Russian planes bombed a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9, killing three people and injuring at least 17, including two pregnant women seen in photos shared around the world. Social media posts falsely claimed one woman “posed” as the two women. One of the women died of her injuries, along with her baby; the other gave birth to a daughter.
After several days of bombardment of the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Russian warplanes struck a maternity hospital on March 9, killing three, including a child, and injuring at least 17 people.
An unidentified pregnant woman seen in widely shared images being carried away on a stretcher later died of her injuries, along with her baby.
Another woman seen in photos from the bombing was social media influencer Marianna Podgurskaya. Podgurskaya was photographed bloodied and wrapped in a blanket descending a flight of stairs at the damaged hospital. She was transferred to another hospital, where she gave birth on March 10 to a daughter.
Podgurskaya’s Instagram account shows photos of her pregnant, posted before the bombing, and the Associated Press has distributed a photo of her with her baby, Veronika.
Yet photos of Podgurskaya and the woman who died were misrepresented in social media posts in Russia and elsewhere to falsely claim Podgurskaya was a paid crisis actor who posed as two different pregnant women.
A Facebook post from an account called Rick Pickle claimed the photos are “indisputable evidence of the production of ‘shots with pregnant women,’ which is the responsibility of Ukrainian troll propagandists and their Polish media instructors.” The post claimed “the model Marianna … posed for the photo shoots in the ruins of the hospital.” It says she changed clothes and applied fake blood to appear to be a second pregnant woman.
The disinformation campaign about the Mariupol bombing started trending on Russian Telegram, according to BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh, and was repeated in a tweet from the Russian embassy in the U.K. The embassy said Podgurskaya “has some very realistic makeup” and could not have been at the hospital because it had been cleared. Twitter subsequently removed the posts.
Russian officials sought to downplay the attack. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the hospital had not been operational and was being used by Ukrainian troops.
Mariupol has been one of the hardest hit Ukrainian cities since Russian troops entered the country three weeks ago.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said that more than 2,500 people had died in Mariupol as a result of Russian bombing, CNN reported.
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