Recent Russian disinformation trends on X, formerly Twitter, include a fake recruitment campaign attributed to the United States and Ukraine governments. They use a picture of an alleged recruitment leaflet that urges students in the U.S. to go fight in Ukraine.
The leaflet, bearing the emblem of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a U.S. phone number, shows a young person sitting on the floor, back to a wall, with his arms crossed and head down.
It is captioned:
“How to Pay off Your Student Loans? Join the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine.” (Note the creator’s use of the British English spelling of "defen[c]e" vs the U.S. spelling of "defen[s]e".)
The alleged advertisement promises “international volunteer status,” “medical insurance” and “monthly payments.”
Some verified X accounts reposted the image repeating the Russian disinformation line that poverty or financial strain is enticing American citizens to go fight and die in Ukraine.
For example, verified X user Russian Monitor, self-identified as a “Media and News Company,” (not to be confused with the Warsaw Institute propaganda research initiative Russia Monitor in Poland ) shared the image and wrote:
“As the meat grinding continues in Ukraine with an attendant massive losses for the Ukrainian military and its NATO mercenaries, The US [h]as launched an Indirect recruitment campaign amongst student, urging them to pay their ‘student loan’ by joining the Ukrainian army as an Alternative.”
Recruiting or hiring someone to serve in a foreign military on U.S. soil may constitute a federal crime.
By the time of this writing, X suspended Russian Monitor’s account.
S.L. Kanthan, a verified X user with 105.4k followers who regularly spreads pro-Russia disinformation, likewise tweeted the image and commented:
“Late-stage capitalism in the USA: ‘Can’t pay off your $100,000 student debt for which you got a s****y job at Starbucks? ‘Go to Ukraine, fight and die.’ Debt trap and game of thrones, American style.”
DaiWW, a verified X user with 13.3k followers who tweets about geopolitics and marked Beijing as their location, tweeted the image with this commentary:
“if you can't afford the student loans, you can join the mercenary for Ukraine. This sounds exactly like a ‘debt trap’.”
These claims are false.
Research demonstrates that the flyer is fake. There is no evidence the U.S. or Ukrainian governments have ever attempted to recruit U.S.-based students to serve in or alongside Ukrainian military forces.
The image of the fake leaflet originated from the Telegram account of Evgeniy Poddubny, a sanctioned Russian war propagandist who did not provide a source or location for the picture.
Halyna Yusypiuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington, told Polygraph.info in an email that Ukraine did not create the flyer.
“The posters you are asking about are not real. Neither Ukrainian MOD (Ministry of Defense), nor the Embassy ever produced any materials marketing the recruitment of the US citizens to the Legion,” Yusypiuk said.
“Legion” refers to the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, which is a foreign military unit of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine.
Yusypiuk said Ukraine has dealt with “similar fake posters” in the past. In April, social media users spread images of a poster purportedly placed in the New York City Subway system, calling on individuals “tired of living on welfare” to join Ukraine’s International Legion.
The picture of the “student recruitment leaflet” circulating on X shows the flyer attached to a billboard. Another flyer in the top right-hand corner of the billboard shows an ad for Spirit Wednesday, a fellowship opportunity for students, staff and faculty, at the University of the District of Columbia’s Dennard Plaza. UDC is a historically Black public university in Washington, D.C. It is unclear if anyone ever physically posted the flyer at UDC or elsewhere, or if the entire image was created using a computer.
A spokesperson for UDC could not comment on whether that particular flyer had been put up.
The creator or creators of both images used stock photos. The “student loan” flyer used a stock photo captioned “depressed male student with head on knees sitting by wall in college” and was taken by Wavebreakmedia.
Both images include the phone number (00 1) 202 349 29 44, which Yusypiuk confirmed “is a real number of the Ukrainian Embassy in the USA.”
However, the dialing prefix 00 is not used in the U.S. but is rather used when calling the United States from other countries, including some from the former Soviet Union.
The country code in the United States is 1 or +1 and is not needed when making local calls.
Telephone number listings on the website of Ukraine’s U.S. embassy use the +1 format. That suggests the person or people who created the posters were overseas and/or looked the number up on a non-U.S.-based website.
“So, I presume it’s a part of this disinformation campaign to say half-truth to present the posters like a real ones,” Yusypiuk said.
The image was originally posted to Telegram by Evgeniy Poddubny, a “war correspondent” for Russia’s state-run Rossiya 1 channel, on August 1. Poddubny did not say where the alleged photo was taken, who took it or how he acquired it. The U.S. has sanctioned Poddubny for spreading Kremlin propaganda against Ukraine.
In his Telegram post, Poddubny claimed that “Ukraine is recruiting mercenaries among American students who have student debts,” adding that such recruitment is illegal and “punishable by law.”
Yusypiuk disputes Ukraine has attempted to hire mercenaries.
“Thousands of Americans have sought more information from the Embassy on how to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. When joining, they signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine," she said.
"Now, those brave people are part of our fight for freedom. They are not mercenaries who are coming to earn money. They are people who signed an official contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Russian propagandists have long claimed that U.S. support to help Ukraine defend itself against the invading Russian force is coming at the expense of U.S. aid programs at home. Pro-Kremlin accounts on X have amplified other narratives opposed to aid for Ukraine.
As Polygraph.info previously reported, a trend has emerged of newly verified X accounts pushing the narrative that the U.S. government is “robbing” American taxpayers of billions of dollars needed to heal a struggling U.S. economy to support the “fake” war in Ukraine.