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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claim that Russian forces are using “mobile crematoriums” to hide the full extent of their atrocities in Ukraine was originally made by Mariupol City Council in a Telegram, which speculated that “tens of thousands of civilians from Mariupol could have fallen victim to the occupiers”.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.

 

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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 on 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.

 

 

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The claims made by the War on Fakes and shared by the Russian Defence Ministry, that bodies shown in footage of Bucha were ‘moving’, have also been disproven. The video, which was posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence shows military vehicles driving down Yablunska Street, where several 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.

Claims that there were no civilians were harmed when Russian troops left and that reports of bodies lying in the streets did not surface until 3 April were also provably false. Witness testimony of “extrajudicial killings and civilians shot while trying to get water” came as early as 31 March from Human Rights Watch, a video uploaded to Twitter on 1 April at 09:07 shows 11 bodies laying in the street and a video uploaded to Telegram 1 April at 6:18pm shows 3 bodies laying in the street. Using MAXAR Satellite technology, The New York Times published evidence that at least 11 bodies on the street were there as early as 11 March.

 

 

CCTV camera footage, obtained by The New York Times, shows Russian paratroopers leading a group of eight men towards a courtyard on 144 Yablunska Street on 4 May, where they were then executed. The New York Times also spoke to multiple witnesses who said that they saw the shooting. Additionally, according to German publication Der Spiegel Russian soldiers were overheard in intercepted radio communications, discussing killing civilians in Bucha. The audio was tracked and obtained by the German Federal Intelligence Service – though they have made no public comment on this.

 

 

In addition to the physical evidence there are also countless witness testimonies from Bucha residents who say they witnessed Russian forces kill members of their families and that Russian forces “killed entire families, adults and children.”

 

 

Reporting

The killings in Bucha have predictably been portrayed by Russian state television as staged events, carried out by Ukrainian intelligence services and then disseminated by Western media. Russian state news agency Tass, have run multiple articles describing Bucha as a “provocation” and purported growing evidence of “staged events”. Russian state television show ‘Antifake’ described the events as a hoax, showing the real victims of Bucha with a stamp marked as “fake” across the images.

 

 

Latin American news has also reported Russia’s claims that Bucha was a staged event without presenting the counter evidence, Venezuelan news, Telesur described it as a “fake news story” and reported that “the West is feeding Bucha’s provocation hype to disrupt Russia-Ukraine negotiations.”

 

28 March ’22: ‘Ukrainian negotiators were poisoned at peace talks’

It was reported by the Wall Street Journal that following peace talks in Kyiv on 3 March, Roman Abramovich, Ukrainian MP Rustem Umerov and another Ukrainian negotiator had suffered the symptoms of a “suspected poisoning”, which included “red eyes, consistent and painful tearing and peeling skin on their hands and face”, citing “people familiar with the matter” as their source. Later that day, the story was ‘confirmed’ by Bellingcat on Twitter, who stated that the symptoms were “consistent with poisoning with chemical weapons”.

 

The story was initially reported on Facebook by a journalist for Russian news, Agentstvo, in a since removed post, which stated that “the People’s Deputy Rustem Umerov, who was a member of the Ukrainian delegation in negotiations with the Russian Federation was poisoned. He survived, they say there are other victims besides him. We are waiting for an official statement on this situation.”

 

 

Fact check

In a post published to Facebook on 28 March, Rustem Umerov denied the claims, stating “I’m fine” with a warning not to “trust any unverified information”.

 

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Reuter’s then reported that an unnamed U.S. official had stated that the symptoms exhibited by Ukrainian officials and Roman Abravovich were likely “environmental” and “not poisoning.” A spokesperson for Zelensky’s office, Ihor Zhovkva, told the BBC that the Ukrainian officials were “fine” and that the story was” false”. The claim has been denied by Russia, Ukraine and the U.S.

 

Reporting

Western news outlets citing the Wall Street Journal or Bellingcat published the claims as if true and verified, which included the Daily Mail, The Week, France 24, ABC News and Bloomberg. In an article published by Forbes on 30 March they state that that “a source close to Roman Abramovich” had claimed that he had been poisoned.

 

Russia24 claimed that Roman Abramovich and Umerov had survived an unsuccessful assassination attempt. The host suggested that Umerov may have been the target because he allegedly witnessed the killing of a former Ukrainian peace delegate Denis Kireev, who was killed after he was accused of working with Russia. Boris Volodarsky a former captain in Russia’s special forces, the GRU Spetsnaz, who is now an intelligence historian and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London, told Business Insider that “the reported poisoning of Ukraine negotiators” was “an FSB trick that worked well” and “boded well for the Kremlin.”

