The Ukrainian President published a photograph on his social media channels showing one of his security escorts bearing a patch referencing the personal bodyguard unit of Adolf Hitler.
On September 13, Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the city of Izyum in the Kharkov Region for a photo op following his military’s recapture of the town from Russian forces. During the visit, a soldier who appeared to be guarding Zelensky was photographed wearing a Nazi-inspired patch on his uniform.
When the image drew criticism on social media, the Ukrainian president’s official Telegram and Facebook accounts quietly deleted it.
In Izyum on September 14, Zelensky participated in a flag raising ceremony to the tune of the Ukrainian National Anthem and took selfies with local civilians and soldiers. While most of the men on the scene wore official military fatigues, it was not difficult to see which ones were for lack of a better term, working, and which ones were simply present to participate in the event.
One photograph posted on Zelensky’s Telegram and Facebook accounts (archived here and here) captured the president as he posed for selfies with Ukrainian troops. As Zelensky flashed a smile for the camera of a cheerful service member, he was flanked by a heavily equipped soldier standing guard and facing the opposite direction. Just over Zelensky’s right shoulder, a small but significant patch could be seen on the back of the soldier’s flak vest.
Social media users quickly identified the symbol. It was derived from the “Totenkopf,” (German for “Death’s Head”), an insignia widely used in Nazi Germany. Badges incorporating the skull and bones motif were popularized by Germany’s Death’s Head Units, whose original task was to serve as guards at concentration camps. In October 1939, some 6,500 members were deployed as frontline fighters in the attempted conquest of Europe and the Soviet Union, carrying out war crimes and ethnic cleansing on their way.