The photo shows tourists at a Russian amusement park, not ‘Chinese soldiers going to Ukraine’

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

A photo of several people wearing military uniforms with Chinese and Russian flags has been shared hundreds of times in social media posts claiming it shows Chinese soldiers joining the Russian army to fight in Ukraine. It’s wrong. AFP traced the photo to the website of a military-themed amusement park in Russia. The photographer who took pictures of the event said the people in the photo were “tourists”.

“It is said that hundreds of Chinese People’s Liberation Army special forces have gone to Ukraine to fight on behalf of the Russian Volunteer Army!” read this tweet next to the photo downloaded July 31, 2022.

The photo – retweeted more than 270 times – shows several people dressed in military fatigues with Russian and Chinese flags, signing documents.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Beijing declined to directly condemn Moscow for military action, instead blaming NATO’s “eastward expansion” for development.

Screenshot of Twitter post, taken August 19, 2022

The image was also shared with a similar claim on TikTok and Reddit.

The same image has been shared 970 times after being circulated with similar claims in other languages, including English on Twitter; Polish on Facebook; and Russian on VK, a Russian social media platform.

On Aug. 17, the Beijing Defense Ministry said Chinese troops would travel to Russia to participate in joint military exercises under a bilateral cooperation agreement.

Moscow said the annual “Vostok” drills would run from August 30 to September 5, AFP reported.

However, the photo in social media posts was shared in a false context.

Military-themed amusement park

A reverse image search on Yandex revealed that the image was posted here on the website of the Russian military theme amusement park “Armeisky Poligon” – which translates to “Army Polygon” in English.

The amusement park is located south of St. Petersburg in western Russia.

The webpage’s description reads: “GROUP FROM CHINA DRESSED IN RUSSIAN SPECIAL FORCES UNIFORMS.

“Our company has received very important guests from China. Tourists from friendly countries have long been taken to private army firing ranges to provide them with new opportunities and experiences.

“For example, in China almost everything related to weapons and especially military equipment is prohibited. In Russia, a Chinese tourist can try on almost everything he has dreamed of. Our company has provided such an opportunity at the highest level “.

He continues: “Especially for our distinguished guests, we have prepared Russian special forces uniforms and equipment. [We] ordered the Chinese flag and stripes. [We] have developed security technology for the event in Chinese. Our training area is by far one of the most interesting and safest. Our distinguished guests were also assured before visiting our range.”

According to the site’s homepage, the amusement park offers “corporate parties, team building, and military-style birthdays,” and attendees can shoot “real guns” at events hosted by instructors who have “real combat experience”.

The amusement park also posted the same photo on another page of its website on July 23, 2022 with the caption: “Organized a one-day tour for a delegation from China.”

Below is a screenshot of the photo on the park’s website:

Screenshot of photo on Armeisky Poligon website

The company uploaded the photo to its VK account a few days later, along with a description that translates to: “ARMEISKY-POLIGON.RF organized a one-day tour for the Chinese delegation and its Russian partners.”

One of the photos posted on VK shows a close-up image of a form, with Russian text that reads: “Annex to contract N.23.07.2022-1 for services provided on July 23, 2022.”

Below is a screenshot comparing the photo in the misleading posts (left) and the photo on the company’s website (right):

Comparison of screenshots of the photo in the misleading post (left) and the genuine photo on the company’s website (right)

In response to the claim alongside the photo in the fake posts, an amusement park spokesperson said; “These are all lies.”

The spokesperson added that the park would not release more information about Chinese tourists for privacy reasons.

Shortly after being contacted by AFP, the photo and all other photos from the event were removed from the company’s website and VK account.

Tourists, not soldiers

A video posted on the company’s YouTube channel features the “Denisov Production” logo at the end of the clip.

The channel is run by Pasha Denisov, a video producer based in the St. Petersburg region.

His photo was among the July 2022 photos posted on the company’s VK account, as seen in the screenshot below:

Screenshot taken on August 16, 2022 of an archived version of photos on the company’s VK account of the event, with red circle around the photographer added by AFP

Contacted by AFP about the photo, Denisov said: “Yes, I am the photographer and videographer of this event”.

He also has confirmed that the people in the photo were “tourists”, not soldiers.

Flags on military uniforms

In the photo shared in the fake posts, two people can be seen dressed in military fatigues with Russian flags on their right arm and Chinese flags on their cap and left arm.

International law experts say this is not allowed in official military settings.

“The rule is that a soldier who serves in the armed forces of one country must only wear the emblems of one country,” said Elzbieta Mikos-Skuza, a professor at the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Warsaw.

According to the Geneva Convention, it is illegal to use the insignia of a state that is not directly involved in the conflict, explained Patrycja Grzebyk, professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw.

Therefore, if Chinese soldiers were part of the Russian armed forces, they would only wear Russian insignia, she said.

The third man in the photo has a Russian flag on his cap and another Russian flag with a double-headed eagle on his right arm, which is the country’s presidential flag.

Russian Army rules on military uniforms – detailed by the Russian Ministry of Defense – state that the national flag is usually worn on the left arm, as seen in this image and others at the end of the document.

No image in the document shows the presidential flag worn on the military uniform.

Harold B. McConnell