Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center: 544 Websites Spreading War Disinformation And The Top Myths They Publish

NewsGuard has identified 544 Russia-Ukraine disinformation sites and is tracking the top false narratives that they are publishing about the war in Ukraine

By Madeline Roache, Sophia Tewa, Alex Cadier, Chine Labbe, Virginia Padovese, Roberta Schmid, Edward O’Reilly, Marie Richter, Karin König, McKenzie Sadeghi, Chiara Vercellone, Zack Fishman, Natalie Adams, Valerie Pavilonis, Shayeza Walid, Kelsey Griffin, Coalter Palmer, Andie Slomka, Louise Vallée, Akshata Kapoor, Eva Maitland, Macrina Wang, and Kathryn Palmer | Last updated June 6, 2024

Months before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, false narratives about Ukraine and its allies, many promoted by the Kremlin’s disinformation apparatus, were already proliferating online. From false claims of Ukrainian genocide directed at Russian-speaking Ukrainians, to assertions that Nazi ideology is driving Ukraine’s political leadership, these claims and dozens of others have been used to justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

NewsGuard has debunked more than 210 false narratives related to the Russia-Ukraine war, and identified 544 sites spreading those myths. While most myths disavow Russia’s alleged atrocities and other abuses in Ukraine or demonize Ukrainians, NewsGuard has also debunked some pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian myths, ranging from manipulated images of the mythical Ghost of Kyiv to misleading footage of alleged Russian attacks.

Tracking 544 Top Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Sites:

  • English-language websites: 326
  • French-language websites: 60
  • German-language websites: 49
  • Italian-language websites: 44
  • Other: 65

To date, NewsGuard’s team has identified and is tracking 544 domains, some with a history of publishing false, pro-Russia propaganda and disinformation — that have promoted false claims about the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

These websites include official Russian state media sources of the kind that some of the digital platforms have temporarily sanctioned since the onset of the Russian invasion. But many websites that are not official propaganda arms of the Russian government and are not being sanctioned by the platforms also promote false claims supporting the government of Vladimir Putin. These sources include anonymous websites, foundations, and research websites with uncertain funding — at least some of which may have undisclosed links to the Russian government.

Some of the most influential websites known to share pro-Russia propaganda and disinformation are funded by the Russian government. See NewsGuard’s Nutrition Labels for some of these outlets, including RT, TASS, and Sputnik News.

NewsGuard’s team is monitoring these and the dozens of other sites that we have identified as spreading Russia-Ukraine disinformation narratives.

Russia employs a multi-layered strategy to introduce, amplify, and spread false and distorted narratives across the world — relying on a mix of official state media sources, anonymous websites and accounts, and other methods to distribute propaganda that advances the Kremlin’s interests and undermines its adversaries. Its government-funded and operated websites use digital platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and TikTok to launch and promote false narratives. NewsGuard has been tracking these sources and methods since 2018. and licenses its data about Russian propaganda efforts to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Cyber Command, and other government and defense entities.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, citing NewsGuard’s reporting and data, outlined key components of these efforts in its report, “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.”

Researchers, platforms, advertisers, government agencies, or other institutions interested in accessing the full list of domains or want details about our fact-checks of false narratives can contact us here.

Below is a selection of some of the false narratives from our on-going reporting, and their corresponding debunks:

MYTH: Russia is not stealing grain from Ukraine or blocking shipments, as the West has charged.

THE FACTS: In late April 2022, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Russia of “illicit grain stealing” and of blocking shipments from Ukrainian ports, which it said “endangers global food security.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov, and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied Ukraine’s allegations.

In fact, there is significant evidence showing that Russia has stolen Ukrainian grain in the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia regions — evidence that includes statements by farmers in the occupied areas, reports by reputable news outlets, and satellite imagery.

A June 2022 investigation by the BBC found what it called “mounting evidence” of Russian forces stealing grain from Ukrainians. A separate report by BBC Russian and BBC Ukrainian found that Russian forces have offered to purchase grain from Ukrainian farmers at prices significantly below market rates — seen by some as a shakedown. A July 2022 investigation by the Wall Street Journal detailed how Russia developed a quiet smuggling group to steal grain from Ukraine for its allies in the Middle East.

