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A retired Russian general forced to fight in Ukraine? The fake news story shared by tabloids

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In late June, several British and American tabloids published a photo that they claimed showed a retired Russian general named Pavel who had been plucked from retirement by the desperate Russian army and sent to Ukraine to fight. The articles claimed that this story was proof that Russia does not have enough officers to lead the war in Ukraine. However, it turns out that the man in this photo is not a general and his name is not Pavel. And there is no evidence that he was sent to Ukraine.

If you only have a minute:

  • Tabloids, mainly British and American, published a photo on June 26 of an overweight man who claimed he was a retired Russian general named Pavel, who was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to fight on the front lines in Ukraine. They claimed it was proof that Putin “has no more senior officers” for his war in Ukraine.
  • The FRANCE 24 Observers team, along with other fact-checkers, discovered the identity of the man in the photo. His name is not Pavel and he is not a general. He is a former border officer. And there is no indication that he is currently in Ukraine.

The fact check in detail:

On June 26, the British tabloid The Daily Star published a article claim that “an obese retired Russian general, 67, has been sent to fight on the front lines in Ukraine”.

This tabloid cites a “senior intelligence source” who said: “Most of [Vladimir Putin’s] best and battle-hardened commanders-in-chief have been killed or injured in fighting in Ukraine, so he resorts to sending second-rate officers to the front who don’t last long… He’s now dragging generals out of retirement and one of them is General Pavel.”

The article contains a photo of an overweight man wearing camouflage and a green cap. The tabloid claims that this is the man in question – a 67-year-old Russian general named Pavel.

Other tabloids picked up the news. The New York Post tweeted the same photo on June 26 and a link to an article about this so-called retired general. The publication garnered more than 2,000 likes.

Screenshot from a New York Post tweet dated June 26, 2022.
Screenshot from a New York Post tweet dated June 26, 2022. © The Observers

The problem is that the photo published by these tabloids doesn’t really show a general named Pavel. Two Belgian fact-checking sites, dexterity and VRTdelved into the matter.

Our reporting confirmed what these outlets discovered – the man in the photo is called Ivan Tourchin. He’s a border patrol, not a retired general. And he is 58, not 67. Moreover, there is no evidence on social media or in the press that he was sent to Ukraine.

A border patrol officer named Ivan Tourchin, not “General” Pavel

To identify the man in the photo, the Belgian media used the facial recognition software PimEyes. This tool did not identify the man in camouflage, but it did identify the other two men in the photo.

PimEyes software was used to identify two men in this photo.
PimEyes software was used to identify two men in this photo. © The Observers

Belgian fact-checking outlet VRT identified the man on the left in this image as Dmitry Litvinovthe head of the municipal administration in the Yelansky district of the Volgograd Oblast in southwestern Russia.

Facial recognition software called PimEyes identified this man as Dmitry Litvinov.
Facial recognition software called PimEyes identified this man as Dmitry Litvinov. © VRT

Alexander Bondarenkoan official in the same district is standing next to him in this photo.

PimEyes identified this man as Alexander Bondarenko.
PimEyes identified this man as Alexander Bondarenko. © VRT

There are several men with green caps with a gold logo that also appear in the photo. A Google search revealed that these hats are worn by Russian border officials.

Our team searched for other images of the same scene by typing “Yelan” – the name of the main town in the Yelansky district where the two men in the photo live and work – and “border guards”.

This Google search yielded a similar image (see bottom right) in an article published by the Russian media. The photo shows the same man wearing camouflage. The paving stones on the ground are the same as in the original image, as is the monument behind him. It’s almost certainly the same occasion.

Side by side you see the photo published by the Daily Star (L) and the photo of the memorial held by border veterans in Yelan last May.
Side by side you see the photo published by the Daily Star (L) and the photo of the memorial held by border veterans in Yelan last May. © The Observers

According to this article published by a Russian media outlet, this scene took place during a memorial held by Border Force veterans on May 27 in a park in Yelan, a Russian holiday honoring border guards.

Other photos from the same ceremony were published on the Telegram channel of the Yelan district. Again, you can see the same man who appeared in the photo published by the tabloids.

To find out the identity of this man, we ran the words “border guards” and “Yelan” through the search engine Yandex. We created a group on the Russian social network Odnoklassniki called “Border Guards in Yelanskiy District and Vologograd Region”.

There are a lot of images of the man in camouflage shared in this group. In several images he is identified as “Ivan Tourchin”. There is even a link to his personal account (check it out here).

Ivan Tourchin also has another account on Odnoklassniki (check it out here).

One of Tourchin .’s two accounts on Odnoklassniki gives more information about him. He is supposedly 58 years old (and not 67, as the tabloids claimed). On one of the bills, he says that he lives in Djizak, a city in Uzbekistan. Another account says he is based in Yelan, Russia.

In either case, he doesn’t appear to live in a ‘Moscow suburb’, as the Daily Star claimed.

From the photos and comments on his profile, we could deduce that he grew up in Yelan. He trained in Yelan and then worked as a border guard in Djizak, Uzbekistan, before retiring in 2010.

Conclusion: No, the photo published by numerous tabloids does not show a retired general named Pavel who is 67 years old. The man wearing camouflage in the photo is called Ivan Tourchin and he is 58 years old. Tourchin doesn’t seem to live in Moscow.

It turns out that Ivan Tourchin is very active on social media. He continued with after after the article appeared in the Daily Star. He never mentions traveling to Ukraine.

Our team also investigated whether there was actually a retired Russian general named Pavel who was recently sent to Ukraine because he believed the story could be true even if the wrong photo was attached to the story. However, we have not found any clues or information about this.

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