[This post was written in mid-March, 2022. Scroll down for updates to follow the story of warship Moskva and the stamp.]
True or false?
The Ukrposhta, the Ukrainian Post Services released a stamp with a soldier giving the middle finger to a Russian warship.
In the past few days a social media post went viral with the image. Fact checking resources and methods librarians use in teaching information literacy detailed in information literacy can help decide.
A great example to explain the vagaries of information flow in the era of social media, the battleship stamp has its own entry in snopes.com, the well-known site to quickly check myths and legends related to rumors or current and past claims. The events on Snake Island also have a Wikipedia page.
I happen to follow this legend as it evolved from day one, when the recording in Russian went viral. The radio operator asks for his superior’s permission to give the verbal middle finger to the invader Russian warship on behalf of the Ukrainian soldiers defending Snake Island on their homeland.
Except that it’s not the middle finger in Russian. It’s not even a finger. However, polite conversations in life-threatening situations exist only in the family version of American movies sanitizing the language, which is appropriately harsh to match the hero’s inner turmoil in the director’s cut. Generation grew up up watching Die hard movies hearing “Yippee Ki-Yay Melon Farmer,” an expression meant to replace the mother of all swear words of the English language
Let’s take a closer look at the claim of the new Ukrainian stamp issued, without getting into the nitty-gritty of the anatomy of cursing in various languages, pun intended.
The story of the heroic soldiers at their Snake Island post also claims that after denying surrender they were all killed. This part is not true. They were captured not slaughtered, as confirmed by tweet from Kyiv Independent journalist. Their current fate, however, is unknown.
The Ukrainian Post Services posted a call for proposals to sketch a commemorative stamp soon after the event. Despite the short notice,they receive over 500 submissions. Their Facebook page shared the best twenty on March 8, 2022 for people to vote.
Many versions spell out the actual words black and white. There is one that uses first letters of each word, all in Cyrillic, of course, pictured here. The sentence has been spotted on memes, billboards, t-shirts, mugs, and most recently, as War Street Art. A minisculpture by Ukrainian-Hungarian artist M. Kolodko was “erected” on Monday, March 14 morning in Budapest, leaving little or no speculations to interpretations. The location, the Moscow Promenade along the Danube, is picture perfect.
Not surprisingly, some commenters on the Facebook page straight reject swearing as a Ukrainian trait, even claiming that Ukrainians never use swear words. Others call out Ukrposhta to present Ukraine as a civilized nation to the world and honor its people.
Number 12, a giant gray battleship just about to run over a single soldier standing on a small piece of land in the sea with a bright blue and yellow Ukrainian flag in his hand seemed to be the crowd favorite, with the ominous message spelled out in Cyrillic in the bottom.
The winner was announced on March 12, 2022: Number 3, a soldier standing on the yellow land giving the finger to a giant warship in the blue sea. No words, just the finger, an international sign. Number 12, with the words, came in second. As of March 13, the new stamp is already being printed and will be available for collectors from international suppliers of Ukrposhta.
The answer to the initial question is yes, Ukrposhta is about to release a stamp with a soldier giving the middle finger to a Russian warship. But there’s more to it, as always.
To illustrate the volume and scope of myths related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Snopes has been tracking them dedicating an entire page to the cause.
UPDATE: Soldiers freed from Snake Island! (NPR, March 24, 2022)
UPDATE: Russian warship Moskva has sunk (BBC, April 14, 2022)
Follow the story about the that was famously and obscenely told off by Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island in February as it evolves in the Wikipedia entry.
UPDATE: Issued in one million copies on April 12, the stamp sold out. (NYT, April 20, 2022)
For resources, ideas, and tips on how to separate facts from fiction, see also InfoLit 101: The War in Ukraine on Social Media.
To create your own, here’s a sketch by art librarian Megan Lotts created for the Books We Read project. Use your imagination to add, amend, color, etc.