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Photos circulated claiming that one of the wives of an Azov fighter, Kateryna Prokopenko, is a neo-Nazi. She had met the pope on May 11, along with a group of wives of Azov soldiers, and had been interviewed on the French channel LCI on May 13. In fact, some images show Vita Zaverukha, a Ukrainian fighter who supports Nazism, while another photo is a meme from 2010 taken from Polish sites.
Verification in a nutshell
- Kateryna Prokopenko, wife of a fighter from the Azov regiment fighting in Azovstal, was invited to television. Netizens claimed she had neo-Nazi sympathies, sharing a photo of young girls giving a Nazi salute, and photos of a young girl wearing Nazi symbols.
- The photo of young girls giving the Nazi salute dates back to at least 2010, and the oldest publications relate to Polish sites, not Ukrainian ones. In 12 years, this photo has never been associated with Kateryna Prokopenko.
- The photos of the girl wearing Nazi symbols show Vita Zaverukha, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi fighter, not Kateryna Prokopenko.
The verification in detail
A photo of Vita Zaverukha, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi activist
On May 13, Kateryna Prokopenko, 27, wife of one of the heads of the Azov division, Denis Prokopenko, testified on LCI on the living conditions of Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal plant. On May 11, she had met Pope Francis during an exchange with other wives of Azov fighters.
According to Internet users, she would be a fervent supporter of Nazism. Internet user has published on Twitter, on May 13, three photos showing a young blonde woman resembling Kateryna Prokopenko. On the first, we see the young woman giving a Nazi salute; on the second, she holds a weapon in front of a Hitler Youth flag; and on the third, she wears a t-shirt with a symbol of the Third Reich, the eagle enclosing a swastika.
A reverse image search using the Invid Verify tool (see how to do it here) reveals that the three photos actually show Vita Zaverukha, a 25-year-old Ukrainian fighter and openly neo-Nazi.
We thus find press articles mentioning the fact that the magazine ELLE had interviewed Vita Zaverukha for her issue from November 14 to 20, 2014, presenting her as a willing Ukrainian fighter. Gold, Internet users reacted, publishing the photos where we could see the young woman openly showing her sympathy for neo-Nazi groups on social networks. All three photos of her had been posted on her VK account, as reported in this May 2015 article by British media outlet Daily Mail. The photos have since been deleted from her VK account, but the archive of the image where she holds a gun in front of a Hitler Youth flag is available here.
ELLE magazine apologized, assuring that its journalists were completely unaware of Vita Zaveroukha’s opinions. The latter was arrested in May 2015 in kyiv after an attempted robbery at a gas station, and after shooting at police according to the Ukrainian media KP.
On the Twitter account, created in May 2022, no trace of allegiance or sympathy for a far-right group is visible. The France 24 Observers editorial staff did not find any other account that could be associated with Kateryna Prokopenko.
A photo of young girls shared on Polish sites
Other netizens shared the image of three young blonde girls giving the Nazi salute, such as on this May 13 Twitter post, which garnered more than 20,000 likes. “On the #BFMTV channel they dared to invite a Ukrainian nazi #nazisinukraine but what a shame!!!!”, writes the author of the tweet.
The intox was also shared in Italian on Facebook on May 12.
First of all, we can note that the girl on the left of the photo is wearing a t-shirt with a flag in the colors of Poland.
As Italian fact-checking outlet Open explains, by performing a reverse image search, one can see that the image is the subject of a meme and has been circulating since at least February 2010, without ever having been linked to Kateryna Prokopenko.
Open found a screenshot from October 18, 2011 on Demotivation.me.
In the comments, Internet users refer to Poland: “It is Poland after all”, wrote one of them on November 21, 2010.
We can also find thanks to the reverse image search a photo shared on 4plebs.org in March 2017, a site which archives discussions of the 4chan forum, whose file name is “polish-girls-white-pride.jpg” .
Also thanks to the reverse image search, we find the same photo, published on a Korean site in 2015, in a larger version where we can see the shoes of the young girls. In this photo, we can see the watermark of the user who first shared it on a Polish site. It is “asiia1927” from the Polish site Fotka.pl, but the account has since been deleted from the site.
On his Twitter account on May 14, Kateryna Prokopenko denied claims that she is the girl giving the Nazi salute.
This photo therefore dates from at least 2010, without it being possible to establish the precise date. She was the subject of a meme on the internet, with no reference to Kateryna Prokopenko before these claims emerged in May 2022. Our research does not support saying that young girls on the photo are Ukrainian: on the contrary, the digital traces allow us to know that the image was shared on Polish sites.
Azov is a nationalist regiment integrated into the Ukrainian army, whose members are currently fighting in the Azovstal factory in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. Formed in May 2014 to fight against pro-Russian separatists, it was originally a group of around 100 volunteers with nationalist and neo-Nazi ideas. It then expanded and was integrated into the Ukrainian army in November 2014, following the Minsk agreements which provided for the withdrawal of paramilitary groups. The Azov regiment became an argument of the pro-Russian discourse to defend the war in Ukraine, claiming that Ukraine and the Ukrainian army would be infiltrated by neo-Nazis.