Satellite images from May 2022 published by U.S. space technology company Maxar Technologies showed Russian-flagged ships being loaded with grain at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. The photos indicated that those same ships a few days later were docked in Syria, a Russian ally, according to Maxar.

In the same vein, a July 2022 analysis by maritime analytics firm Windward detailed the routes of ships involved in what the firm called a “coordinated effort to launder grain allegedly stolen from Ukraine” to Syria and Turkey.

MYTH: The massacre of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, was staged.

THE FACTS: In early April, 2022, multiple news organizations, including Reuters, The Associated Press, and AFP, documented the killing of civilians in Bucha, a city near the capital Kyiv, that had been under Russian occupation for about a month, beginning on Feb. 27, 2022. Various news organizations spoke with residents in Bucha after the Russian army left. They all said that Russians were responsible for the killings of civilians.

The Russian government disputed these accounts. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an April 3, 2022, statement, “not a single local resident has suffered from any violent action.” On April 3, 2022, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry shared on Telegram a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry, which claimed that “the photos and video footage from Bucha are another hoax, a staged production and provocation by the Kyiv regime for the Western media.”

On April 3, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Defense shared on Telegram a slowed-down version of a video that was originally published by Ukrainian TV channel, Espreso.tv. The Telegram post claimed that one body was seen raising its arm and another was seen sitting down, proving that they were alive. “The video of the bodies is confusing: here at the 12th second the ‘corpse’ on the right is moving his arm. At 30th second in the rear view mirror the ‘corpse’ sits down,” the post stated. “The bodies in the video seem to have been deliberately laid out to create a more dramatic picture.”

In fact, the video did not show one of the corpses raising its arm. Shayan Sardarizadeh, a BBC journalist who covers online disinformation, published an even more slowed-down version of the video on Twitter, provided by international fact-checking group Aurora Intel. Sardarizadeh noted that the video, which was reviewed by NewsGuard, showed that a mark or a raindrop on the screen had created the false impression of the body moving in low-resolution clips.

The video also did not show a corpse “sitting down,” as Russian officials claimed. According to Sardarizadeh, the “slowed down version shows the buildings in the background being distorted by a rearview mirror. Add social media compression and the video gives the impression the body is moving.” This same phenomenon was also demonstrated by Finnish fact-checker Janne Ahlberg.

An April 4, 2022, review of videos and satellite imagery conducted by The New York Times showed that many of the dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha were killed in mid-March 2022, when Russia, by its own account, was in control of Bucha. One video filmed by a local council member on April 1, 2022, showed multiple dead bodies strewn along Yablonska Street in Bucha, according to the Times. Satellite images provided to the newspaper by Maxar Technologies, a Colorado-based space technology company, showed that at least 11 of the bodies appeared on the streets of Bucha between March 9 and 11, 2022, and therefore were likely killed during that time period.

Additionally, residents in Bucha told Human Rights Watch that civilians were killed by Russians in March 2022. In an April 3 2022 report, the international human rights organization stated that Russian forces in Bucha rounded up five men and summarily executed one of them on March 4, 2022.

MYTH: Videos show the “Ghost of Kyiv” shooting down Russian planes.

THE FACTS: On February 24, 2022, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, wrote in a post on Facebook that at least six Russian planes and two helicopters had been destroyed on the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The following day, a video began appearing on Twitter and Facebook purportedly showing a Ukrainian MiG-29 shooting down a Russian Su-35 fighter jet. The video was subsequently retweeted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. Some users claimed that this video showed “the Ghost of Kyiv,” an unidentified Ukrainian pilot said to have shot down several Russian planes.

The above-mentioned video of a Ukrainian MiG-29 shooting down a Russian Su-35 is not real-life footage, but was actually made using the videogame Digital Combat Simulator (abbreviated “DCS”) and then miscaptioned by social media users. The video posted on Twitter and Facebook was first uploaded to YouTube with the title “GHOST OF KIEV KILL” and its description read, “This footage is from DCS, but is nevertheless made out of respect for ‘The Ghost of Kiev.’”

