Did Russian soldiers really burn Ukrainian history books?

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Politicians and pundits shared a photo of burning books on May 21, saying the Russian military had started clearing Ukrainian books in occupied areas. While Ukrainian authorities have reported instances of Russian soldiers destroying books, the photo actually shows a book burning staged by pro-Russian protesters in Crimea in 2010.

If you only have a minute

  • A photo of a burning book has been shared by pundits and politicians, including the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine.

  • The scene in the photo actually shows books being burned by pro-Russian protesters in March 2010, in Crimea.

  • Ukrainian officials have indeed reported instances of Russian soldiers destroying books, but no images are available today.

The verification in detail

On May 21, a photo showing books strewn on the ground and set on fire was shared by several key figures. Among them was Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and co-chair of the European Foreign Affairs Council think tank, in a post that received more than 9,000 likes.

A screenshot of Carl Bildt’s Tweet from May 21 claiming Ukrainian books were burned by Russian soldiers © Observers

On the same day, the British Ambassador to Ukraine posted the picture on his Twitter account, garnering more than 14,000 likes.

Books destroyed by pro-Russians in Ukraine in 2010

Searching with the words “burnt history books” “Ukraine” and “Crimea” in Russian, you can find this report from the Ukrainian television channel TCH dated March 16, 2010.

At 0:23 in the report, you can recognize the same book shown burning in this image, including the book called “The New History of Ukraine”.

The books featured in the 2010 TCH report (left) are the same ones seen in the photo recently shared on Twitter (right).
The books featured in the 2010 TCH report (left) are the same ones seen in the photo recently shared on Twitter (right). © Observers

The report explains that a demonstration took place on March 14 in Simferopol, Crimea, during which representatives of Proryv and the People’s Opposition Bloc of Natalia Vitrenko, two pro-Russian political organizations, burned books on the modern history of Ukraine.

The caption of the video adds that the book “The New History of Ukraine” and the works of Soviet authors were destroyed.

An article from the Russian media Rosbalt confirms that a book burning took place during this event.

If you do a reverse image search with the Yandex search engine, you can find the same image in a January 2014 article from the Ukrainian news site Censor.net, which says it compiled photos “of events organized by Russian communities over the years on the anniversaries of the annexation of Crimea to Ukraine and Victory Day”.

Other images of the same event have been released, such as these two images below, in which burnt books are also seen in the foreground.

Photo of the March 14, 2010 protest in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters burned Ukrainian history books.
Photo of the March 14, 2010 protest in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters burned Ukrainian history books. © Observers
The white and red sign indicates "Mother tongue Russian - official language status.  Natalia Vitrenko Block"
The white and red sign reads “Russian mother tongue – official language status. Bloc Natalia Vitrenko” © Observers

In March 2010 Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych formed a new government, which included pro-Russian Dmitry Tabashnyk as Minister of Education. On March 11, a demonstration in support of Tabashnyk took place in Crimea. From March 17, counter-demonstrations took place to denounce his appointment, particularly in the west of the country, his opponents believing that he “humiliated the Ukrainian language and culture”.

What do we know about the destruction of books in Ukraine?

Although these images do not show a book burned during the recent conflict in Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities claimed that Russian soldiers destroyed books in the occupied areas of Lugansk, Donetsk, Chernihiv and Sumy. However, our editorial staff did not find any photos showing this destruction.

Several Ukrainian libraries have been the target of bombings in Ukraine.


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