Photo of a captured Azovstal Defender: is it genuine or fake?
A photograph circulating on social media shows an emaciated Ukrainian prisoner appearing at a supposed “court hearing” in Russia, under the caption “Captured Azovstal Defender.”
The photo is indeed authentic and it does depict a Ukrainian individual, but the information regarding this man is false. He did not participate in the defense of Mariupol, was not employed at Azovstal, and is not an active member of the military. In fact, the photo is proof of yet another Russian crime.
The photo depicts Oleksandr Zhukov, a 54-year-old resident of Melitopol, who, along with four other Melitopol residents - Andriy Holubiev, Ihor Horlov, Volodymyr Zuiev, and Yuriy Petrov - were abducted by Russian troops from their homes in April 2022. Initially, these men were confined in “a basement” where they were tortured. Subsequently, they were transported to Crimea and from there, to the Lefortovo detention centre.
Currently held in Rostov-on-Don, the prisoners are undergoing a “trial” on charges of “terrorism.” They are accused of plotting to detonate a car bomb and target civilians in the city, potentially facing sentences of up to 25 years in prison.
For a more comprehensive story about the five Melitopol residents, who were detained by Russian security forces following the occupation of the Ukrainian city, you can refer to an article by Novyny Pryazovia for Radio Liberty.
The article reveals that Oleksandr Zhukov had served as a fighter in the territorial defense forces. However, according to his daughter, he is now considered a civilian prisoner of war due to his absence from active duty at the time of his abduction and the onset of the war.
After conducting a search on Google Images, we successfully traced the original sources of the photo featuring Oleksandr Zhukov to russian media outlets. In particular, this image surfaced on July 18, 2023, in the russian version of the BBC. We provide a link to the material in the Ukrainian version to avoid promoting russian media.
This particular photo was taken during the second court hearing in July. The families of the Melitopol prisoners first learned about their situation from russian media during the initial hearing on June 14. On that very day, another show trial occurred, involving 22 Azov soldiers. This likely led to the association of the Melitopol residents with the Azov Defenders, leading to them being referred to as “Azovstal prisoners.”
While the image of Oleksandr Zhukov initially appeared in July, it has been actively shared on social media over the past few days. This can be attributed to a post featuring this photo published on September 29 by the Telegram channel “Lachen Pyshe” (Notes from Lachen), which boasts more than 1.3 million subscribers.
In this post, blogger Ihor Lachenkov referred to Oleksandr Zhukov as “the Azovstal prisoner”. Subsequently, the news was picked up by the TSN News Telegram channel, with over 900,000 subscribers. Readers began reposting the photo on various social media platforms, designating the man as a “Defender of Mariupol” and a “participant in the defense of Azovstal,” even providing translations in English for international audiences.
This situation underscores once more that Ukrainian do not verify information and how emotions often guide the reactions of Ukrainian readers. We support the active dissemination of information regarding russian crimes to the global community. However, administrators of Telegram channels should fact-check information before releasing it to the public, ensuring that genuine facts are not masked by emotions. We also urge our social media readers to check the source of information, consult other media outlets or official sources reporting on this topic, and avoid re-posts driven by emotions. And finally, Googling the given information can often be more than enough