Ukraine war: Russia slammed for 'fake news' over Mariupol attack

Russia slammed for ‘fake news’ after claiming pregnant Mariupol survivor is a beauty blogger who faked her injuries as Kremlin desperately tries to deny attacking mothers and babies

  • Russia has been slammed for fake news after claiming Mariupol hospital bombing victim faked her wounds  
  • Nadine Dorries, culture secretary, reported the country’s London embassy for peddling the claim on Twitter 
  • Comes after foreign minister Sergey Lavrov claimed there were no patients in the hospital when it was hit
  • Ukraine says three people, including a six-year-old girl, died in the attack which it described as a ‘war crime’ 

Russia has been slammed for peddling ‘fake news’ after claiming a pregnant survivor of the Mariupol hospital bombing was a beauty blogger in makeup as the Kremlin desperately attempts to deny attacking mothers and their babies.

Nadine Dorries, the UK culture secretary, denounced a tweet by Russia’s London embassy which identified a bloodied patient seen evacuating from Mariupol maternity hospital on Wednesday evening as ‘Marianna’ – a beauty blogger from the city.

The tweet – which has since been deleted for violating Twitter’s ‘community guidelines’ – claimed the blogger ‘played’ the roles of two victims in photos it said were taken by a ‘propagandist’, who is actually a photographer for respected news wire Associated Press. 

It comes after Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told a news conference earlier in the day that the hospital was a ‘legitimate target’ because there were no patients in it at the time of the attack and it had been overtaken by ‘extremists’ from the Azov Brigade which is defending the city.

Images and video from the scene clearly show several pregnant women taken out of the badly damaged hospital with injuries. Ukraine said three people died in the attack, including a six-year-old girl, while 17 others including hospital staff were wounded.

At the same press conference, Lavrov claimed that Russia ‘never attacked Ukraine’ and denounced international outcry over the hospital attack as ‘pathetic’. President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the bombing as a ‘war crime’, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it ‘depraved’.

Lavrov spoke out amid a slew of disinformation from the Kremlin over the last 48 hours aimed at justifying Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine whilst also seeking to minimise or obfuscate Russia’s role as instigator of the conflict. 

Russia has been slammed for peddling ‘fake news’ after trying to claim that a victim of the Mariupol hospital bombing (right) is a beauty blogger (left) who faked her injuries

The heavily pregnant woman was pictured evacuating from the Mariupol maternity hospital on Wednesday night after it was struck several times by Russian bombers in what Ukraine called a ‘war crime’

Sergey Lavrov, earlier in the day, had sought to claim that there were no patients in the hospital at the time of the bombing and it had been taken over by ‘extremists’ – making it a legitimate target

Foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday claimed that Ukraine was developing bioweapons in laboratories near the border with American help which ‘forced’ Putin to launch his attack, claims which have been dismissed by Washington as false.

Claims of WMDs in Ukraine are being pushed by Russia after its initial justification for the war – genocide against civilians in Donbass – was quickly abandoned after the Pentagon warned ahead of time that ‘false flag’ operations in the region would be used to create a pre-text for conflict. 

Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of Mariupol, said he is ‘absolutely sure’ the Russians knew they were bombing a hospital when they launched the attack late yesterday – adding ‘this is the third hospital they have destroyed’ after a 300-bed Covid unit and blood bank were targeted on Tuesday.

Orlov accused Putin’s men of trying to create a humanitarian crisis in Mariupol in the hopes of weakening Ukrainian defences and making it easier for Russian troops – which have surrounded the city for more than a week – to seize, having largely failed to take control of cities elsewhere.

It is hardly the first time that Russian commanders have been accused of deliberately striking hospitals. During the bombing of Aleppo, in Syria, humanitarian groups said Putin’s warplanes had systematically blown up medical facilities in the city before Bashar al-Assad’s troops rolled in to seize it.  

Observers have suggested that Russia is now using a Syria-style battleplan against Ukraine after its early precision strikes failed.

The Ukrainian Healthcare Center, a think-tank based in the country, says that between the outbreak of fighting on February 24 and today, their team documented 42 cases of Russian forces attacking either healthcare facilities or medics in order to deliberately provoke a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

Hospitals had been struck in every theatre where Russian forces were operating, the think-tank said, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv.

‘The humanitarian catastrophe is a part of Russia’s hybrid war. [It] intends to spread panic, create a flow of refugees at the borders and force the Ukrainian government to surrender,’ said Pavlo Kovtonyuk, co-founder of the think-tank.

The bombing took place during what was supposed to be a ceasefire in Mariupol so that civilians could evacuate. It marks the fourth time a so-called ‘humanitarian corridor’ out of the city has failed because Russian forces opened fire. 

Ukraine now says that at least 71 children have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war on February 24, a Ukrainian parliament official said on Thursday.

The toll was announced amid outrage over the bombing Wednesday of a children’s hospital in Mariopol that officials said killed three people, including a young girl.

‘From the start of the Russian invasion and up to 11:00 am on March 10, 71 children have been killed and more than 100 wounded,’ Lyudmyla Denisova, parliament’s point person on human rights, wrote in a Telegram message.

The hospital was hit as Mariopol, a southeastern port in Ukraine, is under siege from Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists from the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Sources said 17 adults were also wounded in the bombing.

