Fact Check: Do Photos of Busy Ukraine Beaches Prove There's 'No Warzone'?

As fighting in eastern Ukraine intensifies, with its forces resisting Russian advances toward the north and south of Severodonetsk and elsewhere, the country remains locked in violent, attritional warfare.

With conflict largely shifted to the east, the intensity of warfare may well be felt less in other parts of the country (the largest in Europe by land area discounting Russia) where people have been photographed recently enjoying summer weather.

These pictures, however, have led some to claim that Ukraine has not been as badly bombarded as media reports hereto have suggested.

Ukraine beach
Posts on Twitter have claimed scenes of Ukrainians using public spaces, like beaches and coastlines, indicate the country's conflict is exaggerated. Pictured here, people on the Hidropark beach on June 13, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The region around Ukraine's capital continues to recover from Russia's aborted assault on Kyiv, which turned many communities into battlefields. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images) Alexey Furman/Getty Images

The Claim

A tweet posted on June 16, 2022, shows dozens of people using what appears to be a small beach in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

The tweet, which has more than 10,000 engagements, was posted by YouTuber Alex Belfield, who suggests that the media are making exaggerated and misleading claims about the conflict's severity.

Similar tweets have also been dismissive of the scenes captured in Kyiv.

The Facts

The photos pictured in the tweets are from Kyiv, taken along the Dnieper River, which intersects the east and west of the city.

These beachy areas have long been a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing in the Ukrainian capital, with this year being no exception.

Being the second-largest country in Europe after Russia, it's reasonable to believe that some parts of Ukraine may see less direct military action than others.

While the capital is not invulnerable and has also been shelled in past weeks, the current battlegrounds in the northeast and Donbas regions are a considerable distance from Kyiv.

Kharkiv, for example, which Russian forces have still not claimed, is around a six-hour drive away.

During the first two months of the war, following Russian bombardment, Ukrainian forces were able to push the invading forces from the capital and adjacent territories, although concerns remain that President Vladimir Putin's army may attempt to take Kyiv in a second assault.

By some accounts, this pause has somewhat cooled the mood in Kyiv. Nonetheless, Ukrainian government officials have warned citizens not to visit beaches as authorities continue to survey the water nearby for explosive objects.

A Washington Post article published June 12, 2022, reported how divers have been finding unexploded munitions in lakes throughout Kyiv's suburbs too.

As well as the threat of explosive devices, the divers told the Post their own fears that Russian spies and saboteurs may be watching their work, "helping the Russians plan a new invasion in this part of the country," the report states, describing the absence of swimmers, motorboats and jet skis as "surreal."

Moreover, while the photos taken along the Dnieper river and elsewhere may look picturesque, Kyiv still endures occasional airstrikes as volunteers take to clearing some of the destruction caused earlier this year.

Air raid warnings are issued across much of the country on an almost daily basis. But even in other parts of the country, where the threat of conflict is more palpable, residents have been pictured using beaches and public spaces too.

In unverified posts Newsweek found on social media app Telegram, video recordings appear to show Ukrainians in Odessa (far closer to the theatre of war than Kyiv) reading poetry in public as missile defense systems fire behind them, and sunbathing on the beach by barriers installed to prevent sea invasion.

Other posts claim citizens have died from mines while using Odessa's coastline (the post can be found here [graphic content warning]).

Mines Odessa beach
A sign reads "Dangerous mines!" on a mined beach in the Black Sea Ukrainian city of Odessa, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on June 13, 2022. Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images

It also goes without saying that photos depicting the actions of a select group of people may not necessarily reflect the actions and attitudes of others. In 2020, thousands of people visited public beaches and parks in the U.S. and Europe in spite of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, no working vaccines, and large case numbers.

For many it becomes a show of defiance, as the liberties taken away during these types of crises become more important than the risks of exercising them (although with fighting in Kyiv far less frequent than in other parts of the country, that sense of risk may be diminished for now).

What the tweets by Alex Belfield (who has published misleading claims elsewhere) and others seemingly lack are both the well-documented evidence of the conflict, and a more nuanced understanding of how people strive for normality even in despairing circumstances.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

The photos shared on Twitter do not disprove the existence or intensity of the conflict in Ukraine. While there are photos of people enjoying the beaches in Kyiv, this is not proof that the conflict has been exaggerated by the media. Moreover, footage in embattled parts of the country appears to show residents doing the same thing despite the heightened risk, as they seek to maintain some sense of normality in a brutal war.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team