Fact check: False claim that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is 'scripted and staged'

The claim: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is ‘scripted and staged’

Weeks into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, some on social media are suggesting the armed conflict is all for show.

"Them: Let's pray for Ukraine! Me: It's all scripted and staged," reads text in a Feb. 25 Facebook meme, superimposed on a picture of the Joker.

The post generated more than 1,400 interactions in a week, and similar versions of the claim circulated on Twitter and iFunny.

But the claim is wrong. From sanctions against Russia to photo and video evidence of war, there's ample evidence the conflict in Ukraine is real.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.

Ukrainian servicemen help an elderly woman, in the town of Irpin, Ukraine.

Invasion is real

After months of failed diplomatic efforts, President Vladimir Putin announced Feb. 24 in a video that Russia would invade Ukraine.

Shortly after, Russia launched a full-scale military assault. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Feb. 24 that 137 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians had been killed, with hundreds more wounded.

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Extensive photo and video evidence shows Russia's invasion. USA TODAY previously interviewed a number of Ukrainians on the ground, many of whom described the dangerous conditions in the country.

In response to the invasion, several countries announced sanctions against Russia. Even Switzerland, which maintained neutrality for hundreds of years, joined in the European Union's sanctions.

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As of March 28, 2,975 civilian casualties were recorded in Ukraine, according to the United Nations. That includes 1,151 killed and 1,824 injured, although the UN said the actual figures are "considerably higher."

The UN says most casualties have been caused by "the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area" including shelling, multi-launch rocket systems and missiles and air strikes. While exact numbers are unclear, some estimates are that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops were killed in the first four weeks of the conflict.

International agencies including the World Health Organization, the UN Populations Fund and International Monetary Fund have acknowledged the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Medical Corps and others have deployed teams in Ukraine to help civilians and deliver relief items.

Correspondents from around the world have reported on the front lines since the start of the invasion, providing daily updates about air raids, bomb shelters and families fleeing to Poland. International news organizations have shared live streams, and reporters have been killed and injured.

Cynthia Hooper, a history professor at the College of the Holy Cross who specializes in Russian media and disinformation, says from different governments to journalists and ordinary people on the ground, no side is disputing that something is taking place.

She said even Russian state-owned news sources, which have severely distorted and downplayed the war, "aren't debating the fact that there is a conflict going on."

"A massive crisis is taking place and to try to say that it isn't seems willfully remiss, almost criminal to be honest," Hooper said, pointing to the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine.

The humanitarian, economic and political impact of the Russian invasion has been widely reported on. Many people who claim the Russia-Ukraine conflict is "staged" have cited debunked footage unrelated to the war about "crisis actors" or fake weapons.

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Tim Weninger, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Notre Dame who studies how humans consume information, noted this isn't the first time people have rejected all available evidence documenting a conflict. He pointed to a similar baseless narrative related to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

"It's an absurd thing to think that Russia is not invading, not incurring losses and not causing this kind of damage and distress," Weninger said.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is "scripted and staged." There's ample evidence the conflict in Ukraine is real. Photos and videos from reporters on the ground have shown damaged buildings, injured civilians and refugees fleeing Ukraine. International agencies have confirmed thousands of casualties, and several countries and humanitarian organizations have responded to the conflict.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Russian invasion of Ukraine is real, not 'staged'