Lessons from the war? Insights from TFC fact-checking reports on the Russo-Ukrainian War disinformation over the past two years

Lessons from the war? Insights from TFC fact-checking reports on the Russo-Ukrainian War disinformation over the past two years

By Wei-Ping Li, PhD

It has been more than two years since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Over the past years, disinformation about the war and the parties involved has pervasively spread in the global community, including among Chinese language speakers. While the themes of narratives about the war share some similarities with those in other regions, the disinformation narratives spread in Taiwan have exploited this war, attempting to incite more distrust in the U.S. and the fear of the cost that people would bear, particularly in the event that China and Taiwan go to war.

Since February 2022, the Taiwan FactCheck Center has published 120 reports related to the Russia-Ukraine War that have circulated in Taiwanese mainstream media and social media, such as Facebook, LINE, and TikTok. The graphic below shows the percentage of themes in the disinformation pieces that have been verified as incorrect (Note 1).

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Figure 1 The themes of disinformation narratives regarding the war in Ukraine. Source: Fact-checking reports by the Taiwan FactCheck Center. See note 1 for detailed descriptions of the categories.  

Among the disinformation pieces, the most common category is videos of the war scenes (battlefield situation), which were widely spread during the first few months of the war and mostly depicted Russia’s attacks in Ukraine. A large portion of the videos can be traced back to overseas social media platforms. When the videos were shared on Facebook or LINE by what appeared to be Taiwanese accounts, they were often accompanied by remarks warning of the dire consequences of war. 

For example, one piece of disinformation claims that "Ukrainian vehicle troops were attacked by Russia's precision-guided weapon. None of the Ukrainian soldiers survived" first appeared on TikTok written in Russian. When this piece was shared on Facebook and LINE, those who reposted it in Chinese urged Taiwanese youth to learn from the horrors of war and persuaded viewers not to encourage conflict with China. According to TFC's verification, the footage in this piece was obtained from a video game; the film's original producer also confirmed that the video was a game screenshot rather than a real image.

The second largest category of narratives is information about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Some pieces spread in the earliest stage of the war focused on the president’s former career as an actor or his bravery in fighting on the frontlines. However, these images or videos were appropriated from older news articles prior to the war, mistakenly mixed up with another actor, or undergone manipulation.  

Nevertheless, as the war wore on, more disinformation pieces portrayed Zelenskyy in a more negative light, such as Zelenskyy using drugs and his family buying luxuries. Some reports attempted to convey the impression that he and Ukraine were being isolated from Western countries.

For example, a piece distributed by Russian media and pro-Russia Weibo accounts saying that "nobody wanted to greet Zelenskyy at the NATO summit" was shared on Taiwan's online forum, PTT. Those who circulated this photo used the disinformation piece to highlight that the United States and Western countries were unreliable. Fact-checkers pointed out that while this photo was taken at the NATO Summit, the assertion was false because other photos showed Zelenskyy and other Western leaders interacting warmly.  

A screenshot of a Russian media’s Weibo accounts saying that "nobody wanted to greet Zelenskyy at the NATO summit.” The post was shared on Taiwan's online forum, PTT, and Facebook.

Allegations that Western media or Ukraine staged the scenes of the war in Ukraine were also prevalent, circulating mostly during the first four months of the war. One example is a claim first promoted by Chinese propaganda websites, such as Guancha.cn [观察者网]. It claimed that Ukrainian influencers staged the photos in Western media showing pregnant women injured at the Mariupol hospital during a Russian airstrike. The Chinese media coverage further quoted the Defense Ministry of Russia, claiming that the so-called “Russia strike” was faked by Ukraine. However, the TFC found that the photos were authentic and indeed taken during Russia’s air assault in Ukraine.   

Eight pieces of disinformation among the 120 fact-checks were directly related to Taiwan. The subjects of these pieces, however, ranged from Russians kidnapping Taiwanese volunteers in Ukraine to Taiwan giving Ukraine weapons. When the U.S. Congress was debating whether to increase aid to Ukraine, some X accounts spread a rumor that the U.S. intended to shift part of the Ukraine funding to Taiwan. The Taiwanese media then quoted and propagated this rumor. Actually, this false information exaggerated an interview with a former advisor, who mentioned a rumor that some funding for Ukraine could be reallocated to Taiwan. The TFC determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the advisor’s statement.

The 120 fact-checking pieces over the past two years also revealed that some themes faded out of attention over time, while others endured but with changes in the narratives. In the first year of the war, more disinformation narratives were about the scenes of the battlefield (particularly Russia’s attacks on Ukraine) and the “fake news” produced by Western media. When the war proceeded into the second year, the narratives became more diverse, with spotlights on the desperation of Ukrainian soldiers and the scheme of the U.S. behind the war. Meanwhile, malicious actors continued producing false information about the Ukrainian allies’ loss. Overall, the main messages behind the narratives intend to deliver the image that the U.S. is unreliable, and that Ukraine has made a bad choice to plunge itself into a war with Russia. 

