Video of Anti-Putin 'Insurgents' in Russian Border Village Raises Questions

A video shared by pro-Ukraine accounts on Twitter and Telegram purports to show a group of Russian soldiers, who defected to Ukraine and joined one of the "volunteer" battalions. The men are seen standing near a sign marking the entrance to a small Russian village in the Kursk region bordering Ukraine.

Newsweek Misinformation Watch looked at the evidence to assess the authenticity of the footage.

In the 29-second clip, armed men clad in Ukrainian military uniforms are heard urging local citizens in Kursk to stay in their homes and not take part in the construction of defensive lines.

Video of anti-Putin 'insurgents'
A viral clip appeared to show a group of armed men clad in Ukrainian military uniform and are heard urging local citizens in Russia's Kursk to stay in their homes and "join the resistance. But the authenticity of the footage has come into question. Telegram

The commentator, whose voice appears to have been changed to anonymity, also warns Russians to "avoid going in to work" because they left "a lot of presents" in Kursk, and points down to what appears to be a landmine lying on the ground.

"And better yet, join forces with us, so we can fight for Russia's freedom together," the voice concludes.

The video, which has received hundreds of thousands of views across Twitter, Reddit and Telegram, invites parallels to the recent events in Bryansk (another border town), where local authorities claimed that "several dozen Ukrainian saboteurs" bombarded the village of Lyubechane in the Klimovsky district and took up to six hostages.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a "terrorist attack" at the time, but Ukrainian officials accused the Kremlin of staging a false "provocation."

As Newsweek reported, the incident fueled much confusion and speculation, as both sides blamed each other, though subsequent analysis appeared to suggest a rogue group from a Russian volunteer corp in Ukraine carried out the attack that was not coordinated with the Ukrainian military.

The armed men, purportedly from the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), which was founded in August 2022, then published an online statement saying they had briefly crossed over into Russia to fight what they called "the bloody Putinite and Kremlin regime," but insisted that they did not shoot at civilians nor take hostages.

"The Russian Volunteer Corps came to the Bryansk region to show their compatriots that there is hope, that free Russian people with weapons in their hands can fight the regime," a Telegram post from the RDK read at the time.

While Newsweek Misinformation Watch has not yet been able to confirm the authenticity of the new video purporting another such cross-border incursion in Plekhovo, it contains elements that undermine its credibility.

The sign seen behind the men says "Плёхово" (transcribed as Plyokhovo), but as other social media users pointed out, the letter ё is rarely used for official signposting and is typically replaced with "е," which would read as "Плехово" (Plekhovo).

An image of what is purported to be the "real" sign showing exactly that change was shared by some users as a debunking of the video. Others also noted that the "real" picture does not show snow on the ground, which reflects the actual weather conditions (compared to the snow seen in the video).

While Newsweek Misinformation Watch could not immediately verify the authenticity of the "debunk" photo, weather forecasting services for the area suggest there was very little snowfall over Wednesday and Thursday (and it occurred in the afternoon, not during the night), thus supporting the idea that the video may be misleadingly geotagged.

Furthermore, while we cannot conclusively state that no village entry signs near Plekhovo contain the letter "ё," there is indirect evidence to suggest it would be unlikely.

Although historically the letter, much like the diaeresis in English, has been replaced with a more basic "e" in denominating population centers (and also in official documents, among other places), the Russian registry office in 2019 made efforts to reinstate it.

The Roseestr (Russian Registry) press office announced (archived here) that more than 200 settlements across a number of regions had seen the "ё" brought back as part of the initiative.

But those only included towns and villages in the Sverdlovsk, Novgorod and Voronezh Oblasts; meanwhile, the Kursk Oblast was listed among those where "no settlement name contains a "ё," the document shows.

Other aspects of the video have also been questioned, including the speaker's apparently Ukrainian accent (though some parts of Southern Russia are populated by those with similar accents and dialects).

Pro-Kremlin accounts called the footage part of "Ukraine psyops," while others speculated (without evidence) that it is actually an "FSB" false flag, supposedly planned as pretext for another "retribution" assault against Ukraine.

While there isn't enough evidence to corroborate either of the theories of who is behind the footage, the aforementioned inconsistencies suggest that at the very least it should not be taken at face value. Like a lot of the other visual and viral content sourced from the conflict, it ought to be treated with caution.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian and Ukrainian defense ministries for comment.

Telegram picture of Russian Volunteer Corps fighters
Photo of armed fighters purportedly in Ukraine shared to the Russian Volunteer Corps Telegram channel. Telegram