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Ukrainian blogger’s video fuels false information about Mariupol bombing

A Ukrainian beauty blogger whom Russian officials accused of being a crisis actor when she was interviewed and photographed by The Associated Press in a bombed-out maternity hospital in Mariupol emerged in new videos that fuel new misinformation about the attack.

A Twitter account linked to the Russian government shared an interview with Marianna Vishegirskaya on Fridayin which the new mother claims that the hospital was not hit by an airstrike last month and that she told AP reporters she did not want to be filmed – claims directly contradicted by the AP reports.

In the interview, directed by Russian blogger Denis Seleznev and filmed by Kristina Melnikova, Vishegirskaya is asked to provide details about what happened in the hospital on March 9, the day of the attack. It is not known where Vishegirskaya is or under what conditions the interview was filmed.

The video was posted on Seleznev’s YouTube account and shared on Telegram and Twitter, and similar videos were also shared on Vishegirskaya’s personal Instagram account. Russian officials have repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the strike in Mariupol, a key military target for Moscow, as footage has gone viral and shed light on Russia’s attacks on civilians in Ukraine. .

In the new videos, Vishegirskaya says those huddled in the hospital basement after the attack believed the explosions were caused by “shelling”, not an airstrike, because “no one heard any sounds that would indicate bombs had been dropped from planes.

But eyewitness accounts and AP journalists video in Mariupol features evidence of an airstrike, including the sound of a plane before the explosion, a crater outside the hospital that was at least two stories deep, and interviews with a policeman and a soldier at the scene who both called the attack an “airstrike”.

At the time of the strike, AP reporters were in another part of Mariupol. They distinctly heard a plane then two explosions. They went 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 would hear a plane almost every 10, 15 minutes, and there would be airstrikes all over the city,” AP video reporter Mstyslav Chernov said. explained in an interview on Saturday. “This one was closer to us so we heard him very well.”

Chernov said that when airstrikes occur, the sound of an airplane is followed by the sound of an explosion within seconds. On March 9, he said he heard a plane and then two bombs immediately afterwards. Vishegirskaya also notes in the interview published Friday that she distinctly heard two explosions.

“We heard the sound of a projectile. Then I personally, instinctively, put on a blanket, and then we heard the second projectile,” says Vishegirskaya, who speaks in Russian.

Vishegirskaya also says in the video that she repeatedly told the AP that she did not want to be filmed, but recordings of AP reporters’ interactions with her contradict this. The video shows the reporters’ first encounter with her outside the hospital, where she is wrapped in a blanket and looks directly at the camera.

“How are you?” Chernov asks and Vishegirskaya replies, “It’s fine. I feel good.” Someone off camera says, “Let’s go,” and she replies, “Yeah, let’s go please,” before entering the building with a rescue worker to collect her belongings .

During the exchange, Vishegirskaya knows she is being filmed and makes no indication that she does not wish to be filmed. AP reporters also said neither she nor her husband ever indicated they had not consented to be filmed or interviewed when they spoke with the couple on March 11, the day after she gave birth. .

In a video recorded that day, she spoke about what she saw and heard at the hospital. Whether it was hit by airstrikes or shelling was not explicitly raised. The only reference Vishegirskaya made about it was that she wasn’t sure where the strike came from.

“I did not see with my own eyes, from whom he flew, from where, what and in what direction. We don’t know,” she told AP on camera, adding, “There are a lot of rumors, but actually we can’t say anything.”

Vishegirskaya’s recently published comments actually contradict the talking points that Russia promoted after the bombing. The country’s embassy in the UK had shared the AP photos of Vishegirskaya and another injured woman on a stretcher, placing the word “FAKE” on the images and claiming that Vishegirskaya had posed in both with a “realistic makeup”. The disinformation was repeated by Russian ambassadors in other parts of the world.

In reality, the photos showed two different women, and Vishegirskaya confirms in the new interview that she was injured in the attack and that the woman on the stretcher was someone else.

The Russian government-linked Twitter account that shared the clip ignored the contradictions and described the interview as an authoritative account.

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

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov that was besieged for more than a month, suffered some of the heaviest damage of the war and also come to symbolize the Ukrainian resistance to the invasion. Located in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists fought Ukrainian troops for eight years, capturing the city would give Russia an unbroken land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized in 2014.