Photos emerging from the battlefield in Ukraine show a peculiar strategy being adopted by the Ukrainian forces. Decoy mannequins in military fatigues were seen deployed in certain areas of Ukraine to fool Russian forces into thinking they were real targets.

The mannequins, armed with fake rifles and other makeshift weapons aimed at the enemy, are placed to confuse incoming forces that might try to make a push. Images of the decoys came out after Ukrainian forces regained control of Kharkiv in the eastern region of the country.

Given its proximity to the Russian border, the city has suffered from heavy artillery fire since the beginning of the invasion on February 24th. New images show destroyed shopping malls and other commercial districts.

“Ukraine thus appears to have won the battle of Kharkiv,” the US-based Institute for the Study of War said. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.”

The decoys, found positioned in the north of Kharkiv, were likely scavenged from destroyed buildings around the city. There is still no information about who dressed and set up these mannequins.

Ukrainian decoy mannequin equipped with a decoy RPG/Stinger/Anti-tank weapon in Kharkiv, Ukraine (Public News Time). Source:
Ukrainian decoy mannequin equipped with a decoy RPG/Stinger/Anti-tank weapon in Kharkiv, Ukraine (Public News Time). Source:

Along with the decoys, “scarecrow soldiers” have also been spotted across Ukraine. Unlike the mannequins, these decoys were armed with not fake rifles but with portable missile launchers. Military strategists say that the decoys are set up to confuse Russian aircraft that might see the crows.

Photos circulating online have even shown a dummy soldier holding a stripped-down Stinger missile launcher along the outskirts of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. In another location, a ghost costume was spotted wielding an NLAW anti-tank system to scare off Russian tanks. These decoys have been seen attached to trees and greenery, as well as cars fitted to look like armored vehicles.

Military strategist Justin Crump said decoys, particularly the scarecrows, were “mostly effective against helicopters and aircraft.”

“Visual decoys can be aligned with devices that create electronic signatures,” he said. “We use these in training to simulate threats, and on the aerial battlefield, they can similarly be used to create uncertainty and get the enemy to move into a real threat area.

Crump noted that using decoys in armed conflicts is nothing new, mentioning their use in the Kosovo War in Serbia during the end of the millennia.

“Targeting fakes wastes effort and ammunition, which is how Serbia made effective use of decoys in 1999. It can also fool reconnaissance efforts,” he added.

Lessons From History

Deploying decoys has long been a part of military history and has played a crucial role in some of the largest conflicts of our time. During World War II, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops also referred to as the “Ghost Army,” was a historical deception unit that played a significant part in tricking the Nazi forces.

An inflatable "dummy" M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
An inflatable “dummy” M4 Sherman (United States Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Deployed on January 24th, 1944, the Ghost Army consisted of 82 officers and 1,023 soldiers who used visual audio and radio deception tools to confuse German troops in the final phase of the Second World War.

With nothing more than .50 caliber guns, the Ghost Army made its mark in 22 massive deception operations in Europe that stretched from Normandy to the Rhine River. Now a relic of the global conflict, the 23rd is now remembered through featured artifacts such as artwork, military fatigues, and the famous inflatable tank.

Fake Dead Bodies

With knowledge of the Ukrainians laying our decoys, the Kremlin has used that opportunity to accuse them of using mannequins to fake dead bodies to allegedly trick the international community.

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Russian-state-owned television network Rossiya24 released a video last month showing suspected Ukrainian soldiers preparing a mannequin to “sensationalize the theater of war.”

“Here, you can see the preparations for the ‘theatre’—literally—of war activities in Ukraine,” the reporter said. “As you can see for yourself, it’s not complicated. Two men in military outfits are wrapping this dummy in scotch tape, with a clear purpose of presenting it as a dead body.”

The released footage came after photos of the atrocities that happened in the city of Bucha emerged from the news. These included dead bodies scattered in the streets of the city soon after the Russian forces retreated from the area.

“The other day, another fake attack was carried out in the city of Bucha in the Kyiv region after the Russian servicemen left the area in accordance with the plans and agreements reached,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov early last month.

“A fake attack was staged there a few days later, and it’s being fomented on all channels and social media by Ukrainian representatives and their Western patrons.”

However, these claims of staged corpses have been debunked by independent sources.