• The first image used by the battalion belonged to a Belarusian fighting force
  • A military contractor, pictured in a post, said the image was taken in Bulgaria
  • The contractor's investigation led him to a 22-year-old airsoft enthusiast

Soon after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on 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 image, uploaded on March 24 on the Facebook page of the battalion, had a group of men clad in camouflage military fatigues, holding automatic weapons. They also had with them an unfurled Bulgarian flag. The group claimed they were in Ukraine, fighting against the invading Russians.

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The battalion gained instant attention in Bulgarian media as the members spoke about their "fight" and sought donations.

However, a report by RFE/RL claimed that the "Macedonian-Bulgarian Foreign Battalion" exist only on social media. Though Bulgarian Defense Minister Dragomir Zakov earlier clarified that the Facebook photo was doctored, the fact that he did deny the existance of such a group had prompted many to believe the battalion did exist.

According to RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, the images uploaded by the battalion on its Facebook page were all old and stolen. For instance, the above-mentioned image is actually a Belarusian force.

"Good evening, we are in Ukraine! Greetings from us and our Georgian and Ukrainian brothers!" reads the text accompanying the photo uploaded on the battalion's Facebook page on March 24. The original image had the fighters holding the red-striped, white banner of the Belarusian opposition, along with a black anarchist banner.

The Macedonian-Bulgarian Battalion also allegedly purloined an image of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps of the nationalist Right Sector swearing allegiance to the Ukrainian people.

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Another image posted by the group on its page was of a drone, later found lifted from an online shopping website. The battalion's claim was 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. However, Panchev told RFE/RL that the photo was taken in Bulgaria, and not in Ukraine, as the group claimed. Moreover, it was not a group of volunteers but Bulgarian military personnel, Panchev added.

Panchev later investigated the fraud and zeroed in on a 22-year-old man, Ivan Belishki. However, Belinshki, an enthusiast for airsoft, a team game fought with air weapons, denied he was connected to the page. However, the image soon disappeared 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 report added that the Bulgarian Interior Ministry declined to comment on whether the fraud is under investigation. "Certainly, given that such information has been officially released, some action has been taken," the ministry said.

Ukrainian servicemen of the Territorial Defence Forces take part in a training exercise in Dnipropetrovsk region
Representation. Ukrainian servicemen of the Territorial Defense Forces fire an anti-tank grenade launcher as they take part in a training exercise, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine May 14, 2022. Reuters / GLEB GARANICH