Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke March 4, 2022

No, Sean Penn’s Ukraine trip isn’t proof the Russian invasion was staged

If Your Time is short

  • Reports that Sean Penn had been working on a documentary on the conflict in Ukraine as early as November is not evidence that the February invasion was staged. Armed conflict along the Ukraine-Russia border first erupted in 2014. 

News that actor and director Sean Penn recently was in Ukraine has fueled unfounded conspiracy theories that the Russian invasion there was staged. 

"How did Sean Penn know in November to visit Ukraine in February with a film crew to document a war that hadn’t started yet?" one post said. 

It 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.)

On Feb. 24, the Facebook account for the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote that Penn was in Kyiv "to record all the events that are currently happening in Ukraine and to tell the world the truth about Russia’s invasion into our country."

 It went on to say that Penn also had visited Ukraine in November 2021 and that "in the framework of the preparation of the documentary," he spoke with the Ukrainian military, according to an English translation of the post. 

A Feb. 24 story from Variety reported that Penn was in Ukraine filming a documentary about Russia’s invasion. 

Featured Fact-check

"Penn last visited Ukraine in November 2021 and started preparing for his documentary by visiting with the country’s military," Variety said. "Photos of Penn’s November trip were released at the time by the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation Press Service." 

In the photos released in November, Penn wore combat gear as he visited Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk region of the country. Insider reported at the time that Penn was starting to film "a new documentary about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the country’s east." 

The Facebook page of the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation wrote that the film would focus on the "consequences of Russian aggression," Insider said. (The post is no longer available.)

But this doesn’t mean he was scoping out the scene of a staged invasion he knew was coming. 

Armed conflict in Ukraine "first erupted in early 2014 and quickly transitioned to a long stalemate, with regular shelling and skirmishes occurring along the front line that separates Russian- and Ukrainian-controlled border regions in the east," according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

In October 2021, before Penn made his November appearance in Ukraine, "Russia began moving troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, reigniting concerns over a potential invasion," the council said. "Commercial satellite imagery, social media posts, and publicly released intelligence from November and December 2021 showed armor, missiles, and other heavy weaponry moving toward Ukraine with no official explanation. By December, more than one hundred thousands Russian troops were in place near the Russia-Ukraine border and U.S. intelligence officials warned that Russia may be planning an invasion for early 2022." 

We rate this post False. 

Our Sources

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Ciara O'Rourke

No, Sean Penn’s Ukraine trip isn’t proof the Russian invasion was staged

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up