Fact check: Viral image shows Ukrainian soldier, not country’s first female fighter pilot – USA TODAY

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The claim: An image shows Natasha Perakov, the first Ukrainian female fighter pilot

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24, Ukrainian soldiers have put up a fierce resistance to defend their country. Some social media users claim a viral image shows one of the soldiers who died in battle.

A Facebook post shared Feb. 27 shows a smiling woman in a camouflage outfit.

“Natasha Perakov, the first female hunter pilot in Ukraine, died after being seriously injured,” reads the caption of the post. 

The post generated over 2,900 reactions in less than a week. Similar posts have amassed hundreds of likes on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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But the claim is false, as independent fact-checking organizations have reported. The image shows a Ukrainian soldier who won a beauty contest in 2016.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Image shows Ukrainian soldier

The image in the Facebook post shows Olesya Vorobey, a Ukrainian soldier who won the “Glory to the Heroines!” beauty contest in 2016. The event is dedicated to women who have served in eastern Ukraine, according to a Google translation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s website.

Vorobey served in the Operational Command West unit of Ukraine’s armed forces, according to the agency. USA TODAY did not find any evidence that she was a fighter pilot, or that she died during the recent Russian invasion.

USA TODAY also did not find any evidence of a Ukrainian service member named Natasha Perakov.

The first female Ukrainian fighter pilot is Nadiya Savchenko, according to Politico. As of March 8, Savchenko was active both on Facebook and TikTok.

Fact check roundup: What’s true and what’s false about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

USA TODAY has debunked a series of out-of-context photos and videos that circulated online since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that an image shows Perakov, the first Ukrainian female fighter pilot. The image shows a Ukrainian soldier who won a beauty contest in 2016. Ukraine’s first female fighter pilot is Savchenko. 

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