Doctored CNN tweet circulates in posts about 'child soldiers training in Ukraine'

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An image shared in multiple social media posts in different countries purports to show a genuine tweet from CNN about child soldiers in Ukraine. The claim is false; AFP found no evidence that the tweet was ever published by CNN, and the US broadcaster said it was fabricated. The photo in the posts has circulated online since at least 2018 in reports about Ukrainian children learning battlefield skills at a summer camp, and the photographer told AFP it was "never used" by CNN.

The picture of children dressed in military fatigues was shared on Facebook here by an Indonesia-based user on April 14, 2022.

The post's caption reads: "Desperate Measures."

The purported tweet -- dated April 11, 2022 -- includes a logo of CNN’s official Twitter account alongside text that reads: "As fighting intensifies in Eastern Ukraine, brave children sign up to fight the Russian invaders. We spoke to one girl, named Olga from Zaporizhzhia, aged 12, who tells her story of taking up arms to fight invading Russian troops."

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on April 22, 2022

The same image circulated alongside a similar claim in different countries -- from Australia and India to France, the US and South Africa -- for example here and here on Facebook, here and here on Instagram, and here and here on Twitter.

However, the posts are false.

Fabricated tweet

An advanced Twitter search here did not find any results for the purported tweet or anything similar from CNN's verified accounts.

A spokesperson for CNN told AFP on April 20, 2022, that it did not publish the purported tweet.

A keyword search on Google found no CNN reports since Russia's invasion of neighbouring that specifically covered the existence of child soldiers.

However, the US broadcaster did publish this report on February 1, 2022, three weeks before the invasion, that outlines how some Ukrainians -- including children -- were preparing for a possible war with Russia.

Old photo

A reverse image search for the photo in the misleading posts found it was previously published in this article by British newspaper The Times on August 26, 2018.

The article is headlined: “Photography special: the Ukrainian children learning battlefield skills at summer camp”.

The article goes on to detail how children aged seven to 15 were spending their holidays near Kyiv at military camps organised and run by the Azov Batallion, a Ukrainian nationalist militia.

The photographs were credited to London-based photographer Alex Masi.

The picture in the misleading posts was also uploaded to Masi's official website, where a collection of similar photographs were published.

Below is a screensot of the photo on Masi's website:

Screenshot of the original photo on Alex Masi's website

Masi told AFP that the photo was taken at the banks of the Dnieper river in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

He went on to say the photo was published in a number of publications, depicting a "summer camp from 2016-17, where kids learn about the realities of war".

He said the purported CNN tweet was fake, as the broadcaster had never requested to use his image.

“The image comes from here and was never used by CNN. Also those kids are very nice, and the Azov guys too. They are not Nazis,” he said on April 20, 2022.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and the genuine photo (R):

Screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and the genuine photo (R)

Masi’s photos also received an honorable mention in Unicef’s photo of the year award for 2016 here.

AFP has debunked another false claim about Ukrainian children training to fight after the Russian invasion here, as well as other false CNN tweets here and here.

Ukraine-Russia conflict