The war between Ukraine and Russia marked its third month on May 24. As of May 26, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) reported 3,998 Ukrainian civilians killed and at least 4,693 injured.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the country has suffered more than half a trillion dollars in losses, tens of thousands of facilities have been destroyed and entire cities will need to be rebuilt.
Since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine in February, social media posts claiming to show scenes from the war have gone viral.
On May 21, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted a photo, saying: “In the occupied areas there are now reports and pictures of [Russian] occupiers burning the books about [Ukraine] history they can find. And Putin has been clear that he wants to erase the [Ukraine] nation.”
The tweet had more than 3,800 retweets and over 9,000 likes. Bildt has more than 763,000 followers on Twitter. The British Ambassador to Ukraine also tweeted the photo; her tweet has more than 14,000 likes and 4,200 retweets.
Was the photo of burning books taken during the current war between Russia and Ukraine?
No, a photo of books being burned was not taken during the current war in Ukraine. It dates back to a March 2010 rally in Crimea during which Russian protesters burned Ukrainian books.
WHAT WE FOUND
Using reverse image search tool Yandex, which searches primarily through Russian-language sites, VERIFY was able to trace this photo to March 14, 2010, when pro-Russia demonstrators marched through the streets of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine.
According to a 2010 article published by KP Ukraine, a Ukrainian news agency, the books were burned in the Crimean town of Simferopol in Lenin Square. VERIFY confirmed the location depicted in the viral image using Google Maps.
“Representatives of one of the political forces brought books on a cart, doused them with kerosene and set them on fire,” the KP Ukraine news report (written in Russian and translated via Google Translate) said.
Using Yandex, VERIFY could also trace the photos to a blog post published by UNIAN, a Ukrainian news agency, in March 2010. The photos were credited to a UNIAN photographer.
In March 2010, Voice of America, an international news agency, reported the books were being burned in order to prevent “distortions of the past by the administration of former President Viktor Yushchenko.” These books were promoted by Yushchenko, who was the Ukrainian president from 2005 through January 2010.
The article said the books that were burned promoted fascism and destroyed the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians.
Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. There is no current conflict in the Crimea region where the original photo was taken in 2010, and there haven’t been any documented book burnings during the current conflict in Ukraine.