Hackers spread false reports of nuclear disaster, death of US troops in Ukraine
An act of deception that was later revealed as a series of hacker attacks brought a whole range of simultaneous false reports of a nuclear disaster, the death of Ukrainian and American military personnel, and other incidents in Ukraine on Sept. 23.
Notably, the fake news campaign occurred during the climax of the large Ukrainian-American-British-Canadian military exercises Joint Endeavor 2020, which continue all across the country since Sept. 19, and during yet another round of Ukrainian-American anti-terror drills Rapid Trident in Lviv Oblast.
Moreover, the fake stories were published and massively spread not only by dubious Facebook accounts but also by hacked websites of local authorities and even the police.
The reports started off with a post published on the official website of the local government in the town of Varash some 340 kilometers northwest of Kyiv. The town is located just near the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant and is home to most of the enterprise’s personnel.
The message stated that during Rapid Trident drills, one of the Rivne power plant blocks was accidentally cut off from the electricity supply, which resulted in a catastrophic radioactive release, with severely contaminated materials spilled into the Styr River nearby. According to the fake report, the leak constituted 10% of the radioactive fallout registered during the 1986 Chornobyl accident, the worst nuclear disaster in human history.
A screenshot showing a fake report of a massive nuclear disaster seen on the website of the Varash town council published on Sept. 23.
Moreover, the Rivne Oblast police department website also copied the announcement.
The fearsome message triggered a brief splash of panic in Ukrainian social media, with even some large media outlets catching up. It was removed from the websites shortly after.
The Varash town council and the local police said on its Facebook pages that its websites were hacked. As of Sept. 23 night, the websites were not available. Later in the day, the Rivne power plant and the country’s nuclear agency Energoatom also confirmed that no disaster had occurred, that the enterprise works in normal mode, and that the radiological situation remains as safe and healthy as always.
At the very same time, at 11:45 a.m. local time, the Lviv Oblast police website also rolled out a report saying that three military servicepersons had been killed in an artillery shell blast at the Yavoriv training range, which hosts the Rapid Trident drills. The law enforcers also refuted the allegation soon and switched off their official website.
The fake news train continued later on.
Simultaneously with the Lviv report, the Kherson police website said the local law enforcers investigated “the death of American military councilors” in the oblast, which also on Sept. 23 hosted a major round of Ukrainian-American maneuvers Joint Endeavor 2020, which were visited by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
And at the same time, an official website of the police department of Vinnytsya Oblast, also a scene of the Joint Endeavor exercises, suddenly said a U.S. military serviceperson was arrested on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl.
In all cases, the country’s police immediately refuted the claims on its official Telegram channel, adding that some of its regional websites were hacked simultaneously at 11:45 a.m. Kyiv time.
The police’s main website was switched off for emergency works. As of Sept. 23 evening, it was still not available for users.
Later in the day, the police said it had initiated a criminal case regarding the hacking campaign.