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The pregnant beauty blogger and the Kremlin propagandists

For the Kremlin propaganda machine, hitting a new low is quite a challenge. But he managed to do it again and again during the war in Ukraine – and there’s probably no better (or worse) example than the story of the pregnant Instagram blogger from Mariupol who was caught up in the bombardment. of a maternity ward. In the end, the Kremlin pirouette didn’t work, but not for lack of trying (with the help of some helpful idiots in the West).

On March 9, a week after Russian forces surrounded the southeastern city of Mariupol, a Russian airstrike hit the city’s No. 3 Hospital, a complex that housed a children’s wing and a maternity wing. The images were devastating: a heavily pregnant, bleeding woman, obviously in shock, being carried on a stretcher through the rubble-strewn hospital courtyard; another pregnant woman was helped down the stairs, then stood in the yard wrapped in a blanket, with visible cuts on her face.

The spin began almost immediately. On March 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claims that the hospital was “occupied by militants of the Azov battalion with other radicals, who established a base there” – although, somewhat confusingly, he simultaneously claimed that the “radicals” were “turning people into human shields” and that “there were [had] there have been no women, children or staff in this maternity ward for a long time.

The Russian Embassy in the UK hastened tweeted Lavrov’s statement, accompanied by a photo of the aftermath of the bombing with “FAKE” stamped on it in big red letters, then followed by another tweet claiming that “beauty blogger Marianna Podgurskaya . . . have in played the roles of the two pregnant women on [sic] photos.” One of the two women — the one who walked down the stairs alone — was indeed Podgurskaya; but she was actually pregnant, a fact that could be easily verified by looking at her previous Instagram photos. The embassy acknowledged this , but only to insist that she was using ‘very realistic makeup’ to fake her injuries and that in any event she could not have been in hospital at the time of the strike, as ‘she had long been taken by the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion who told all personnel to clear the square.(The tweets were later deleted by Twitter.) Russian Ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin repeated the lie in a TV interview, claiming with a straight face that Podgurskaya had “changed clothes” to play the second woman on the stretcher.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, former Trump staffer AJ Delgado chimed in:

In early April, after the claim that Podgurskaya was the pregnant woman in the two photos was easily demystified-and after reports that the woman on the stretcher, whose pelvis had been crushed in the bombardment, had died after delivering her stillborn baby by Caesarean section – the story took a new turn. A video interview with Podgurskaya (using her married name, Vyshemirskaya), who had given birth to a baby girl two days after the attack, appeared on Denis Seleznyov’s YouTube channel, a blogger of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Pro-Kremlin accounts quickly touted it as proof that the hospital strike was indeed a false flag.

Delgado rushed into the fray with an “I told you so”.

Again, as in Lavrov’s first statement about the bombing, the twist involved two mutually contradictory theories: first, the hospital bombing was likely a Ukrainian false flag operation using a Ukrainian missile; second, the Russians bombed the hospital, but they considered it a legitimate target because the Ukrainian army was using it as a base to fire on Russian troops. A few spinmasters too seized on Vyshemirskaya’s claim that Associated Press photographers showed up almost immediately at the bombing site to insinuate that the attack was likely staged. (In fact, photographers arrival about 25 minutes after the explosion and filmed the plumes of smoke it caused from a nearby building.)

But what did Vyshemirskaya really say? Did she expose the story of the hospital attack as a fake? Did she, as some have suggested, speak under duress, since she was clearly in Russian-controlled territory?

