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.
"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.
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:
USA TODAY, March 30, Fact check: Putin's claims justifying war in Ukraine are baseless, experts say
USA TODAY, April 18, Why is Russia invading Ukraine? Could it be the start of WWIII? Here's what we know
Podrobnosti, June 15, 2015, A captive Russian with a swastika: I want to atone with blood (photo, video)
TSN, June 15, 2015, A Russian who fought for the DPR for money was captured in Shirokino
Passport Index, accessed Dec. 5, Russian Federation Passport Dashboard
Passport Index, accessed Dec. 5, Ukraine Passport Dashboard
Kremlin, accessed Dec. 5, Coat of Arms
Ukraine Now, accessed Dec. 5, UKRAINIAN TRIDENT (TRYZUB)
Ukraine Now, accessed Dec. 5, Digital Country
Legislation of Ukraine, March 25, 2015, About the approval of the sample form, technical description and Procedure for registration, issuance, exchange, forwarding, withdrawal, return to the state, invalidation and recognition...
CNN, April 13, 2021, Ukraine’s President heads to the trenches as Russia masses its troops
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Man pictured with swastika tattoo is Russian, not Ukranian