It was one of the defining moments of the start of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Thirteen Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island were told by a Russian warship to surrender and they responded by telling the Russians to “go f*** yourself” before they were all brutally killed. The recording was confirmed as authentic by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and reported around the world. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded each border guard the posthumous title of ‘Hero of Ukraine’, saying: “On our Zmiinyi Island, defending it to the last, all the border guards died heroically.”
Here’s the original clip on YouTube – it’s clocked up over 3.7 million views since Thursday.
There’s just one problem. It isn’t true. In fact, as the Russians said at the time, all the border guards surrendered. This morning the Ukrainian navy announced the border guards were in fact alive and being held prisoner by the Russians.
It’s good that the Ukrainian navy has admitted the truth on this, and it’s also good to hear the soldiers are alive, albeit in enemy hands. It’s a reminder, though, that in a war, even more so than in normal times, you can’t always trust what you watch and read. That’s not to say that Putin isn’t an unhinged psychopath, or that Russia’s invasion is actually going to plan. But it’s worth having your antenna primed for propaganda and fakes and not assuming everything you read or see is 100% accurate.