Fact check: Images show Russian citizen with swastika tattoo, not Ukrainian soldier

The claim: Images show a captured Ukrainian soldier with a swastika tattoo on his back

Before Russia's Feb. 24 attack on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted to "denazify" and demilitarize the neighboring country. More than nine months later, social media users continue to accuse Ukraine of harboring Nazi ideology.

A post shared on Instagram (direct link, archive link) features several pictures of a man with a large eagle and swastika tattoo on his back. One of the pictures shows what appears to be the man's passport.

"And just like that, liberals don't want to punch Nazis anymore," reads the Dec. 1 post's text. "Ukrainian soldiers keep getting captured with these tattoos."

The post's caption simply says, "#denazification."

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The post garnered more than 600 likes in four days. Similar versions of the claim have been shared on Instagram.

But the claim is false. The pictures pre-date the current conflict and show a Russian citizen who was arrested by Ukrainian soldiers in 2015. He had been plotting to kill Ukrainians in the Donbas region of Ukraine, according to local news outlets.

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

Pictures show Russian citizen's 2015 arrest

The pictures were included in a 2015 article published by the Ukrainian outlet Podrobnosti. The man featured in the photos is a Russian citizen named Roman Tolstokorov, who was arrested by soldiers of the Right Sector, a Ukrainian paramilitary group, according to the article.

Tolstokorov had reportedly come from Stavropol, Russia, with a Russian passport and was hired by the army of the Donetsk People's Republic as a driver. The republic is one of two territories located in the Donbas region, which has seen fighting between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, CNN reported.

Tolstokorov was planning to kill Ukrainians in Donbas before he was arrested, according to Podrobnosti.

Footage showing Tolstokorov and his passport was also included in a 2015 broadcast aired on the Ukrainian news channel TSN. The broadcast's description similarly reports that Tolstokorov was detained by soldiers of the Right Sector after being hired as a driver by the army of the Donetsk People's Republic.

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"The prisoner himself said that he fought in Shirokino for a month and was to receive a reward of 15,000 rubles," the description reads.

Tolstokorov described the swastika on his back as a "prison tattoo" and claimed he was beaten by a group of militants for having it, according to Podrobnosti.

TSN's footage shows Tolstokorov with a red Russian Federation passport with Russia's coat of arms printed on the front. A Ukrainian passport would be blue with a Ukrainian trident.

Starting in 2016, Ukraine began substituting plastic ID cards for passports, though many Ukrainians now use a mobile app called "Diia" to access their various forms of ID.

Lead Stories and Check Your Fact also debunked this claim.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that an image shows a captured Ukrainian soldier with a swastika tattoo on his back. The pictures show a Russian citizen who was arrested by Ukrainian soldiers in 2015. He had been plotting to kill Ukrainians in Donbas, according to local news outlets.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Man pictured with swastika tattoo is Russian, not Ukranian