An article on NetEase News published on June 21 claimed that more than 20 American hackers and over 100 Ukrainian military officers were training together in a hotel the day before they were killed by a Russian missile.
It said the Radisson Blu Hotel in Podil, Kyiv, where the training was purportedly held, had collapsed and more than 30 vehicles near the building were also destroyed as a result.
The article included an image of two missiles and an animated GIF showing building ruins.
However, we found no evidence supporting these claims. The accompanying visual materials also show irrelevant locations, nowhere near the Radisson Blu Hotel.
Two hotel staff told Annie Lab that there was no bomb attack at or near the hotel in June. Room bookings, transportation, and other hotel services have been in normal operations at least for the past six months, they said.
We also found no official or other news reports about the alleged deaths of the 20-plus Americans purportedly staying there, nor of the 100 Ukrainians on June 20.
The last report of an American citizen casualty in Ukraine confirmed by the U.S. State Department was in May this year.
As of May, there were at least 16 U.S. citizens reportedly killed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began in February 2022.
Annie Lab reached out to the U.S. state and defense departments, the American embassy in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian ministries of foreign affairs and defense but we have not received a response by press time.
On June 20, Kyiv’s city military administration announced in its official Telegram channel that Russia attacked the capital city with unmanned aerial vehicles, but Ukrainian forces were able to destroy “about two dozen” of them and that no casualties had been reported.
Irrelevant old images
Annie Lab also geolocated the misleading images and videos posted on Chinese social media platforms.
Image search led to this Instagram post on March 29, 2022, which contained an identical video clip as seen in the misleading GIF and videos on Weibo and Douyin.
While we could not identify the videographers who shot the clips, this proves the videos already existed a year ago.
They show two destroyed shopping centers and a township that are hundreds of kilometers apart from each other.
1. Retroville shopping center
We found an article about the bombing of the Retroville shopping center in Kyiv on March 20 last year.
The photos used in the article show the same building in the GIF and video in question.
2. Fabrika shopping and entertainment center in Kherson
The clip also shows a burnt-down McDonald’s restaurant standing in the ruins.
We corroborated the findings by locating Fabrika on Google Maps street view, which shows the same McDonald’s, outdoor seats and a lamp post before the attack.
It is located in Kherson, about 535 km away from the Radisson hotel.
3. The town of Borodyanka
An image search of a burnt vehicle, as seen in the last part of the clip, led to a Russian news report published on March 3, 2022, containing a video showing a shelling in Kyiv.
The logo shown in the upper left corner of the video, consisting of what looks like an orange cossack cross, indicated that the clip might have been uploaded by a Ukrainian government department.
With this clue, Annie Lab found the original video on the Facebook page of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, which was posted on March 3, 2022.
The caption of the video in Ukrainian, when translated to English with neural machine translation, says, “the rescuers of the Buchansk district, together with volunteers, evacuated more than two hundred residents of Borodyanka.”
The town of Borodyanka, is located about 51 km away from the Radisson hotel.