How one year of disinformation has shaped the narrative of the Ukraine war online

In one year of war, the FRANCE 24 Observers team has verified 115 pieces of disinformation around the war in Ukraine.
In one year of war, the FRANCE 24 Observers team has verified 115 pieces of disinformation around the war in Ukraine. © Observers

On February 24, 2022, Russia began a full-scale invasion into Ukraine, triggering a war on the ground, but also an information war online. Since then, the FRANCE 24 Observers team has debunked 115 pieces of misinformation that have been shared in photos or videos online. But what are the main themes in these false narratives? And what techniques are used to misinform? Here’s a look back at this year in fake news.


In the abundant amounts of mis- and disinformation spread online since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, several primary narratives and techniques stand out. 

In order to better understand the way that both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian camps are sharing misinformation online, the FRANCE 24 Observers team worked on categorising the claims we debunked this year. We debunked 115 claims in 96 articles published between February 24, 2022 and February 24, 2023. Out of these, 91 pieces of fake news were pro-Russia, while 17 were pro-Ukraine.

While this isn’t an exhaustive or statistical study of the propaganda used by either Kyiv or Moscow, we were able to get a better idea of the main narratives and techniques used by both sides to push their rhetoric. It should be noted, the FRANCE 24 Observers team also only deals with claims that have a visual element – that means photos or videos, not speeches from leaders.

Accusations of Nazism, demonisation of the enemy

Pro-Russians and pro-Ukrainians often feed very specific narratives when sharing misleading images. These narratives serve to propagate their vision of the war effort and legitimise their fight.

Ten major narratives emerged over one year of misinformation. The chart below shows the frequency of pro-Russian (in blue) and pro-Ukrainian (in black) misinformation.

Pro-Russian narratives

Ukrainian “refugees” covered in Nazi tattoos, a Ukrainian general wearing a “swastika” bracelet… 22 pieces of misinformation we saw this year were supposed proof of Nazi ideology being prevalent in Ukraine. The narrative has been used often as a justification for the invasion. Vladimir Putin himself called the invasion a method of “denazification”.

Another theme we saw a lot accused Ukraine and the West of “staging” the war. According to this narrative – which showed up in 13 different articles we wrote – pro-Russian accounts online shared videos that they claimed were proof that the war in Ukraine, or Russian atrocities such as the Bucha massacre, were fiction. Another claim said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was filming his videos taken in the field in front of a green screen.

Still, more misinformation served to glorify the Russian army and population. These included showing Russia’s military prowess through a hypersonic strike (even though these videos were made with special effects). Videos like this try to make others believe that Russia is winning the war, in order to help mobilise troops and gain support.

Other pro-Russian narratives dealt with Western involvement in the war, claimed to document anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Western countries and tried to discredit Zelensky as a leader

Pro-Ukrainian narratives

On the other hand, pro-Ukrainian accounts have been sharing misinformation that attempts to further narratives that the Russian army is committing abuses in Ukraine. Others glorify the Ukrainian resistance or accuse Vladimir Putin of staging his official visits

Photoshop jobs, images taken out of context

We also took a closer look at how these narratives are being spread online. The techniques used in disinformation mainly centred around images taken out of context – photos or videos taken years before the war or shared with misleading captions. Others were images made from scratch and photoshopped or otherwise graphically manipulated to show something that never existed in reality. 

More than half of the claims we debunked were images taken out of context. Most of them were images of real events but presented with a caption or claim that was misleading. Others were things like video game footage or movie clips that were presented as real life. 

But we also saw plenty of edited photos and videos that twisted the facts, like these “anti-Russian stickers” that were photoshopped onto images of the Auschwitz concentration camp

And finally, some of the misinformation spreading about the war actually uses real photos and videos from the frontline, but with captions that distort reality, like in the case of this image said to show a Ukrainian general with a swastika bracelet


This article is based on an analysis of articles written by the FRANCE 24 Observers team in French between February 24, 2022, the date of the invasion of Ukraine, and February 24, 2023. 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team chooses the topics it covers according to how viral the content is, the visual nature of the publications and the interest of the topic in relation to current events.

Our editorial focus is on manipulative content involving images, whether photos or videos. The Observers' team does not deal with false or misleading political statements.

In one year, our team has written 96 articles dealing with misinformation about the war in Ukraine, investigating a total of 115 different claims.

The categories we used were chosen on the basis of the observations of our team's journalists, as well as on the basis of discussions with various propaganda specialists for our articles. In the case of claims which corresponded to more than one category, we chose the one which was more predominant.