As terrible videos and photographs of bodies emerge from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, Kremlin-backed media dismisses them as a staged fabrication, a claim that Ukrainian journalists have debunked.
Denouncing news as fake or distributing misleading information to confuse and undermine foes are techniques that Moscow has employed for years in areas like Syria, and which it has honed with the advent of social media.
Correspondents and presenters of Russian state TV networks stated Tuesday in extensive broadcasts to millions of viewers that some picture and video evidence of the deaths was phony, while others revealed that Ukrainians were responsible for the violence.
“These Ukrainian photos, which illustrate how a soulless corpse suddenly moves its hand, were among the first to surface,” said a report on Russia-1’s evening news program on Monday. “And the dead seem to be rising even in the rearview mirror,” says the narrator.
However, satellite photographs from early March reveal that the deceased had been abandoned for weeks on the streets of Bucha. A Ukrainian lawyer shared a video recorded from a moving automobile online on April 2 showing the identical victims sprawled along Yablonska Street in Bucha. The Associated Press independently matched the position of the remains with different footage from the scene using high-resolution satellite photos of Bucha from commercial supplier Maxar Technology. Similar stories appeared in other Western media outlets.
AP correspondents witnessed the bodies of dozens of individuals in Bucha over the weekend, many of whom were shot at close range and had their wrists tied behind their backs. Residents say the structure was used as a base for Russian forces before they left last week, and at least 13 dead were discovered in and around it.
Russian authorities and state media, on the other hand, have continued to push their own story in newspapers, radio, and television. The mass deaths were blamed on Ukraine, according to a top item on the website of a famous pro-Kremlin tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which claimed “one more convincing proof that ‘the genocide in Bucha’ was carried out by Ukrainian forces.”
The slayings in Bucha were interpreted as a ruse by the West to impose harder sanctions on Russia, according to an opinion piece published Tuesday by the state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
Analysts point out that this isn’t the first time the Kremlin has used an information warfare approach to deny any culpability and disseminate disinformation in a coordinated effort throughout the world during its six-week-old invasion of Ukraine.
“This is just what Russia does every time it sees that it has suffered a public relations setback as a result of crimes,” said Keir Giles, senior consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia program. “As a result, the system virtually runs itself.”
Russia refuted US intelligence claims detailing its preparations to invade Ukraine before to the war. Last month, Russian authorities attempted to undermine Associated Press photographs and reporting from the aftermath of an explosion at a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, that killed a pregnant lady and her unborn child.
The images and video from Bucha have sparked a new round of anger and horror throughout the world.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy enumerated the deaths in Bucha by Russian soldiers and presented gruesome photos of burnt and decaying remains there and in other cities after his video appearance before the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN Ambassador, denounced them as a ruse.
More than a dozen official Russian Twitter and Telegram accounts, as well as state-backed media Facebook pages, echoed the Kremlin claim that the photographs and video of the deceased were manufactured or a fake across social media. Russian authorities’ accounts or Russian-backed news sites Sputnik and RT made the assertions in English, Spanish, and Arabic. More than a dozen posts have been sent to RT en Espaol’s 18 million followers in Spanish.
“Russia denies reports of civilian killings in Bucha, near Kiev,” RT en Espaol reported on Sunday.
Several of the same reports attempted to debunk accusations that Russian forces were responsible for the deaths by citing a video of Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk, filmed on March 31, in which he discussed the suburb’s liberation from Russian rule.
“He verifies the departure of Russian forces from Bucha.” “No word of dead corpses in the streets,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, a prominent Russian official.
However, before the Russian forces withdrew, Fedoruk spoke out about the brutality in an interview with the Italian news agency Adnkronos on March 28, accusing them of homicides and rapes in Bucha.
“We can’t even gather the bodies because the shelling from heavy weapons doesn’t stop day or night,” Fedoruk said in an interview on March 7 of the dead bodies stacking up in Bucha. On city streets, dogs are ripping bodies apart. It’s a shambles.”
Maxar Technologies satellite photographs taken on March 18 and 19 while Russian soldiers controlled Bucha back up Fedoruk’s claim of bodies in the streets, showing at least five dead on one route.
Some social media networks have attempted to minimize Kremlin propaganda and disinformation. In Europe, the internet company Meta banned RT and Sputnik, as well as stopping advertising or amplifying Russian-state media sites on its platforms, which include Facebook and Instagram.
Russia has discovered methods to dodge the crackdown by using dozens of official Russian social media profiles to publish in many languages.
“Russia controls a fairly massive messaging apparatus — whether it’s official embassy accounts, bot or toll accounts, or anti-Western influencers — they have many ways to circumvent platform bans,” said Bret Schafer, the head of the Alliance for Securing Democracy’s information manipulation team in Washington.