On July 3, 2017, the Russian Embassy to the United Kingdom, a recurring subject of Polygraph.info investigations, tweeted a photo of a poster in Ukrainian that declared the Russian language to be an extremely contagious “disease that affects the central nervous system.”
The image had been widely disseminated by Russian media over the past day, with the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency having issued a story on such posters appearing around Kyiv the evening before.
The problem, as highlighted by Euan MacDonald, an editor at the Kyiv Post, was that no one in the Ukrainian capital had seen the posters.
Dmytro Tymchuk, a Ukrainian MP and military analyst, swiftly debunked the story, identifying the source of the jingoistic image as a piece exhibited at a “patriotic poster” competition in 2015.
Ironically, the creator of the poster, Ivan Granatkin, commented on Facebook that he had made errors in his use of Ukrainian in the design, as he was primarily a Russian-speaker at the time.
Yelyzaveta Belska, the curator of the Ukrainian Patriotic Poster 2015 competition, told the Kyiv Post that Russian media had disseminated false stories about the exhibition at the time:
“They said that the actual name of our exhibition was “Die Colorado, Die!” We had five Russian channels attending the opening of our exhibition, and not one Ukrainian one,” said Belska.
“Colorado” is an offensive term for Russians who support Russia’s war in Ukraine. It is a reference to the St. Georges Ribbon, the orange and black striped emblem of Russian nationalists, which is also the coloring pattern of the Colorado beetle, one of the worst potato pests in the world.
Tymchuk notes that the poster was shared on June 28 by Granatkin in a discussion on Facebook. Three days later, it was posted by blogger Vladimir Khengistov, who asked his friends who the original artist was.
It was from here that the image spread, Tymchuk writes, as it was picked up by Ukraine’s Vesti, which claimed that it was unknown who was behind the image while noting that one of the organizations whose branding appeared on the poster, M17, had denied any involvement in the production.
Vesti’s report was cited by RIA Novosti, which added the claim, absent from the former, that the poster was being put up on Kyiv’s streets, as also stated by the Russian embassy in London.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group commented:
Supposed ‘linguistic genocide’ is a favorite for Russian fakes.In April 2015, Rossiya-1 claimed that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko had stated in a major address that“we will always speak only Ukrainian”He had said only that Ukrainian would continue to be the only state language, but that was not good enough for the Russian channel which claimed: “Poroshenko today stated that the Ukrainian language would always be the only State language despite the fact that the special status of Donbas agreed in Minsk by the ‘Normandy Four’ envisages that they will be able to speak Russian freely as well”.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time Russian media have spread false reports of frightening poster campaigns in Ukraine.
In April, 2014, the BBC reported that the head of Russia’s pro-Kremlin Life News television channel had shared a doctored photo depicting a photo of Adolf Hitler hung up as a banner outside Kyiv City Council.