Fakes aimed at fomenting Ukrainians’ mistrust of the authorities, particularly the police, are being actively circulated through the internet. Immediately after Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers raised the fines for violations of COVID-19 social isolation and movement restrictions, fear mongering stories began appearing claiming that people would be fined for all sorts of insignificant activities.
Delovaya Stolitsa for example has unleashed a fake narrative claiming that the traditional Ukrainian spring potato planting season could become another source of spreading the coronavirus.
The first source of the fake claim that police were fining people for planting potatoes was Ukrainian attorney Serhiy Hula, whose Linked in profile says he “works for God and people and to be happy”. In a ten minute YouTube video Hula says he has received many letters from people who write that they went out into their gardens and allotments to plant potatoes and other vegetables and police immediately began to write them tickets.
Hula never names anyone specifically, does not cite anyone who has actually been fined by name, does not name the town or region where these fines are allegedly levied. StopFake asked Hula to be more specific about these claims and give concrete examples; we have not yet had a response.
AgroNews, a farming publication also features a story claiming that people who help others with spring planting are fined. The story is illustrated with a screenshot from a Facebook post of a comment from an anonymous person who writes “In my region a woman was planting potatoes, neighbors gathered to help her, a patrol car arrived and issued a fine of 17,000 hryvnia. The woman had a heart attack and was taken to hospital.”
This is a classic example of a rumor-based fake. The reader has no idea when, where and with whom these alleged events transpired, he cannot find anything out for sure, he is forced to think up the details for himself. Without accurate and verifiable information, in conditions of uncertainty, fantasy and hyperbole take over.
Yaroslav Trakalo, the press officer for Ukraine’s National Police told StopFake that his department had checked out various farming areas in Ukraine and found no cases of anyone being fined by the police for planting potatoes. “There must be legal grounds for the police to carry out any action on private property. Claims that people are fined for doing agriculture are a complete fake” Trakalo said.