By Kit Klarenberg – Apr 3, 2022
A key witness to the widely publicized incident at the Mariupol maternity hospital has punctured the official narrative of a Russian airstrike on the facility, and raised serious questions about Western media ethics. Meanwhile, news of a massacre in the city of Bucha contains suspicious elements.
On March 9th, shocking news of a deliberate Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, began spreading widely via social media and news outlets.
Fiery condemnation from Western officials, pundits, and journalists was immediate. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for his part, claimed the act was proof of the “genocide” Russia was perpetrating against the civilian population, and urged European leaders to condemn the “war crime” and “strengthen sanctions” to stop the Kremlin’s “evil” deeds in the country. NPR suggested the attack was part of Russia’s “terrible wartime tradition” of purposefully targeting health facilities and medics during conflicts, dating back to Chechnya.
But newly released testimony from one of the incident’s main witnesses punctures the official narrative about a targeted Russian airstrike on the hospital. The witness account indicates the hospital had been turned into a base of operations by Ukrainian military forces and was not targeted in an airstrike, as Western media claimed. Her testimony also raised serious questions about whether at least some elements of the event were staged for propaganda purposes – and with the cooperation of the Associated Press.
The new testimony (watch below) comes on the heels of evidence strongly suggesting that the destruction of a dramatic theater in Mariupol on March 16 was staged by the Azov Battalion, and that nearly all civilians had evacuated a day before. And as we will see below, new reports of a Russian massacre of scores of civilians in the town of Bucha also contain suspicious details suggesting a pattern of information manipulation aimed at triggering Western military intervention.
“They said it was no airstrike. So our opinion got confirmed. We didn’t hear the airplane, they didn’t hear it either.”
At that moment we heard an explosion. Instinctively I personally put a duvet on myself. That’s when we heard the second explosion. I got covered by glass partially. I had small cuts on my nose, under my lips and at the top of my forehead but it was nothing serious…
Mariana Vishegirskaya, a pregnant resident of Donetsk who was present at the maternity hospital during the widely reported incident, has evacuated from Mariupol and is now speaking out. Photos showing a bloodied Vishnevskaya fleeing the building with her personal belongings became a centerpiece of coverage of the attack, along with a photo of another woman being carried away pale and unconscious on a stretcher.
In the wake of the incident, Russian officials falsely claimed the pair were the same person, citing Vishegirskaya’s background as a blogger and Instagram personality as evidence she was a crisis actor and the incident a false flag. Though that assertion was not true, as we shall see, the hospital had been almost completely taken over by the Ukrainian military.
In a video (above) reviewed by The Grayzone which began circulating via Telegram April 1st, Vishegirskaya offers a clear and detailed account of what took place on and in the days leading up to March 9th. The witness begins by noting how many residents of Mariupol attempted to evacuate following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, but says authorities ensured it was “impossible to leave.”
On March 6th, with the birth of her child impending, she checked into maternity hospital number three, the city’s “most modern” facility. She was not there long before the Ukrainian military arrived and evicted all the hospital’s patients, as they sought access to the building’s solar panels, one of the last remaining sources of electricity in the besieged city.
“We were moved to the only small maternity hospital left. It had only one small generator… Husbands of women in labor settled in the basement and cooked meals for us on the street. Residents of neighboring houses also brought us meals,” Vishegirskaya says. “One day soldiers came. They didn’t help with anything. They were told the food is for women, how could they ask for it? They replied they hadn’t eaten in five days, took our food and said, ‘you can cook some more.’”
On the night of the 8th, the pregnant women “slept peacefully” as there were “no shootouts.” The next day, the soon-to-be mothers heard a shell explode outside. Vishegirskaya “instinctively” covered herself with her duvet, but still, shattered glass from a nearby window cut her lip, nose and forehead, though she says it was “nothing serious.”
“After the second explosion we got evacuated to the basement,” Vishegirskaya recalled. “We proceeded to discuss whether it was an airstrike. They said it was no airstrike. So our opinion got confirmed. We didn’t hear the airplane, they didn’t hear it either. They told us it was a shell. After the first two explosions there were no other explosions.”
As she waited, she noticed “a soldier with a helmet” taking pictures of her, and demanded he stop, “because obviously it was not a good time for that,” and she did not want to be photographed in her current state. The soldier complied. Back upstairs, the same individual began filming her and others again, refusing to stop until his subjects had demanded several times he do so.
Vishegirskaya’s husband later told her the man wasn’t a soldier, but an Associated Press correspondent, one of many on the scene at the time. She believes these journalists had been there “from the beginning,” as they were ready and waiting outside to snap the woman being led away on a stretcher, the first to emerge from the building in the wake of the shell attack, “as soon as she came out.”
The next day, after her baby was delivered via cesarean section, the same Associated Press staffers interviewed her, asking her to describe what happened. They enquired point blank if an airstrike had taken place, to which she responded, “no, even the people that were on the streets didn’t hear anything, nor did anyone.”