There is, in fact, absolutely nothing in the YouTube interview to suggest the attack was staged. Yes, Vyshemirskaya (who had lived in the village of Makiyivka in the territory of the “Republic of Donetsk” until she married a man from Mariupol in 2020) claimed that her story had been distorted by the press. But the only significant difference she identified was that Ukrainian government officials and most media characterized the attack as an airstrike, while Vyshemirskaya claimed “no one” heard a plane overhead. head before the building was hit and only afterwards, when the women had gone down to the basement for shelter, hospital staff told them it was not an airstrike . But, first of all, the alternative – rocket shelling – doesn’t look much better, unless the implication is that the rocket came from the Ukrainian side. And second, as the Washington Post reports, eyewitness accounts and video from Associated Press reporters strongly suggest an airstrike, as does physical evidence of a “crater outside the hospital that was at least two stories deep” . This does not mean that Vyshemirskaya is lying: an in-depth analysis analysis by the Latvian site in Russian and English Meduza cites military experts who say that it is quite possible not to hear the sound of an aircraft before a bombing, since this sound can only be heard a few seconds before the bombing ‘blast.

Moreover, some of Vyshemirskaya’s statements in the YouTube interview with Seleznyov are clearly false. For example, she claims that the AP team filmed her in the courtyard of the hospital against her declared will (even though raw footage published on the AP website shows that she did not object to being filmed) and that, in a interview two days later, she told the AP there had been no airstrikes. What she actually said was this: “I did not see with my own eyes where he came from, from where, what and in what direction. We do not know. There are a lot of rumors, but in fact we can’t say anything. It’s hard to say whether Vyshemirskaya misremembers, which would be completely understandable under the circumstances, or whether he’s trying to please the authorities of the “Donetsk Republic” to which she was obviously evacuated (voluntarily or not). . However, it should be noted that at certain points in the interview, she deflects the interviewer’s attempts to make the Ukrainian forces look like the bad guys. So when she says that many civilians trying to use Mariupol’s evacuation corridors have been turned away, the interviewer steps in to clarify that it was the Ukrainian soldiers who prevented them from leaving; but Vyshemirskaya’s response makes it pretty clear that they couldn’t leave because it was dangerous.


AAs motherhood would have been taken over by soldiers, this is where the twist on Vyshemirskaya’s actual words turns into outright falsification.

What Vyshemirskaya is saying, when explaining how she ended up in this particular maternity ward, is that a different the city’s maternity hospital – Hospital No. 1, which had the best equipment – was unavailable because soldiers had set up a base there and patients were transferred to Hospital No. 3. The The reason Ukrainian soldiers had taken over Hospital No. 1, she says, was that it had solar panels, ensuring a continuous power supply. (The interviewer makes a caustic comment about soldiers being given priority over pregnant women; but such decisions in a city under intense attack are not necessarily bad.) Vyshemirskaya later says that on one occasion , soldiers came to Hospital No. 3 and asked for food, saying they had not eaten for several days. This is the story that the “Donbas Devushka” account retweeted by Delgado confused as “Ukrainian soldiers expelled the mothers and stole their food”. (That account was later permanently suspended by Twitter.)

Indeed, after the publication of the interview, Vyshemirskaya clarified in a Telegram post that the maternity ward where the soldiers set up their base was not the hospital that was bombed:

Do not confuse it with Maternity No. 1, which is a perinatal center and is located on the outskirts of Mariupol – this building was taken over by the army at the end of February. They asked all the patients in the maternity ward to go home and they sent the rest to the No. 3 hospital, where I was from March 6 to March 9. So it worked – there were workers, pregnant women and new mothers there.

All in all, it is not clear that Vyshemirskaya’s interview helps the Russian side so much. Even though his account casts doubt that the attack on the maternity ward was an airstrike, it was still an attack on a maternity ward that most certainly had not been cleared of its patients and staff. .

Again, the strategy of the Kremlin propaganda machine is not to create a compelling alternative narrative but to sow confusion and doubt. Who cares if it’s an actual recreation of the old fable in which a man who borrows his neighbor’s kettle and returns it broken claims he never borrowed it, that it was already broken when he borrowed and returned it intact? Pro-Kremlin accounts are still using Vyshemirskaya’s interview to suggest that Western media covered up the truth about the hospital bombing. Fortunately, now only useful idiots still listen.