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Russia Ridiculed On Internet Over Claim Ukraine PM Fought In Chechnya

Many have poured scorn on Russian allegations that Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a hardened veteran of the first Chechen War. (file photo)
Many have poured scorn on Russian allegations that Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a hardened veteran of the first Chechen War. (file photo)

The brutal battles of the first Chechen war bring a lot of images to mind, but Arseniy Yatsenyuk's face was never among them -- until now.

Social media satirists had a field day after the head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, claimed in an interview published on September 8 that the Ukrainian prime minister fought alongside Chechen rebels in the first of two devastating post-Soviet separatist wars in the region.

Bastrykin claimed that Yatsenyuk took part in at least two battles in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in late 1994 and early 1995, "as well as in torture and executions of Russian Army servicemen" in January 1995.

The allegations are far from funny. But with its latest salvo in the information war over Ukraine, the Kremlin served up an irresistible target for mockery on the Internet.

In Ukraine, Russia, and further afield, social media users let their imagination soar. In a reversal of the Soviet practice of airbrushing people out of the picture, they used Photoshop to underscore the their rejection of the Russian claim by providing mock, retouched, "evidence" of Yatsenyuk's participation in the Chechen war:

Some of the memes drew a pointed parallel with Chechnya's current Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who fought for the rebels in the first war in Chechnya before switching sides. Here is Yatsenyuk in the frame with Kadyrov:

And here he is shown conferring with the late Chechen rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudayev:

But why stop at Chechnya? The Twittersphere also speculated that Yatsenyuk may have taken part in other historic events.

(Translation: "In 1812 Arseniy Yatsenyuk personally burnt down Moscow.")
(Translation: "Sensation! Turns out Yatsenyuk didn't kill himself in his bunker in Berlin in 1945, but he has lived peacefully until today.")

Born in 1974, Yatsenyuk was 20 years old when Russian forces entered Chechnya to crush Dudayev's separatists.

One Facebook user shared a photo of Yatsenyuk and speculated that just a few days after having his picture taken, without telling his mom, he took a tram to Chechnya.

Continuing on that theme, Internet jokesters imagined Yatsenyuk joining militants from the extremist group Islamic State (IS). These Coubs feature IS propaganda music that has become commonplace in memes mocking the group:

Yatsenyuk has not reacted to the claim personally, but his spokesperson Olha Lappo advised Bastrykin on Facebook "to undergo a psychiatric examination."

For many Ukrainians, the Russian claims seem so outrageous that the natural response -- the only response -- is laughter.

(Translation: "I thank the Russian Investigative Committee. You made all of Ukraine laugh, and laughter prolongs life. Thank you once again.")

RFE/RL's Current Time TV put together some of the jucier ones:

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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