Strikes in Mariupol: Ukrainian influencer fuels disinformation

A Ukrainian beauty blogger who was accused by Russian officials of being an “actress” as she was interviewed and photographed by The Associated Press (AP) in a bombed-out maternity hospital in Mariupol has appeared in new videos that once again fuel disinformation. surrounding the attack.

On Friday, a Twitter account linked to the Russian government posted an interview with Marianna Vishegirskaya. In it, the new mom mentions that the hospital was unaffected by an airstrike last month and that she warned AP reporters that she didn’t want to be filmed – claims that directly contradict AP’s reports.

In an interview directed by Russian blogger Denis Seleznev and filmed by Kristina Melnikova, Ms. Vyshegirskaya is asked to give details of what happened at the hospital on March 9, the day of the explosion. The whereabouts of Vishegirskaya and the conditions under which the interview was filmed are unknown.

The video was posted on Denis Seleznev’s YouTube account. It was shared on Telegram and Twitter, as well as on Vishegirskaya’s personal Instagram account. Russian officials have repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the strike on Mariupol, Moscow’s key military installation, as footage has been shown around the world that sheds light on Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine.

In the new videos, Ms. Vyshegirskaya says those who huddled in the basement of the hospital after the attack believed the explosions were caused by “gunfire” and not an airstrike because “no one” heard any sounds indicating the bombs had been dropped. from airplanes.

Evidence and testimonies

But eyewitness testimony and video from AP correspondents in Mariupol show evidence of an airstrike, including the sound of an aircraft before the explosion and a crater near a hospital at least two stories deep. They also include interviews with a police officer and a soldier at the scene, who called the attack an “air strike”.

At the time of the attack, the AP journalists were in another district of Mariupol. They distinctly heard the plane, then two explosions. They climbed to the 12th floor of a nearby building, where they filmed two large plumes of smoke in the distance towards the hospital. It then took them about 25 minutes to get to the hospital.

“At that time, you heard a plane almost every 10, 15 minutes, and there were air strikes all over the city,” Mstislav Chernov, an AP videographer, explained in an interview on Saturday. This one was closer to us. So we heard it very well.”

Mr. Chernov said that when airstrikes occur, the sound of an aircraft is followed by the sound of an explosion for several seconds. On March 9, he said he heard an airplane and then two bombs at once. In an interview published on Friday, Ms. Vyshegirskaya also says she heard two explosions distinctly.

“We heard the sound of a projectile. Then, personally, I instinctively threw a blanket over, then we heard the second projectile, ”explains the influencer, who speaks Russian.

Exchange with journalists

Marianna Vishegirskaya also testifies in the video that she repeatedly told the AP that she did not want to be filmed. However, records of AP reporters talking to her contradict this claim. The video shows reporters’ first meeting with her outside of the hospital, where she is wrapped in a blanket and staring straight into the camera.

“How are you?” asks Mr. Chernov. Marianna Vishegirskaya replies: “Everything is fine. I feel good.” Someone off-camera says, “Let’s go,” and she replies, “Yes, let’s go,” before entering the building with a lifeguard to collect her belongings.

During the exchange, Ms. Vishegirskaya knows she is being filmed and gives no indication that she does not want to be filmed. AP reporters also said that neither she nor her husband ever said they did not agree to a videotape or interview when they spoke to the couple on March 11, the day after she gave birth.

In a video recorded that day, the influential woman recounted what she saw and heard in the hospital. Whether it was hit by airstrikes or artillery fire was not explicitly mentioned. Marianna Vyshegirskaya’s only reference to this was that she was not sure where the blow came from.

“I did not see with my own eyes who it was, where it came from, what and in what direction. We don’t know,” she told AP on camera.

“There are a lot of rumors, but in fact we can’t say anything,” she continued.

two different women

Ms. Vyshegirskaya’s recently published comments actually contradict the messages that Russia has been pushing since the bombing. The country’s embassy in the UK shared photos of Ms Visegirskaya and another injured woman on a stretcher with AP, adding the word “FAKE” to the images and saying that Ms Visegirskaya posed on both occasions with “realistic makeup.”

Disinformation was repeated by Russian ambassadors in other countries of the world.

In fact, the photos show two different women. In a new interview, Ms. Vyshegirskaya confirms that she was injured in the attack and that the woman on the stretcher was someone else.

The Twitter account associated with the Russian government that shared the clip ignored the controversy and called the interview an authoritative account.

The AP was unable to identify the woman on the stretcher, but the surgeon confirmed that she and her child had died from injuries sustained during the attack.

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov that had been under siege for over a month, suffered some of the worst damage of the war and also became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion.

Located in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years, capturing the city will give Russia an uninterrupted land corridor to the Crimean peninsula it seized in 2014.

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