debunked

Is this blonde woman with Putin a ‘paid extra’ for photo-ops? Nope

Social media users are claiming that the same blonde woman appeared behind Russian President Vladimir Putin on three different occasions – proof, they say, that he is staging his events. It turns out, however, it isn’t the same woman.
Social media users are claiming that the same blonde woman appeared behind Russian President Vladimir Putin on three different occasions – proof, they say, that he is staging his events. It turns out, however, it isn’t the same woman. © Observers

Social media users have noted that the same blonde woman has appeared behind Russian President Vladimir Putin on three different occasions – proof, they say, that he used “paid extras” during his address marking the start of 2023. However, it turns out that these images do featuredifferent women. One is a soldier who was given a prize by Putin on December 31, 2022 while the two other images show a regional deputy (local politician) from Novgorod, and a supporter of the Russian president. This politician has been previously accused of being an extra.

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If you only have a minute:

  • Some social media users are claiming that Vladimir Putin uses the same people to pose in different roles during photo-ops, and specifically during his speech marking the start of 2023. They’ve honed in on a blonde woman who they say has appeared behind him during three of his recent public appearances. 
  • Two of these photos do indeed show the same woman, but she isn’t an extra. She is a regional deputy named Larisa Sergukhina, a Putin supporter. She did attend events with Putin in her home region of Novgorod. 
  • However, the third photo shows a completely different person, a soldier named Anna Sidorenko, who was given a medal by Putin on December 31, 2022.

The fact check: In detail

"A soldier, a sailor, a devout Christian", says this tweet shared more than 8,700 times, claiming the same woman appeared in the background during three separate events hosted by President Vladimir Putin. 

The first image features a blonde woman attending a New Years' speech given by the Russian president to mark the start of 2023. But these posts claim that this same woman also appeared in two older photos – one of Putin on a boat, and another of the president during a religious ceremony. The story was also shared by several posters in French, including this tweet, which was viewed around 120,000 times.

“And, of course, as always, this costumed staging where the same actors, photo after photo, represent the people standing behind the president in different roles. I’ll be back to talk about it again,” says this tweet, translated from French, that features the three photos said to show the same “extra”.
“And, of course, as always, this costumed staging where the same actors, photo after photo, represent the people standing behind the president in different roles. I’ll be back to talk about it again,” says this tweet, translated from French, that features the three photos said to show the same “extra”. © Observers

The photos were even shared by CNN journalist Clarissa Ward, who wondered who the woman might be. Several French media outlets, including Le Figaro and La Croix also wrote about the mysterious blonde.

One of Putin’s supporters

Two of these photos feature the same person. Our team successfully identified her back in May 2022 as Larisa Sergukhina, a regional deputy (local politician) within Novgorod’s regional Douma (or parliament) and a member of the ruling party, United Russia. She is also a fishing entrepreneur from Novgorod.

This is a screengrab of Larisa Sergukhina’s profile page on the website of the Novgorod regional Douma.
This is a screengrab of Larisa Sergukhina’s profile page on the website of the Novgorod regional Douma. © https://new.novoblduma.ru/
This is a screengrab of Larisa Sergukhina’s profile page on the website of the Novgorod regional Douma.
This is a screengrab of Larisa Sergukhina’s profile page on the website of the Novgorod regional Douma. © https://new.novoblduma.ru/

During these two scheduled events, the Russian president met with "local supporters”. Sergukhina was present during these two events. 

A decorated soldier

As our colleagues at LCI and France Info have noted, the woman in uniform in the first photo has nothing to do with Larisa Sergukhina.

On the Kremlin’s website, there are photos of a ceremony held on December 31 where Putin handed out medals to soldiers. 

Some of these photos feature another blonde woman. However, here, she is correctly identified as "captain in the guard’s medical service”, Anna Sidorenko, a "captain in the guard’s medical service.” The soldier also appears in a video posted by a media outlet on VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook. In the video, Sidorenko dedicates her honour to the "71st regiment", in which she serves.

When you compare the faces of Anna Sidorenko and Larisa Sergukhina, then you’ll see that they aren’t the same person at all, even if they do look a little alike. 

On the left, there’s a screengrab taken from a video of Anna Sidorenko filmed during the ceremony on December 31 where she received a medal from Vladimir Putin. On the right is a photo of Larisa Sergukhina that she posted on her VKontakte account on December 28.
On the left, there’s a screengrab taken from a video of Anna Sidorenko filmed during the ceremony on December 31 where she received a medal from Vladimir Putin. On the right is a photo of Larisa Sergukhina that she posted on her VKontakte account on December 28. © Observers
On the left, there’s a screengrab taken from a video of Anna Sidorenko filmed during the ceremony on December 31 where she received a medal from Vladimir Putin. On the right is a photo of Larisa Sergukhina that she posted on her VKontakte account on December 28.
On the left, there’s a screengrab taken from a video of Anna Sidorenko filmed during the ceremony on December 31 where she received a medal from Vladimir Putin. On the right is a photo of Larisa Sergukhina that she posted on her VKontakte account on December 28. © Observers

There are also a number of pro-Russian social media accounts that accuse the Ukrainian authorities of staging photos and videos. Likewise, many have accused Putin of paying people to populate the crowds during his live appearances. For example, Putin is accused of using extras at a meeting with the mothers of Russian soldiers in November 2022 and a visit to a Russian prison back in May 2022. 

There is no definitive proof in either of these cases that the events were staged photo ops. 

If you see a photo or a video circulating online that you want us to verify, please send a message to the Twitter account @InfoIntoxF24 !