 

 

27 March ’22: ‘A civilian woman was tortured by Russian forces in Mariupol’

Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasynlenko tweeted an image depicting what she described as a “women with swastika shaped burns” – the image showed the torso of a female that appeared to have a swastika etched into it – she claimed the woman had been “raped and killed” by Russian forces. This image was shared again by one of Zelensky’s advisors Oleksiy Arestovych, who claimed that the image depicts “the body of a girl who was tortured to death in Gostomel.”

 

Fact check

The image that Vasynlenko shared appears to be a taken from a video uploaded to Youtube by Patrick Lancaster, who is reporting from Russian-controlled territories and is embedded with the ‘DNR’ People’s Militia. The footage was apparently taken while searching a school basement in Mariupol, where it is alleged that the Azov Battalion were staying – the camera shows a member of the DNR militia states is Azov uniform found in the basement. In the video, Lancaster states that the swastika appears to have been “painted onto her stomach in blood” – the skin of her stomach looks as though it has also been cut. The Youtube video is not unavailable but clips of it can be found on Twitter.

 

Reporting

The New York Post and The Huffington Post both published the claims without attempt to verify where they had originated from, apart from ‘reaching out for comment’:

‘Russians burned swastikas into victims’ bodies, raped girls as young as 10: reports’ – The New York Post

‘Russian Soldiers Rape Children And Brand Women With Swastikas, Ukraine MP Claims’ – The Huffington Post

 

Daily Mail, The Independent, Mirror and The International Business Times published this story, without mention of the original source, but presenting this as Ukraine v Russia narrative. Yahoo News, Metro and Newsweek all stated where the image originated from and that neither Vasynlenko nor Lancaster’s claims are verified, but their headlines read as if Vasynlenko’s claims were fact.

 

Other publications have taken the view that because Vasynlenko misappriated the image, its original source (Patrick Lancaster) must therefore be the truth: Lancaster’s version of events could well be false or staged by the ‘DNR’ People’s Militia with or without his knowledge.

 

11 March ’22: ‘Russia shelled the Kanuni Sultan Suleyman Mosque in Mariupol’

Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted on 12 March “The mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana (Hurrem Sultan) in Mariupol was shelled by Russian invaders. More than 80 adults and children are hiding there from the shelling, including citizens of Turkey.” 51 minutes later the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey tweeted “The mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roksolana (Hürrem Sultan) in Mariupol was attacked by Russian invaders. More than 80 adults and children, including Turkish citizens, are hiding from bombardment.” Both used the hashtag #closeUAskyNow, which was used on social media during the period when Ukraine was appealing to NATO countries to implement a no fly zone over the country.

 

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Fact check

Within 2 hours of the Minstry of Foreign Affairs statement on Twitter, the Middle Eastern Eye reported that the president of Sultan Suleiman Mosque Foundation, Ismail Hacioglu had denied reports. “A bomb dropped 700 metres away from the mosque, but we are fine.”

 

Reporting

France 24, Politico, Sky News Reuters and The Mirror all reported that the mosque had been shelled, after the president of the Sultan Suleiman Mosque Foundation had already denied the reports. Al Jazeera also reported false information but it is unclear at what time.

 

6 March ’22: ‘Ukraine is building biological weapons, funded by the U.S.’

tweet posted by the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleges that “During the course of the special military operation evidence of an emergency clean-up performed by the Kiev regime was found – aimed at eradicating traces of the military-biological programme, in Ukraine, financed by [U.S. Department of Defense]”. The tweet includes screenshots of documents, which are offered as ‘proof’.

 

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In a Telegram, Russian News Agency RIA Novosti published the first documents Russia said were evidence of biological weapons. These documents, which were issued on the second day of the Russian invasion contained orders from Ukraine’s health minister, directing labs in two cities, Kharkiv and Poltava, to destroy collections of bacterial pathogens used for research.

 

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson, told the Russia State News Agency Tass that the attempt to secure the labs was itself evidence that Ukrainian and American scientists had been secretly plotting to weaponise dangerous pathogens and in a briefing given 7 March, Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical, and biological protection force, without evidence claimed that U.S.-funded labs in Ukraine and the former Soviet republic of Georgia were linked to a swine flu outbreak in 2007 and increased cases of measles, rubella, diphtheria, and tuberculosis in Ukraine.

 

Conflicting evidence

An article published by The Intercept on 17 March, details how Russian biologists “at considerable risk to their own safety” have reviewed the documents presented by Russia as proof of a U.S.-funded biological weapons programme in Ukraine and have accused the Russian government of lying about having evidence to support their claims. In a change.org petition, one biologist asserts that the documents do not “imply any development of biological weapons or even the use of particularly dangerous pathogens in the laboratories. The list of destroyed strains published by RIA Novosti and other Russian media outlets contains not a single particularly dangerous strain. The list contains only strains common to microbiological and even more so to epidemiological laboratories.” Another group of 9 biologists has created a spreadsheet, which explains all of the strains mentioned in the documents presented by Russia.

