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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone April 7, 2022

Iconic photo is from Ukraine war, not Russia gas explosion

If Your Time is short

  • Olena Kurilo, a teacher, was injured on Feb. 24, 2022, when a Russian missile strike hit her apartment complex in Chuhuiv, Ukraine.

  • Her photograph was taken by at least three journalists that day and she was interviewed on video.

  • Photos in news reports that day show the apartment complex is not the building damaged by a 2018 gas explosion in Russia.

An iconic photo of a Ukrainian woman injured after her apartment building was attacked on the first day of Russia's invasion was portrayed on social media as being from a 2018 tragedy in Russia. The woman has been accused of being a crisis actor, including by official Russian government accounts.

One Instagram post on Feb. 27 shared a compilation of photos. The two at the top show newspaper covers with an image of the woman’s heavily bandaged face. Below are images of a damaged apartment building, which the post alleges are actually from a gas explosion at an apartment building in Russia in 2018.

There was no caption on the post other than multiple hashtags, including #crisisactor, #hoax and #falseflag.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The woman was identified in news reports as Olena Kurilo, a teacher, whose apartment building in Chuhuiv, Ukraine, was hit by a Russian missile on Feb. 24. 

The two photos seen at the top of the Instagram post were taken by Wolfgang Schwan, a photographer for Anadolu Images, and distributed to news outlets by Getty Images. Schwan also shared a photo of Kurilo on Instagram the same day.

Schwan discussed his famous photo and the false claims about it in an interview with The Independent on March 2.

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"Not only is she the face of the atrocities that happen in war to civilians, but now she has been thrown into the middle of a propaganda wave and is being hated for being a victim," he told the publication.

Kurilo was interviewed by journalists at the AFP news agency on Feb. 24. Her image was captured by at least two other photojournalists, as seen in a New York Post article.

The two photos at the bottom of the Instagram post are also from Feb. 24 and show the apartment complex that was attacked, Reuters fact-checkers found. The building can be seen in a report by Anadolu Agency and in a video by Justin Yau, a photojournalist in Ukraine. 

There was a gas explosion in 2018 that killed dozens of people in Magnitogorsk, Russia, but images show the building is not the same as the one seen in the Ukraine bombing. AFP fact-checkers showed a side-by-side comparison of the buildings; the building in Russia is taller.

Fact-checkers at BBC, Full Fact and Maldita have also debunked this claim.

Our ruling

A social media user claims a photo of a Ukrainian woman that went viral after her apartment building was attacked on the first day of Russia’s invasion is actually from a 2018 gas explosion in Russia.

At least three photojournalists took photos of the woman on Feb. 24 and she was interviewed on camera. Multiple news reports confirmed the attack on the apartment building that day, and images show the building is not the same one damaged in the Russia gas explosion. We rate this claim False.

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Iconic photo is from Ukraine war, not Russia gas explosion

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