Fact Check: Boris Johnson Did NOT Perform A Nazi Salute While Visiting Ukraine -- Photo Has Been Altered

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Boris Johnson Did NOT Perform A Nazi Salute While Visiting Ukraine -- Photo Has Been Altered Altered Image

Did former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson perform a Nazi salute while standing in front of a controversial flag when he was visiting Ukraine? No, that's not true: This photo has been digitally altered. Johnson received an honorary doctorate, known as Doctor Honoris Causa, at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. The original photo of the event does not show a Nazi salute. A video of the event shows that a photo was snapped while the National Anthem of Ukraine was being sung. The flag in the background is the coat of arms of the University of Lviv which was founded in 1661, it is not the flag of the Waffen Grenadier Division of the 14th SS (Galicia).

On October 4, 2022 Boris Johnson was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by the Academic Council at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. On September 9, 2023 he personally attended a ceremony at the University in Lviv, Ukraine to receive the honorary diploma. An article on 24tv.ua includes a photo of the people on stage which was taken during the singing of the National Anthem of Ukraine. Two people hold their right hands over their heart and the other two, including Johnson, stand with their hands at their sides.

On September 10, 2023 @smak_media published an edited copy of that photo on Telegram. The edit was made to show the three men on stage performing a Nazi salute. The caption of the Telegram post, translated by Google reads:

Photo of the day: Boris Johnson, with a traditional Galician gesture, sincerely congratulates the students of LNU on the beginning of the academic year and shows that the movement on the ladder of knowledge should only go up
How cute

The edited photo with the @smak_media watermark was published on X (formerly Twitter) on September 11, 2023 by @lovelynancie (archived here) The oddly worded caption reads:

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hosted in western Ukraine and saluted with his hand behind him the controversial flag with Nazi insignia of the Waffen Grenadier Division of the 14th SS (Galicia) which was originally made up of Ukrainian volunteers who Nazis.

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Thu Sep 14 14:38:34 2023 UTC)

The Lead Stories composite image below shows the original photo beside the edited photo. This editing required a higher level of skill than is usually seen in trolling manipulations. The edit did not merely cover one part of the image with something else. Elements such as the three saluting arms were fabricated with great detail, and other areas of the photo, such as the heart area of the cloaks which had been covered by a hand, were seamlessly patched. Lead Stories used a transparent overlay in Adobe Photoshop to analyze the editing -- the remaining areas of the photo align without the slightest shift.


(Source: Lead Stories composite image with Twitter screenshots taken on Thu Sep 14 14:38:34 2023 UTC)

On September 9, 2020 a video of the ceremony (embedded below) was uploaded to YouTube. At 1:10 minutes in the audience stands for the National Anthem of Ukraine, 'Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy i slava, i volia', which is followed by the British National Anthem, 'God Save the King'. At no point is there a Nazi Salute.

The caption of the post on X was copied and pasted inexactly by several accounts on X and it is unclear where the awkward phrasing originated. The caption claims that the flag behind Johnson is the insignia of the Waffen Grenadier Division of the 14th SS (Galicia) -- it is not. The flag is the coat of arms of Ivan Franko National University of Lviv founded in 1661 (below left). A heraldic lion in a stone gate with three towers is featured in the coat of arms of the city of Lviv (below center).


(Image source: Lead Stories composite image with screenshots from symbolics.lnu.edu.ua, wikipedia, and reportingradicalism.org taken on Thu Sep 14 19:33:37 2023 UTC)

The website Reporting Radicalism hosts an article about the emblem of the SS Galizien (above right) which explains the 1943 origin of the symbol of a German SS unit made up of Ukrainian volunteers, and its continued use as a far-right hate symbol. The article cautions:

Due to the prevalence of lion symbols, it is important to take into account the context in which an SS Galizien symbol is used, and check for the presence of other far-right emblems and inscriptions. It is also important to verify that the given symbol corresponds directly with the image above, paying particular attention to whether or not crowns are included in the emblem.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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