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Are these Canadians faking fighting in Ukraine or are they really there?

A Ukrainian soldier (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Wikimedia Commons)
June 22, 2022

A Twitter account purporting to belong to a team of four Canadians volunteering on the front lines in Ukraine has sharply grown in popularity since it started less than four months ago, but users have questioned whether the account is maintained by actual fighters in Ukraine or just social media clout chasers.

In March, a Twitter account called Canadian Ukrainian Volunteer (with the handle @CanadianUkrain1), was launched and has since gone on to share dozens of videos of combat in Ukraine. The account, which purports to belong to a group of four or five Canadians in Ukraine, has shown viral success, quickly garnering more than 100,000 followers in the four months since it began.

The individual, or individuals, behind the @CanadianUkrain1 say their four or five members possess a wealth of special operations experience. The account has shared photos of some of its purported members, albeit with their faces obscured by masks or blurred or marked up in black ink. Based on their posts, the accounts users include “Steve,” the purported team leader and most active member of the squad; “Billy,” the explosives expert; and “Bob” and “Cormano,” who have yet to share their photos online. Another account administrator by the name of “Mike,” has also shared posts from time to time.

@CanadianUkrain1 posts frequently throughout the day, often sharing videos of Ukrainian forces or short updates about what the group of four Canadian volunteers is up to allegedly near the front lines.

While the Twitter account has had massive viral success relaying tons of gritty content and harrowing accounts from the war, some Twitter users have begun to suspect that the people behind the account are not who they claim to be. A cursory search reveals that many of the videos shared to the account had been shared first by other Twitter accounts.

In one example, the Canadian account shared a video of several concealed Ukrainian troops rising up from the ground dressed in ghillie-suit camouflage. The official account for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry had shared that same footage nearly five hours earlier.

The @CanadianUkrain1 account shared another video purporting to show fighters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk. This video was also posted hours before by a different account.

The @CanadianUkrain1 account shared another video of Ukrainian Mi-8 troop transport helicopters flying low over a field. Again, this video was shared hours earlier by an entirely different account.

In one series of tweets, the account described how the group of Canadian volunteers infiltrated Russian-occupied Kherson on bicycles, met up with local resistance fighters and received Russian military uniforms “but no id papers” to assist in their infiltration behind enemy lines.

Aside from resharing tons of videos actually captured throughout the fighting in Ukraine, the team members have shared several of their own photos. While these photos demonstrate that there are real people behind the @CanadianUkrain1, they don’t appear to show any details that would confirm they were taken in Ukraine. The account owners may be acting with operational security in mind and being careful to share photos that would not give away their locations to nearby Russian forces, but these posts don’t help to establish they are truly in Ukraine either.

One open-source intelligence-themed Twitter account @NexusIntel1 has even claimed it reached out to @CanadianUkrain1 using Grabify, a service that can collect a user’s IP address.

“The stories, the claims, the pictures, nothing added up. Every story more outrageous than the last, read like a badly written stolen valor novel,” NexusIntel1 tweeted on June 12. “Then he started including stories as his own I read on telegram from channels I was monitoring on the RU side in soldier chats. I decided to track his location. I first sourced a web article talking about Canadian volunteers in Canada, I used that to create a grabify link which I then masked through a link shortener and sent to him claiming the article mentioned him and I congratulated him

This had to be done via [private message] as the link would capture the IP of anyone who clicked it,” NexusIntel tweeted. “He clicked the link twice, then blocked me, I’m assuming he realized his IP was snatched. By this time it was too late. I had his IP address, he clicked the link from a home PC. I ran his IP through WolfRamAlpha which put his location roughly 4,500mi from Ukraine near Ontario Canada. Only truthful thing he ever said was that he was Canadian ‘in my opinion.’”

@CanadianUkrain1 initially responded to the alleged logging of his Canadian IP address by saying he was using a virtual private network (VPN), which allows users to route their internet activity through an intermediary network, masking their true location.

“It looks like another #Russian troll offensive, led by OSINT trolls, has started,” @CanadianUkrain1 tweeted. on June 12. “This time it’s the IP address, apparently. None of them heard of VPN, it seems. Good. We’re making a difference. Glory to #Ukraine.”

In a subsequent tweet, @CanadianUkrain1 said, “What’s most amusing that I, Mike, never hid the fact that I’m in Canada. In fact this was mentioned multiple times in the last few weeks. Water is wet.”

Following the purported tweet from Mike, another Twitter user tweeted, “So, it’s not a VPN.” @CanadianUkrain1 then replied, “Oh, it’s a VPN. Just not your average setup.”

@CanadianUkrain1 did not respond to an American Military News request for comment at the time this article was published.

The ongoing debate over the legitimacy of the @CanadianUkrain1 account has even caught the attention of veteran U.S. Navy intelligence officer and former MSNBC commentator Malcolm Nance.

“No one & I mean NO ONE here operates in four man teams. You can have yer 2 man battle buddies in your 10-12 man squad in your 40 man Platoon but 8 is the smallest independent operational element I’ve seen,” Nance said in one tweet about the account. “Maybe farmers. Maybe.”

Nance garnered media attention in April when he announced during an MSNBC broadcast that he had left the network to volunteer with Ukrainian forces. Nance’s own claims about serving in Ukraine have attracted internet scrutiny. Some internet commentators noted that the rifle Nance held during his announcement was missing a bolt carrier assembly and the magazine for the weapon was not properly inserted.

@CanadianUkrain1 responded to Nance’s skepticism on a couple of occasions.

“Nance hasn’t fired a gun in anger his entire career. Tin soldier,” @CanadianUkrain1 said in one June 13 tweet.