Soon after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for foreign volunteers to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, a picture of the so-called Macedonian-Bulgarian Foreign Battalion appeared online.
The picture, uploaded on March 24 on the Facebook page of the battalion, had a group of men wearing camouflage military fatigues, holding automatic weapons. They had an unfurled Bulgarian flag with them. The group claimed they were in Ukraine fighting against the invading Russians.
The battalion gained instant attention in Bulgarian media as members spoke about their fight and sought donations.
A report by RFE RL claimed that the Macedonian-Bulgarian Foreign Battalion exists only on social media. The Bulgarian defense minister Dragomir Zakov clarified earlier that the Facebook photo was doctored, but the fact that he did deny the existence of such a group had prompted many to believe that the battalion did exist.
The images uploaded by the battalion on its Facebook page were all old and stolen, according to RFE RL's Bulgarian Service. The above image is actually a Belarusian force.
We are in Ukraine, good evening! Greetings from us and our Georgian and Ukrainian brothers! The original image had fighters holding the red-striped, white banner of the Belarusian opposition, along with a black anarchist banner.
The Macedonian-Bulgarian Battalion has allegedly purported an image of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps of the nationalist Right Sector swearing allegiance to the Ukrainian people.
A picture posted by the group on its page was of a drone that was later found on an online shopping website. The battalion claimed that the drone was gifted to them by a donor.
Krasi Panchev, a contractor for a private military company, appeared in a photo uploaded to the battalion's Facebook page. Panchev told RFE RL that the photo was taken in Bulgaria and not Ukraine, as the group claimed. Panchev said that it was not a group of volunteers but rather of a group of Bulgarian military personnel.
Panchev later investigated the fraud and zeroed in on a 22-year-old man, Ivan Belishki. Belinshki, an enthusiast for airsoft, fought with air weapons, denied he was connected to the page. The image disappeared quickly from the page.
I have absolutely nothing to do with it, Belishki said. Such allegations are serious and if anyone does make such claims, I'd like to know so that I can take legal action," Belinshki told RFE RL.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry hasn't commented on whether the fraud is under investigation, according to the report. Some action has been taken, given that the information has been officially released, the ministry said.