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Fact check: Supporting German children instead of Ukraine?

Uta Steinwehr | Jan D. Walter
September 21, 2023

German aid organizations allegedly demanded that money be spent on sick German children instead of tank deliveries to Ukraine. But the whole story is made up, and the video explaining it is a spoof.

DW Fact Check screenshot Telegram post with alleged campaign posters at Berlin's Alexanderplatz
This Russian Telegram post allegedly shows a poster campaign at Berlin's Alexanderplatz claiming, 'A German charity fund has angered accomplices of Ukrainian terrorists by putting up posters in Berlin asking them to help sick German children'

Fake content repeatedly appears on the Internet that imitates renowned media outlets, including DW. The content is mostly made up but told in such detail that it can give the impression of being genuine, especially since manipulated or AI-generated images and videos seem to back them up.

In this instance, an English-subtitled video appearing to originate from the Reuters news agency and screenshots from this video are shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, Facebook and Telegram. The content is mainly distributed in Russian channels, and some of them have been viewed more than 100,000 times. But there are also posts in English, German and even Japanese.

Claim: According to the posts, the German aid organization Bunte Kreis Rheinland allegedly conducted a poster campaign in Berlin comparing the cost of "10 lives of German children" and a "1 Leopard" tank — each estimated to be €29 million. The Bunte Kreis is a German organization with regional locations that supports families with seriously ill children.

Fact Check Screenshot of a Twitter post with a compilation of four images with alleged campaign posters at Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz and two unidentified places.
The pictures from the alleged poster campaign are quite well manipulated and seem real at first glanceImage: X

The supposed campaign does not explicitly refer to the war in Ukraine. This interpretation is contained in the video and some accounts that have shared it. According to the video, the campaign has caused a "wave of outrage" among refugees from Ukraine in Germany and "split the European community."

The campaign is also said to have incited controversy among political and civil society actors. According to the video, Karl Kopp, executive director of the human rights organization Pro Asyl, is said to have called the action "blatantly Nazi."

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach allegedly leaped to the alleged campaigners' defense: Nobody has the right to put the health of German children behind the interests of Ukraine. At least this is how the sometimes clumsily used English in the video subtitle could be understood.

DW Fact Check: Fake

Admittedly, the manipulated photos from the poster campaign are pretty convincing. A reverse image search does not reveal any indications that the images are older, which would prove they had been taken out of context. A forensic image analysis was also rather inconspicuous. But the posters themselves are still fakes.

Inconsistencies in language and content

The supposed Reuters video reporting on the poster campaign and its reactions show typical mistakes made in so-called "spoofing" attempts. Imitations of renowned media often appear genuine at first glance, but upon closer inspection, they usually do not conform to the media outlet's standards.

For example, format errors and linguistic inconsistencies in the subtitles stand out. They contain mistakes that English-speaking media professionals would not make, or at least not in the amount present. There are too many spaces, errors in capitalization, missing commas and a grammatical jumble of verbs in different tenses. The British news agency confirmed our suspicions when asked by DW: "Reuters did not publish this video."

DW Fact Check screenshot fake Reuters video
Reuters has denied that it made this videoImage: X

Moreover, according to the video, the poster campaign ran in July 2023. A debate would have taken place and been reported on by German media, especially if the Federal Minister of Health had commented on it. 

What do the alleged campaign originators say?

DW has written to all entities involved and asked them to comment. Ralph H. Orth, chief financial officer at the Bunte Kreis Rheinland in Western Germany, the organization said to have been in charge of the campaign, confirmed that his organization did not carry out such a campaign. 

"Since donations finance our public relations work, we also have no means of financing such measures in Berlin — far away from our locations in the Rhineland," he said

Fact check: Deepfakes and disinformation in the Ukraine war

Also, the organizations Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband and the Aktion Mensch, whose logos also appear on the posters, denied their participation in the campaign. The logos had been misused without "knowledge and consent."

"Aktion Mensch is not involved in this alleged campaign and expressly distances itself from the content presented, " wrote a spokeswoman for the social organization financed by lottery revenues.

Billboard space no longer in use

"We can rule out the possibility that the posters shown in the post have ever been or are currently displayed on our billboard space," wrote a spokesman for Wall GmbH, an outdoor advertising operator based in Berlin whose logo appears on advertisement display stands shown in several screenshots.

DW Fact Check Screenshot of a fake poster campaign at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie
This advertisement display stand at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie had been taken down before the alleged campaign was said to run in July 2023Image: X

The company points out that there are logical errors in at least two of the locations shown. It said there has been no advertising for campaigns on public toilets in Berlin, such as those shown in the picture of Berlin's Alexanderplatz, since 2019. According to Wall GmbH, the advertising stand where the poster at Checkpoint Charlie was allegedly on display had been taken down in the second quarter of 2023, before the supposed campaign.

In another screenshot, a display stand purportedly made by the Ströer advertising company can be seen. Ströer also confirmed on DW's request that they did not distribute the poster.

Has anyone commented publicly on the fake campaign?

In response to a DW inquiry, the German Ministry of Health stated that Health Minister Lauterbach had not commented on the alleged poster campaign — and certainly not in the manner faked in the video. 

"(Lauterbach) has spoken out several times against the barbaric Russian war of aggression and in support of Ukraine," the health ministry told DW. "To offset the health care of children in Germany with Ukraine aid is insensitive and far from his mind."

Karl Kopp of "Pro Asyl," quoted in the fake video with a Nazi comparison, reacted similarly: "I don't know this so-called campaign. I have not commented on anything." The footage showing him is more than six years old, he added.

Conclusion: In the words of Karl Kopp: "This is fake from A to Z." The campaign is as made up as the fake reactions to it. The photos of the alleged posters are fake, and the video is not from the Reuters news agency.

Kate Hairsine, Sean Sinico and Inna Zavgorodnya contributed to this report.

This article was originally written in German.

Click here for more fact checks and information about disinformation and fakes.


DW-Redakteur Jan D. Walter Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Jan D. Walter Editor and reporter for national and international politics and member of DW's fact-checking team.