In Malyn, in the western Zhytomyr region, three children and two other people were killed when seven homes were destroyed in air strikes, according to Denisova, who cited several examples of children dying in air strikes.

On Wednesday night, two women and two children were killed when a shell hit their home in Slobozhanske, a village in the eastern Izium region, Denisova said, adding that a five-year-old girl survived.

In Irpin, not far from the capital Kyiv, a 10-year-old girl was gravely wounded and is fighting for her life in hospital.

This afternoon, President Zelensky told Russian leaders that their country’s invasion of Ukraine will backfire, by landing them in court and making their people hate them.

‘You will definitely be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes,’ Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address.

The West has slapped harsh financial and economic sanctions on Russia because of the invasion, and the Ukrainian leader said the consequences will be felt by all Russians.

‘And then, it will definitely happen, you will be hated by Russian citizens – everyone you have been deceiving constantly, daily, for many years in a row, when they feel the consequences of your lies in their wallets, in their shrinking possibilities, in the stolen future of Russian children.’

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Thursday that about 2 million people – half the population of the capital’s metropolitan area – have left the city, which has become virtually a fortress. Another 2.3million have fled the country.

‘Every street, every house . is being fortified,’ Klitschko said. ‘Even people who in their lives never intended to change their clothes, now they are in uniform with machine guns in their hands.’ 

Western officials said Russian forces have made little progress on the ground in recent days. But they have intensified the bombardment of Mariupol and other cities, trapping hundreds of thousands of people, with food and water running short.

Temporary cease-fires to allow evacuations and humanitarian aid have repeatedly faltered, with Ukraine accusing Russia of continuing its bombardments. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said 35,000 people managed to get out on Wednesday from several besieged towns, and more efforts were underway on Thursday in eastern and southern Ukraine – including Mariupol – as well as in the Kyiv suburbs.

The Mariupol city council posted a video showing buses driving down a highway. It said a convoy bringing food and medicine was on the way despite several days of thwarted efforts to reach the city.

‘Everyone is working to get help to the people of Mariupol. And it will come,’ said Mayor Vadym Boychenko.

Images from the city, where hundreds have died and workers hurried to bury bodies in a mass grave, have drawn condemnation from around the world. Residents have resorted to breaking into stores for food and melting snow for water. The city has been without heat for days as nighttime temperatures fall below freezing and daytime ones hover just above it. 

Mariupol, which has been under heavy bombardment for more than a week, continued to suffering shelling on Thursday as a humanitarian support convoy made a fifth attempt to get into the city

Burning buildings are pictured on the outskirts of Mariupol, with the mayor saying 1,200 people have been killed in nine days of Russian shelling with bodies buried in mass graves

The skyline of Mariupol lights up with the blasts from Russian bombs as the city suffers under another day of intense bombardment designed to break Ukrainian defenders before Putin’s troops roll in

‘The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,’ Volodymyr Bykovskyi said as he stood by a freshly dug trench where bodies were being buried. ‘I don’t know who’s guilty, who’s right, who started this. Damn them all, those people who started this!’

When the series of blasts hit the children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol, the ground shook more than a mile away. Explosions blew out windows and ripped away much of the front of one building. 

Police and soldiers rushed to the scene to evacuate victims, carrying a bleeding woman with a swollen belly on a stretcher past burning and mangled cars. Another woman wailed as she clutched her child.

Regional Ukrainian police official Volodymir Nikulin, standing in the ruins, called the attack ‘a war crime without any justification.’ Britain’s Armed Forces minister, James Heappey, said that whether the hospital was hit by indiscriminate fire or deliberately targeted, ‘it is a war crime.’

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, backed calls for an international war-crimes investigation into the invasion, saying, ‘The eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed concerns about civilian casualties as ‘pathetic shrieks’ from Russia’s enemies. He claimed without providing evidence that the Mariupol hospital had been seized by far-right radical fighters who were using it as a base – despite the fact that photographs from the aftermath showed pregnant women and children at the site.

Several rounds of talks have not stopped the fighting, and a meeting in a Turkish Mediterranean resort between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, failed to find much common ground.

In their highest-level talks since the war began, the two sides discussed a 24-hour cease-fire but did not make progress, Kuleba said. He said Russia was still seeking ‘surrender from Ukraine.’

‘This is not what they are going to get,’ he said, adding that he was willing to continue the dialogue.

Lavrov said Russia was ready for more negotiations but showed no sign of softening Moscow’s demands.

Russia has alleged that Western-looking, U.S.-backed Ukraine poses a threat to its security. Western officials suspect Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to install a government friendly to Moscow in Kyiv as part of an effort to draw the former Soviet state back into its orbit.

Russia’s military is struggling, facing heavier losses and stronger Ukrainian resistance than it apparently anticipated. But Putin’s forces have used airpower to pummel key cities, often shelling populated areas.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, 91-year-old Alevtina Shernina sat wrapped in a blanket, an electric heater at her feet, as cold air blew in through a damaged window. She survived the brutal World War II siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and is now under siege again, her health too fragile for her to be moved.

Her daughter-in-law Natalia said she was angry that Shernina ‘began her life in Leningrad under the siege as a girl who was starving, who lived in cold and hunger, and she’s ending her life’ in similar circumstances.

‘There were fascists there and there are fascists here who came and bombed our buildings and windows,’ she said.

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