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Disinformation from the war in Ukraine

Truth Defence has compiled a database of untrue and unproven claims from the war in Ukraine that is critical of disinformation on all sides. We have begun mapping these on the timeline below. This is by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list but we will continue to updated it retrospectively and as new claims emerge.

Each claim has been colour coded: anything marked amber has been identified as unproven or unprovable and anything marked red is provably false. We have not included links to news articles that we have identified as misinformation in order to avoid amplifying falsehoods, unless the reporting itself is required to provide the original source of a claim. Please be warned that this page contains highly sensitive and graphic descriptions of events, though we have minimised graphic imagery on the page, there may be links included which some readers may find disturbing.

6 April ’22: ‘Russia is burning bodies in mobile crematoriums’

The claim that Russian forces are using “mobile crematoriums” to hid the full extent of their atrocities in Ukraine was originally made by Mariupol City Council in a Telegram, which speculated that “tens of thousands of civilians from Mariupol could have fallen victim to the occupiers”. The claim was repeated by former boxer Vitali Klitschko, in a Tweet posted 7 April, in which he shared the following image.

Screenshot 2022-04-29 at 21_36_34

In a Telegram published 13 April, The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine shared the same image, stating: “13 mobile crematoria were registered in Mariupol to clean the streets of the bodies of dead civilians”.

 
 
 

Fact check

This claim is unverified and unproven [as of 20 May]. The image shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and Vitali Klitschko appears to originate from a video that was shared to YouTube in 2015, with the title ‘Mobile crematoriums used to incinerate bodies of Russian soldiers in Donbas’.

The same video was featured in a Telegraph report 23 February, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and 6 weeks prior to Mariupol City Council’s claims, which contains speculation from UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, that the vehicle-mounted incinerators “could” be deployed by Russia into Ukraine. According to the Telegraph, Wallace states that “Previously [Russia have] deployed mobile crematoriums to follow troops around the battlefield” as a way to “cover up loss”. He goes on to add “It’s a very chilling side effect of how the Russians view their forces and for those of you who served, and being a soldier, knowing that trundling behind you is a way to evaporate you if you are killed in battle probably says everything you need to know about the Russian regime.”

 

Reporting

The Telegraph and LBC both ran headlines that reported on the claims as fact

‘Russians ‘burning bodies in mobile crematoriums to cover up Mariupol war crimes’ – The Telegraph

”The new Auschwitz’: Bodies of ‘10,000 Ukrainians’ incinerated in mobile crematoriums’ – LBC

Al Jazeera, ABC News, Yahoo News, Euronews, Business Insider and The i, have all reported on the claims without specifying that they are still unverified and unproven.

 
 
 

3 April ’22: ‘The killings in Bucha were staged’

Following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city of Bucha, the bodies of civilians were found laying in the street. Ukraine claims Russian troops executed and tortured hundreds of civilians in Bucha. The Russian Defence Ministry has denied these allegations and in a Telegram claimed that “Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha as early as March 30” and “”evidence of crimes” in Bucha did not emerge until the fourth day, when the Security Service of Ukraine and representatives of Ukrainian media arrived in the town.”

A Telegram posted by a channel called ‘War on Fakes’, which was reposted by the Russian Defence Ministry, claimed to have proof that Bucha was a “planned media campaign” and claimed to have to ‘debunked’ images and video footage posted to social media, stating that the bodies depicted in a video shared to Twitter by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence on 2 April, were ‘moving’.

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Fact check

The timeline presented by the Russian Defence Ministry focuses predominantly on a video posted to the city of Bucha website and the Bucha city council social media channels, “on March 31, the mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, confirmed in a video message that there were no Russian servicemen in the town, but he did not even mention any locals shot in the streets,” reads their telegram. While Fedoruk’s short video message, which was posted on 1 April, does not itself specify that there were bodies in the street, a message that was published below the video on the city of Bucha website states “All the residents of the city will hurry to share this news: who stayed at home and who was waiting for this message for hundreds and thousands of kilometers. Unfortunately, we have paid too high a price for this – human lives.” The video was uploaded to the Facebook account of Bucha city council, at 16:31, earlier that day at 8:17, a video message from the Secretary of the Bucha City Council, Taras Shapravsky, was uploaded to the same page in which he says “the city remains under occupation, many mines, houses and even corpses. Therefore, we ask those who remain not to approach dangerous objects. The liberation of the city continues, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, territorial defense are working to regain every meter of native land.”

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The Russian Defence Ministry’s claim that Fedoruk had confirmed in his video message “there were no Russian servicemen in the town” was also false. He makes no reference to Russian personnel but declares that “March 31 is the day of Bucha’s liberation”. In the message accompanying the video on the city of Bucha website it acknowledges that the Ukrainian military had not yet given permission for humanitarian convoys to enter the city. 

The timeline presented by the Russian Defence Military, which asserts all personnel had withdrawn by 30 March does not correspond with omitted evidence; on 31 March, the head of Kyiv Oblast State Administration made a statement on Ukrainian television, in which he stated that “Ukrainian troops occupied Irpin, but neighboring cities – Vorzel, Bucha, Gostomel – are still under enemy control. They are under constant fire.” On the air of Radio Donbass.Realii on 1 April, he announced that while most of the Bucha was free from Russian troops, fighting continued in the Gostomel-Bucha-Vorzel triangle, which is consistent with the messaging put out by Bucha City Council.​ It wasn’t until 2 April, that the Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar and the Kyiv Regional State Administration announced that Bucha was fully liberated, which corresponds as the first day that Ukrainian Military released the now widely shared video footage of Yablunska Street.

The claims made by the War on Fakes and shared by the Russian Defence Ministry, that the bodies laying on the ground of Yablunska Street have also been disproven. The video, which was posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence shows military vehicles driving down Yablunska Street, where bodies are seen laying on the ground. The caption says “Local civilians were being executed arbitrarily, some with hands tied behind their backs, their bodies scattered in the streets of the city.” Pro-Russian accounts claim that at 0:10 in the video, the hand of a body on the ground moves and that at 0:48, a body sits up. 

Analysis of the video has proven that the ‘movement’ at 0:10 is a water droplet on the windscreen and the body that appears to ‘sit up’ at 0:48 is due to the distorting effect at the curved edge of the side mirror. Two videos uploaded to YouTube on 3 April by The Guardian and Al Jazeera show different angles of the same street seen in the video shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, which clearly shows that the bodies on the ground are in the same position.