Fact Check: Did Russian Ka-52 Destroy Ukraine Barge Near Nuclear Plant?

While Kyiv counts its gains following the successful reclamation of territory in the north and south of Ukraine, misinformation remains a fruitful battleground in the conflict.

Pro-Russian online media is attempting to prop up the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin's military despite recent setbacks.

In recent days, state media claimed to have interrupted a Ukrainian special forces attack from the air, with dramatic footage taken from the cockpit of its attack helicopters.

Russian helicopters
Footage on social media was claimed by Russian government to show attack helicopters intercepting Ukrainian forces attempting an amphibious attack near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Pictured here, Russian Kamov Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters fly over the Kremlin and Red Square in downtown Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, May 9, 2020. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

The Claim

A tweet, posted on September 14, 2022, claims that a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter destroyed "Ukrainian special forces attempt[ing]...an amphibious attack on the Zaporozhie [sic] nuclear power plant some days ago."

The footage was shared across Twitter and Telegram.

"RU MOD finally published some footage from that attempted Ukrainian landing near the NPP in Energodar," one post said.

"Footage from Ka-52 attacking the barges when the Ukrainians attempted to cross the Dnieper and attack the Energodar NPP," another user tweeted.

The Facts

The video, broadcast on Russian state TV network RT among others, shows a Russian attack helicopter flying over several fields, with targeting computer footage of a helicopter firing a missile and destroying some type of large structure at sea, supposedly near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.

The film was released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on Telegram, on VK, and then published by numerous Russian state media outlets.

"Target above water acquired," the pilot in the video says, before a rocket is fired, and he adds: "Target destroyed."

The Russian-language text accompanying the video on Telegram claimed the helicopter crew "detected a barge with AFU servicemen at a distance of 15 km.

"Two Vikhr guided missiles were fired at the object. From the leading side the hit was recorded in the bow and from the slave side in the stern of the barge."

The claim that the structure in the video was a barge was repeated by Russian state media organization RT.

Video analysis carried out by Newsweek and corroborated by several OSINT experts, however, has revealed that the structure in the video is not a barge but rather a support for a bridge built by the Nazis in 1943.

A Ukrainian-language report from 2019 explains it was part of a bridge built across the Dnieper river, first damaged by Soviet bombers in January 1944 and later blown up by "German sappers" in February the same year. The support, which can be seen on Google Maps, is all that remains of the original structure.

In the video posted on Twitter, the nearby city of Kam'yanka-Dniprovs'ka (around 16km from the power plant) can be seen on the pilot's left, further verifying the location of the Russian attack.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior ministry, also posted the video on Telegram, identifying the bridge support too.

"This is not a barge, but the support of an unfinished bridge, which the Germans tried to build in 1943, even before the Kakhovka Reservoir came into existence," Gerashchenko wrote on Telegram, attaching the photo of the structure. A group of penguins can be seen atop it.

While there is the possibility that Ukrainian Special Forces may have been attacked elsewhere, or even that they were positioned at the bridge support (however unlikely that may be), the video does not depict a barge attack as the Russian government and state media claim.

The "barge attack" claim is among a number of other misleading Ukraine-Russia related news stories that Newsweek has investigated recently.

Earlier this month, accounts falsely attributing the claim that Russia destroyed 44 HIMARS launchers in Ukraine to the Russian Ministry of Defense were debunked; it had in fact been reporting about HIMARS missiles.

And this week, a fake letter purportedly from the British Army was found circulating online, which falsely suggested that U.K. forces thought Ukrainian troops lacked basic military training.

Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian and Russian ministries of defense for comment.

The Ruling

False

False.

The structure in the video identified by Russian state media as a "barge" is part of a bridge by the Nazis in 1943. Video analysis shows the helicopter pilot flew close to the structure, just off the coast from the city of Kam'yanka-Dniprovs'ka, near to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. There is no evidence, at least as presented in the video, that any Ukrainian troops were hit.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team

False: The claim is demonstrably false. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be false.
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