Taiwan FactCheck Center debunks ‘Chonker of Donetsk’

Taiwan FactCheck Center debunks ‘Chonker of Donetsk’

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, fact-checking organizations around the globe have cracked down on thousands of fake news and hoaxes.

Most of them are being distributed across borders in different languages. However, Taiwan FactCheck Center has found one of these rumors being spread online that is unique in the Chinese-speaking world: the Chonker of Donetsk.

Over the past weeks, a photograph showing a somewhat chubby soldier has been spreading online, almost exclusively in the Chinese-speaking world.

The photograph comes with a caption that reads in Chinese: dubbed as “the fat cat in Eastern Ukraine,” the Ukrainian soldier, who dressed like a Russian counterpart, has been hampering Russian supply lines by stealing food from and capturing a dozen field kitchens.

Finding the photograph online, a number of Taiwanese media had later made it into a news article without first doing some fact-checking themselves.

To check the authenticity of this so-called “the fat cat in Eastern Ukraine,” Taiwan FactCheck Center did some digging and found that the rumors were in fact originated from a tweet made by the following @Globe_conflicts on March 18.

The tweet comes with the same photograph that has been spreading in the Chinese-speaking world and reads in English: “this brave Ukrainian sleeper agent has hampered Russian supply lines by capturing over a dozen field kitchens. #Ukraine #Russia”

After extensive research, Taiwan FactCheck Center found that most of the posts spreading online on social media platforms are seeing this tweet as merely a joke or unconfirmed anecdotes only.

No news media outside the Chinese-speaking world have made the tweet into news reports, which is why none of the over 50 reports filed by fact-checking organizations around the globe have looked into the rumor.

After cross-examining with related information available online, Taiwan FactCheck Center later found that the soldier in that particular photograph was in fact, not a Ukrainian soldier combating Russian.

He is in fact identified as Ivan Filiponenko, spokesman of Lugansk People's Republic Militia, a group of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Summer Chen, Editor-in-Chief at Taiwan FactCheck Center, said that the rumor is one of many of such unconfirmed posts that have been later picked up by Taiwanese media before turning them into so-called “exclusive reports.”

Taiwanese media outlets seem to be lacking the ability of digital fact-checking, which is something they need to work on more, according to Chen.