The Ghost of Kyiv has not been identified or proven to exist. While the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and former president Petro Poroshenko have made references to the Ghost of Kyiv on social media and The Times reported that “a Ukrainian military source” had said that the pilot was real, attempts by fact-checking organizations including PolitiFact and Deutsche Welle to confirm the Ghost of Kyiv’s existence have gone unanswered by the Ukrainian government.

MYTH: Nazism is rampant in Ukrainian politics and society, supported by the authorities in Kyiv.

THE FACTS: Radical far-right groups do exist in Ukraine and, according to a 2018 Freedom House report, they represent a “threat to the democratic development of Ukraine.” However, the report also stated that far-right extremists have poor political representation in Ukraine and no plausible path to power. Indeed, in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the far-right nationalist party Svoboda received 4.7 percent of the vote. In the 2019 presidential election, the Svoboda candidate, Ruslan Koshulynskyy, won just 1.6 percent of the vote, and in the parliamentary elections, Svoboda won 2.2 percent of the vote. Svoboda currently holds one parliamentary seat.

This myth goes hand-in-hand with false claims of widespread anti-Semitism in Ukraine. In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was a “rampage” of “anti-Semitic forces” in certain parts of Ukraine, a statement that was contradicted by representatives of Ukraine’s Jewish community. Jewish community leaders signed an open letter to Putin stating that his assertions about the rise of anti-Semitism did not match “the actual facts.” Additionally, a 2018 report by the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, an NGO which monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine, said that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has been declining in Ukraine in recent years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, addressed the Russian public in a Feb. 24, 2022, speech, saying that these claims do not reflect the “real” Ukraine. “You are told we are Nazis. But could people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?”

MYTH: The U.S. has a network of bioweapons labs in Eastern Europe.

THE FACTS: On Feb. 24, 2022, a thread by the Twitter account @WarClandestine suggesting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was actually targeting U.S. bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine was widely shared on social media using the hashtag #USBiolabs. The thread cited claims by Russian officials that the U.S. maintains a network of bioweapons labs near Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe. Russian state-owned media outlets have been making similar claims since at least 2016.

These claims are typically based on a misrepresentation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, which collaborates with partner countries to reduce the threat of outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases by helping partners to secure dangerous pathogens and to quickly detect outbreaks, according to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s website. The U.S. has been providing aid to Ukrainian laboratories since 2005, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and U.S. Department of Defense signed an agreement intended to limit the threat of bioterrorism by implementing safeguards on deadly pathogens from Soviet-era biological weapons programs. The Biological Threat Reduction Program has since helped to construct and modernize Ukrainian laboratories. The labs themselves are run and primarily financed by the Ukrainian government. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) noted in response to claims about the presence of U.S. military biological laboratories in a May 2020 statement that “no foreign biological laboratories operate in Ukraine.”

MYTH: Russian-speaking residents in Donbas have been subjected to genocide.

THE FACTS: The International Criminal Court, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have all said they have found no evidence of genocide in Donbas, the eastern Ukrainian region partly occupied by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called the genocide claim a “reprehensible falsehood” in a Feb. 16 2022 post on its official Twitter account. It said that the mission “has complete access to the government-controlled areas of Ukraine and HAS NEVER reported anything remotely resembling Russia’s claims.” 

A 2021 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report blamed the authorities of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk republics for various abuses, including severe restrictions on the freedom of movement, forcing people to adopt Russian citizenship, and arbitrary arrests. At the same time, the UN reported three cases of arbitrary detainment and ill-treatment carried out by Ukraine’s SBU (secret service), and 13 such cases in the self-proclaimed republics, which the UN said were “usually” carried out by the “ministry of state security” officers, known as MGB.

A 2016 report by the International Criminal Court found that the acts of violence allegedly committed by the Ukrainian authorities in 2013 and 2014 could constitute an “attack directed against a civilian population.” However, it also said that “The information available did not provide a reasonable basis to believe that the attack was systematic or widespread.”