories)

Lead Stories assumed that the full phrase could be "Пятый элемент вашего отдыха" ("The fifth element of your vacation"), a reference to the 1997 movie The Fifth Element, whose characters made an intergalactic journey.

A Google search for this phrase yielded a 2019 video titled in Russian "AZUR air - the fifth element of your vacation (c)." The video was posted on the YouTube account of the Russian company Azur Air. Its logo matches the cropped logo in the photo.

The analyzed photo was not publicly available on Azur Air's corporate website azurair.ru at the time of writing.

Further clues can be found in the airport photo. The airport floor in the photo is interspersed with black rectangular tiles. A reverse image search on Google led to a Shutterstock photo that shows an airport with a similar floor. (Click on the image below to enlarge it.).


gladkova4_flour.png
(Source: Google.com screenshot taken on Thu May 25 13:57:05 2023 UTC; Lead Stories added the red frame.)

The photo is described on Shutterstock as follows: "Moscow. Russia. 08 June 2019. Vnukovo airport. The queue of passengers to the check-in Desk of Azur Air." Photos of Vnukovo International Airport on Google and on the airport's website confirm that this airport, located outside Moscow, has such a floor with black spots.

Combining the clues about the airline with the clue about the airport, we did a new Google search in Russian for "azur vnukovo." A photo of airport passengers, similar to the one in the tweet, appeared among the search results. It is circled in the screenshot below.

gladkova5_googlesearch-thumb.jpg
(Source: Google.com screenshot taken on Thu May 25 15:23:07 2023 UTC)

The link led to an article, published on February 2, 2023, on the website of the Russian Association of Tour Operators, with the headline "AZUR air welcomed its six-millionth passenger at Vnukovo" (translation from Russian by Lead Stories).

The photo that is the target of this fact check is the article's main image. At the bottom of the article, a credit reads: "Photo: AZUR air."

The article did not contain a caption or description of the photo. However, the article's date of publication -- February 2, 2023 -- indicates that the photo in question cannot illustrate the events of May 2023.

The photo on the website of the Russian Association of Tour Operators is larger than the one that went viral on social media for supposedly showing Gladkov's wife waiting to fly out of Russia. It shows that the woman circled in red, described on social media as Governor Gladkov's wife, has medium-length hair.

gladkova6_accociation.png
(Source: Aatorus.ru screenshot taken on Thu May 25 19:33:32 2023 UTC)

But Marina Gladkova has a short hairstyle, as shown in a search of Google Images. On May 21, 2023, the day before the attack on Belgorod region, the governor posted a video on his account on VKontakte, the Russian social-media app (see below), that shows that his wife was still wearing her hair short on the eve of the attack on the Belgorod region. The Telegram channel for the local outlet Belgorod News also shared one of these videos.

gladkova7_vk.png
(Source: VKontakte screenshot taken on Thu May 25 17:10:52 2023 UTC)

In a video posted on his VKontakte account on May 23, 2023, Gladkov mentioned "fake" claims about "my wife at some airport" as part of an "unprecedented" information attack after the border breach that, he said, was aimed at inciting panic in the Belgorod region.

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

(This fact check was written by Evgenia Prodaeva. It is an adaptation of Prodaeva's May 26, 2023, Ukrainian-language fact check "На фото жінки в аеропорту НЕ зображена дружина губернатора Білгородської області Гладкова, яка тікає з Білгорода" for Lead Stories.)

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