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.
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.
Invasion is real
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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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.
Fact check roundup: What's true and what's false about the Russian invasion of Ukraine
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.
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.
Our fact-check sources:
Yahoo Finance, Feb. 24, Russian President Putin announces further invasion of Ukraine and delivers warning
USA TODAY, Feb. 24, Russia declares war, launches attack in Ukraine; explosions reported
USA TODAY, Feb. 24, Biden details new Russian sanctions as death toll climbs in Ukraine
USA TODAY, updated March 6, Ukraine defends against Russian invasion
USA TODAY, March 1, Russian troops surround Kharkiv as Ukrainian invasion rages on
USA TODAY, updated March 12, In their own words: Ukrainians talk about living through Russian invasion
USA TODAY, updated March 1, What sanctions does Russia face? Here's a list by country
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, March 28, Ukraine: civilian casualties - 28 March
Reuters, March 6, Ukraine says over 11,000 Russian troops killed in war
The Washington Post, March 4, As Ukraine struggles to count war casualties, families bury the dead one by one
PolitiFact, March 4, Evidence of Russia’s war in Ukraine is plentiful and proves it is not ‘staged’
Cynthia Hooper, March 14, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Tim Weninger, March 15, Phone interview with USA TODAY
The Washington Post, March 24, Russia could have lost as many as 15,000 troops in Ukraine war, NATO official estimates
World Health Organization, March 14, WHO is working day and night to keep medical supply chains open and preserve Ukraine’s health system
United Nations Audiovisual Library, March 11, MOLDOVA / UKRAINE REFUGEE CENTRES
International Monetary Fund, March 10, Transcript of IMF Media Roundtable on Ukraine
International Committee of the Red Cross, March 9, Ukraine: Massive, urgent response needed to meet soaring needs
International Medical Corps, accessed March 15, Providing relief to people affected by the war in Ukraine
Olga Rudenko, Feb. 24, Tweet
Dan Rivers, March 11, Tweet
Tom Mutch, March 10, Tweet
Agence France-Presse, March 6, Poland opens doors as refugee count hits a million
CNBC Television via YouTube, Feb. 25, Watch a view of Kyiv as the Ukraine capital braces for Russian attack
Reuters, accessed March 15, LIVE: View of Kyiv's Maidan square amid Russia-Ukraine crisis
Cliff Levy, March 13, Tweet
The Daily Beast, Feb. 27, Two Daily Beast Journalists ‘Extremely Lucky’ to Survive After Being Shot in Ukraine
USA TODAY, March 8, Fact check: Video shows Austrian climate protest, not 'crisis actors' in Ukraine
USA TODAY Aug. 20, 2021, Fact check: Conspiracy theories falsely claim Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is a 'false flag'
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Russian invasion of Ukraine is real, not 'staged'