On Chinese social media platforms, there are rumors that Russian troops have defeated Western allies of Ukraine, like the United States and NATO members. One of the earliest claims stated that the Russians had captured NATO European commander Roger Cloutier in Mariupol. This fake article appeared to have been posted in early April by a pro-Russia Twitter (now X) account before spreading over Chinese social media. Several Chinese video content creators made comments based on this inaccurate claim; some even asserted that the BBC said Russia refused to speak with the U.S. over the commander's detention. These pieces were also posted in traditional Chinese on Facebook, targeting Taiwanese audiences. TFC Fact-checkers verified that this information was untrue since NATO had not sent any ground forces into Ukraine; the commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command (not “the NATO European commander”), Roger Cloutier, was in Turkey during the conflict in Mariupol. 

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A screenshot of a Facebook post falsely claimed that a military commander of NATO, as well as several experts and advisers from the U.K. and the U.S., were captured by Russia. 

Nevertheless, in May 2022, another video about several NATO generals surrendering to Russia in a steel plant at Mariupol emerged on Chinese social media. Facebook posts also shared the footage and criticized the Taiwanese media for not covering this event. According to the verification by TFC, this video was a compilation of images about other irrelevant events. Again, in January 2024, a piece started circulating on TikTok, Weibo, and Facebook, citing “Russian sources” and claiming that Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, was not hospitalized because of cancer. Instead, he was seriously hurt by Russian missiles in Ukraine on January 3rd and has since passed away. The TFC found this information untrue and was actually translated from an American fake news website, Real Raw News. 

In addition to the narratives depicting the capture of Western generals and officials, several pieces spread on Facebook and TikTok claimed Russia destroyed Ukrainian allies’ fighter aircraft or sunk ships, including a Japanese cargo ship that “shipped weapons and aids for Ukraine.” According to fact-checking results, the claims were fabricated, and the images used in the claims were actually about other unrelated events.

The above disinformation narratives about Western allies’ fiascos, together with other narratives of Ukraine soldiers’ rising death tolls or refusal to fight in the war, have been used in Chinese-language disinformation to caution the Taiwanese not to become the pawns of the Americans. A recent false piece shared on TikTok and Facebook showed dead bodies being hurled into a truck. The narrator stated that “Ukraine had 60,000 female soldiers, but almost all of them have been killed. Taiwan must not be used by the Americans to become the second Ukraine!” According to the Ukrainian government’s available data, there have indeed been 60,000 female soldiers in Ukraine. Nonetheless, over the last two years, 100 Ukrainian female soldiers have died, rather than “almost all of them.”    

A screenshot of a Douyin video showed dead bodies being hurled into a truck. The narrator in the video falsely claimed that “Ukraine had 60,000 female soldiers, but almost all of them have been killed.” 

To prove that the U.S. encouraged the war in Ukraine for its own benefit, some pieces faked statements made by American or Ukrainian high-ranking officials or generals. For example, a false piece claimed that former American general Jack Keane said the aid to Ukraine was “a good investment” since “it’s the Ukrainians who were sacrificing, not Americans.” The piece further said Keane said the same situation applies to Taiwan. 

Another recent piece spread in April 2024 on Douyin claimed that Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Former Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and current Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom, left a will, accusing the U.S. of pushing Ukraine into the war and warning Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines not to be fooled by the Americans. Fact-checking results show that the first statement manipulated Keane’s interview with Fox News, and the “will of Zaluzhnyi” was totally fabricated.  

The disinformation about the Russia-Ukraine War has plagued the global community, and the false pieces spread in different regions were used for various purposes. According to the Atlantic Council report, the disinformation narratives spread in Europe intended to erode European support for Ukraine, whereas false claims disseminated in the Middle East and North Africa attempted to incite anti-West and anti-colonialist sentiments. 

As for the disinformation circulated around in Taiwan, the messages have been fixated on “the manipulation of the U.S.” and emphasized the devastating repercussions of the war. 

Definitions of the categories:



Battlefield situation

The situation of the ongoing war

Media or Ukraine's staged situation

Western media or Ukraine fake the situations of Russia’s attacks or massacres

Narratives about Zelenskyy

Narratives about the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for example, his past, courage, or corruption 


Narratives related to Taiwan

The valor of ordinary Ukrainians

The narratives show the courage of ordinary Ukrainians to fight or despise Russians

The US took advantage of Ukraine

The narratives about how the U.S. profits from the war

Other countries reactions (except the US)

Non-U.S. countries’ relations with Russia or Ukraine.  

The US built biolabs

The U.S. built biolabs in Ukraine

Ukraine needed more soldiers

Ukraine drafted or hired more people, such as foreigners or prisoners, to fight for Ukraine

Russia's non-military measures

Russia used non-military measures to win the war

Narratives about Putin

Narratives about the Russian President Vladimir Putin

Justification for Russia's invasion

The reasons justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, such as the Ukrainians are Nazis

Ukraine officials or generals

The narratives about Ukraine officials or generals, such as they are corrupted

US aid to Ukraine

U.S.’s plan to aid Ukraine, such as the U.S. is planning to shift the aid to Israel

The allies are defeated

Russia vanquishes Western countries

Ukrainian soldiers died or refused to fight

The number of deaths of Ukrainian soldiers and their morale to fight in the war


Narratives that cannot be categorized in the above categories

Wei-Ping Li is a research fellow at the Taiwan FactCheck Center.

Jhong-An Wu ( Fact-checker at Taiwan FactCheck Center) contributed to this analysis