 

 

The documents themselves appear to be in reference to the The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which the U.S. has been open about and was “created for the purpose of securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in the former states of the Soviet Union.” In Ukraine, the programme has run since the 1994 agreement, when Ukraine agreed to give up its remaining nuclear weapons. Under the same agreement, the U.S. Defense Department and the Ukraine Ministry of Health have had a partnership since 2005, as part of the U.S. Biological Threat Reduction Program, which exists to “counter the threat of outbreaks (deliberate, accidental, or natural) of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases” and “reduce the threat of biological weapons proliferation.”

 

 

While the evidence Russia has put forward to back their bioweapons claim has been disproven, testifying at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 8 March, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, stated that Ukraine has “biological research facilities”. She added that the U.S. is “working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.”

 

 

Whilst Nuland’s acknowledgement falls far short of evidence to support Russian claims of US bioweapons development in Ukraine, some western media have rejected outright claims that the US is funding biolabs. A fact check by USA Today, for example, brands the claim “There are biolabs in Ukraine funded by the US government” as false. But the agreement signed in 2005 between the US Department of Defence and the Ukrainian government specifies that the former will provide up to $15 million in assistance and support for facilities which “may include, but is not limited to, cooperative biological research, biological threat agent detection and response, and assistance for improving biological material protection, control and accountability”.

 

 

It is also important to note that there has long been controversy over whether germ warfare research carried out by the US government (among others) pushes the limits of the Biological Weapons Convention.

 

 

Reporting

Russian state new agency Tass has reported this as fact, asserting that bioweapons facilities were operating in around and in close proximity to Russia, also publishing a joint statement from Moscow and Beijing that the alleged “military biological activity of the US and its allies poses a serious threat for the national security of Russia and China”. RT have written multiple articles covering the allegations of a U.S.-funded biological weapons programme in Ukraine including as recently as 16 April, in an article that claimed Germany had “coordinated” with the U.S. on “‘military biological activities’ in Ukraine”. The official news agency of Beijing, Xinhua News Agency, published an article that claimed “U.S.-funded biological laboratories in Ukraine worked on establishing a mechanism “for the covert transmission of deadly pathogens.”

 

On 9 March 22, Fox News and Tucker Carlson used the statements of Victoria Nuland to claim that the Pentagon had been lying and that this was evidence of “secret labs” in Ukraine. An article published by NBC News on 14 March falsely claimed that the presence of biological research labs in Ukraine was a “debunked conspiracy theory”, while there is no evidence to support the claim that the US is funding a biological weapons programme in Ukraine, in their attempts to debunk Russia and the far-right, mainstream publications may have added fuel to the fire.

1 March ’22: ‘Bombing of Babyn Yar memorial’

The Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine put out a statement on Twitter, saying “Just now, a powerful barrage is underway. A missile hit the place where Babyn Yar memorial complex is located! Once again, these barbarians are murdering the victims of Holocaust!”

Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre said in a statement: “Putin seeking to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of Babyn Yar, the biggest of Nazi massacres.”

 

 

Fact check

Ynet journalist and veteran war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai, visited the site and found it undamaged. Speaking to the New York Times, the Deputy chief of the Memorial Center, Ruslan Kavatsiuk, said that the memorial was not damaged but that a building that the centre had plans to use as a museum in the future had been indirectly damaged as a result of a Russian strike that targeted a communications tower nearby.

 

 

Reporting

The Conversation, The Independent and The New York Post have unamended articles on their sites with the disinformation that the memorial was bombed. On 26 March, Russian shelling caused damage to a menorah at the entrance to Drobitsky Yar memorial on the outskirts of Kharkiv. NBC, Insider, The Jerusalem Post, ARTnews and the Jewish Chronicle, double down by saying that it was the second Jewish memorial to be bombed.

 

24 Feb ’22: ‘Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island killed after refusing to surrender’

On the first day of the invasion, the audio of a confrontation between Ukrainian Navy soldiers and Russian forces was obtained by news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda and widely shared on social media, in which Russian forces demanded the Ukrainians surrender – their response was “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.” That day Volodymyr Zelensky said that 13 soldiers on Snake Island “died heroically but did not give up. They will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously.” On 28 February, the Ukrainian Navy put out a statement saying that they were actually “alive and well” and had surrendered.

 

 

Reporting

Politico covered the original story 24 February and then published a correction 28 February, but in an article titled ‘Get ready for a long war,’ published on 1 March, they wrote “Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island in the Black Sea became heroes for their defiance under fire,” with a link to the BBC’s coverage of the original story.