Watch out, this isn’t a real American ad campaign calling for homeless people to fight in Ukraine
A call for homeless Americans to join the Ukrainian front? That’s what these advertisements shared on Twitter since April 2023 claim to show. Publications in several languages claim that a poster in the New York subway is offering financial benefits to those who are down on their luck – by fighting in Ukraine. However, there are several visual inconsistencies in the poster that point to it being fake. Plus, Ukrainian authorities have denied the existence of any such campaign.
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If you only have a minute
- Posts shared thousands of times on Twitter since the beginning of April claim to show an advertisement in the New York subway, which is calling on homeless people to fight in Ukraine.
- However, Ukrainian officials have denied issuing a call like this and the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said the poster didn’t look like other subway ads.
- Several visual inconsistencies suggest that the original image was actually edited together using photos from an open-source gallery.
The fact-check, in detail
“Tired of living on welfare? Join the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine” says this poster, tweeted numerous times with captions in English and French. One tweet was seen more than 650 thousand times since it was posted on April 3.
According to the ad, the recruitment campaign was organised by the Ukrainian authorities, encouraging people to join the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine, a unit of volunteer fighters created by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the aim of mobilising reinforcements on an international scale.
Several factual errors
The poster refers to the telephone number of the Ukrainian embassy in the United States. However, on the embassy’s website, there is no mention of the call for mobilisation.
In the phone number, the poster lists the country code for calling the US from abroad (001), even though the advertisement is supposedly aimed at people within the country.
Sean Butler, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which manages the New York subway system, told the FRANCE 24 Observers team, “This does not appear to be an item placed within the MTA network and is not authorized to be displayed in the MTA network. Therefore, were it to be observed by an MTA employee, it would be subject to removal.”
Several Ukrainian institutions also denounced this fake on their Facebook pages, such as the Ukrainian embassies in Denmark and Cyprus, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN and the Consulate General of Ukraine in Chicago.
Several signs of visual editing
Several English-language media outlets have also fact-checked these posters, such as Logically Facts, Reuters and USA Today. The team at USA Today found the original image that was used to create this advertisement.
On the free image bank Pexels, you can find a 10-second video which shows the same image of a man lying on public transportation seats
The composition of the image seems identical to the one posted on social networks, but there are a few differences when you look a little closer.
First, the size and shape of the cardboard (in red below) are not the same in both images, and the inscription "will work" is only legible in the image published on Twitter.
Then, the brightness of the original image seems to have been intensified on the second one, making what looks like a blanket (framed in blue below) more visible.
The same goes for the colours of the man’s clothing. His jeans (in yellow) are lighter in the image that has been shared online
Other fake visual campaigns
This isn’t the first time that fake campaign posters like this have been shared online after Ukraine put out its call for international mobilisation.
Like these images of fake advertisements at the airport in Stuttgart, Germany, which called on the country’s authorities to “not transfer tanks to Ukraine”. The photoshopped image circulated as early as January 2022, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and was debunked by StopFake.org.
Stuttgart Airport told StopFake.org that the screen in this image only shows essential information for travellers. There is no trace of this ad from any other source.
Then, on February 8, 2022, StopFake.org explained how an image of a billboard said to be in Poland was actually edited together with a stock image from the site MediaModifier.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team has previously looked at other pieces of misinformation that claim to show calls to join the Ukrainian armed forces. Like this advertisement shared in February 2022, said to be in the Warsaw metro. Again, this advertisement never really existed.
>> Read more : Here's how we debunked these fake anti-Ukraine advertisements