A week ago, last Friday, the Ukrainian Kateryna Prokopenko visited us to conjure up the torture of the last defenders of the Azovstal compound in Mariupol on our antenna. Her husband, Denys Prokopenko, was actually part of this garrison besieged by the Russians. Since then, the young woman has been accused of neo-Nazi sympathies on social networks. Allegations, however, based on deceptive elements. BFMTV takes stock of this controversy this Saturday.
Last week Kateryna Prokopenko completed an extensive media and international tour. The Ukrainian, wife of Denys Prokopenko, one of the leaders of the Azov battalion, which had then withdrawn underground at the Azovstal compound, defended the cause of those last defenders of Mariupol who were cornered by the Russian invader before they left on Friday night the hands of their enemies surrendered.
On May 11, after an interview with the Pope, the young woman asked for her evacuation:
“We hope that this meeting will save their lives. (…) Our soldiers are ready to lay down their arms in the event of an evacuation to a third country.”
In the process, the young woman multiplied television sets in France. And on Friday, May 13, she even spoke to us. An intervention that caused a controversy on social networks. On Twitter, several netizens have in fact accused her of being a neo-Nazi activist, with supporting photos. This Saturday, BFMTV highlights the controversy.
• What is the suspicion based on?
The edits to the interview with Kateryna Prokopenko in our studios quickly followed on Twitter. Barely fifteen minutes after her passage, a netizen already posted a screenshot of the Ukrainian citizen next to a snapshot showing a group of young girls giving the fascist salute and labeled the blonde woman on the right as Kateryna Prokopenko.
A post that a week later was retweeted almost 7,000 times, mostly by pro-Russian accounts. It must be said that this narrative sticks to the propaganda of the Kremlin, which has consistently justified its invasion of Ukraine by alleged neo-Nazi domination of the country and its army.
The accusation was even taken up by very prominent personalities. Like rapper Booba, who posted three alleged photos of Kateryna Prokopenko on the same social network. So the artist again sent the image of the fascist salute, and then two more shots intended to show Kateryna Prokopenko: a woman holding a flag marked with a swastika, and a photo of the wearer of a T-shirt with the same symbol.
• A young girl has already been identified… and that is not Kateryna Prokopenko
The identity of the young woman immortalized in these last two stunning photos is already known. And that for seven years. However, it is by no means the wife of the soldier from Azovstal.
Reverse image search tools, like this one offered by Google or even this one, thus make it possible to give a name to the face of this far-right activist. It seems that he is actually of Ukrainian nationality, but his name is Vita Zaverukha. She rose to prominence in 2014 in the midst of a civil war in Ukraine already torn apart by the conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian secessionists. She had particularly abused Elle magazine in a November 14-20, 2014 issue devoted to Ukrainian volunteer fighters. She gave her name as Sveta and described herself as a simple “secretary and volunteer in a self-defense group” without showing her extremist views.
The women’s magazine immediately apologized, RFI noted on January 1, 2015, upon discovering the young woman’s positions on social media and her penchant for swastika poses. The next day, Les Inrocks clarified again: “Vita Zaverukha regularly posts pictures of Adolf Hitler, relics of the Third Reich.”
• A fascist salute that is difficult to trace but dates back a decade
If the identification of Vita Zaverukha in a Nazi T-shirt or with a banner glorifying the same regime leaves no doubt, the case of the photograph depicting the three young girls with their right arm raised in the same fascist salute is more complex. The reverse search does not confirm or deny the Ukrainian citizenship of this group. On the other hand, this study shows that the photo was mainly taken up by Polish sites.
Above all, it shows that the picture has been circulating for a long time, in this case at least since 2010, twelve years earlier. Moreover, this post didn’t wait for Kateryna Prokopenko to intervene on our set and spread the allegations against her across the internet to become a meme — that is, an image conducive to distraction, regularly posted in various contexts for humorous or political purposes. However, Kateryna Prokopenko’s name had never been associated with it.
Celine Pitelet, Santa Tardieux with Robin Verner