Later, when she was in safer “ living conditions,” Vishegirskaya began scouring the internet, attempting to track down the interview. She found “everything else” the Associated Press staffers recorded – but not her denials that an airstrike had occurred.
The AP’s narrative on the hospital incident grows shaky
The Associated Press’ initial report by Evgeniy Maloletka on the March 9th incident provided the primary foundation and framing of all mainstream coverage thereafter. It categorically asserted the hospital was targeted by a deliberate “airstrike,” which “ripped away much of the front of one building” in the hospital complex and left nearby streets strewn with “burning and mangled cars and trees shattered.” The report suggested that the heinous act was a testament to Russia’s invasion force “struggling more than expected.”
Countless Western news outlets recycled this content, with particular emphasis on the claimed “airstrike.” These outlets served as eager conduits six days later when Associated Press issued a followup, revealing that the pregnant mother being stretchered out of the hospital had died, as had her unborn child. A doctor stated her pelvis had been crushed and “hip detached,” which the agency attributed to the hospital having been “bombarded” by the Russian air force.
However, the Associated Press made no mention in its follow-up report of any part of any building being “ripped away.” In fact, the words attributed by the AP to Vishegirskaya indicate she was completely unaware of how the damage was actually caused.
“We were lying in wards when glass, frames, windows and walls flew apart,” she told the AP. “We don’t know how it happened [emphasis added]. We were in our wards and some had time to cover themselves, some didn’t.”
Did the Associated Press insert ambiguity and uncertainty into Vishegirskaya’s mouth in order to maintain the bogus narrative of an airstrike? Even if quoted accurately, she could easily have been describing an explosion nearby which inflicted shockwave damage on the building.
Reinforcing that interpretation, an Associated Press video purporting to document the aftermath of the “airstrike” showed a large hole in the ground within the maternity hospital complex grounds, said to be “a blast crater” from the wider assault. Was this merely the impact zone of a shell that intentionally or not landed near the building, rather than one vestige of a targeted aerial onslaught?
Whatever the truth of the matter, other aspects of Vishegirskaya’s newly released testimony relate to major mysteries surrounding the Mariupol maternity hospital bombing. For example, she affectingly attests that the pregnant woman stretchered out of the building died. Yet for all the superficial damage inflicted, no photo or video evidence yet to emerge from the scene – bar a seemingly blood-soaked mattress – indicates how and where the fatal injuries could have been inflicted.
Even more curiously, the Associated Press implausibly claimed that due to “chaos after the airstrike,” no one on the ground learned the dead woman’s name before her husband arrived to collect her body – her identity remains unknown to this day. Still, doctors were “grateful” the nameless woman did not end up buried in one of the mass graves dug for Mariupol’s dead.
Associated Press embeds with the Azov Battalion
The number of people who lost their lives in the maternity hospital incident, and precisely how, are likewise conundrums. In a televised address that evening, Zelensky claimed three individuals, including a child, had been slain via “airstrike,” while others remained trapped under rubble. The next day, though, Donetsk regional government chief Pavlo Kyrylenko said zero deaths had been confirmed, and there were no confirmed injuries among children.
By contrast, numerous media outlets have since reported, or at least heavily implied, that several children were killed, and their bodies deposited in the aforementioned mass graves on the “outskirts” of Mariupol. Why it would be necessary or sensible to transport corpses far away from the city center, and why a child’s parents would consent to such an undignified burial, remains unclear.
We know about these supposed mass graves thanks to Associated Press correspondent Evgeny Maloletka, who has published photos and authored articles detailing their construction. His content has been widely repurposed by other Western outlets, the grim images traveling far and wide.
Maloletka also happened to be an eyewitness to the maternity hospital incident; he took the infamous shot of the pregnant woman being stretchered out of the building. Maloletka, in fact, has managed to place himself in the vicinity of many dramatic events instantly portrayed as titanic Russian war crimes.
A glowing March 19th Washington Post profile of Maloletka praised him for sharing “the horror stories of Mariupol with the world.” The article described the Ukrainian as a “longtime freelancer” for Associated Press, previously covering the Maidan “revolution” and “conflicts in Crimea” for the agency. There was no mention of the fact that Maloletka was a fervent supporter of the “revolution,” however.
In a lengthy multimedia presentation on the coup and resultant war in Donbas featured on his personal website, Maloletka claims to be “indifferent to the situation in my country.” However, his affinities are abundantly clear. He frames the US-backed regime change operation as a courageous fight against “corruption and social injustice,” while making no reference to both the Maidan protesters and their leadership being riddled with neo-Nazis.
This may be relevant to consider, given Maloletka has also been a key source of photos of training provided to Ukrainian civilians by Azov Battalion. Whether he sympathizes with the paramilitary’s fascist politics is unclear, but there can be little doubt he has been in extremely close quarters with the neo-Nazi regiment since the war began.
Maloletka’s protection, that of his Associated Press coworkers, and their collective ability to provide Western media an unending deluge of atrocity propaganda can only be guaranteed through the Azov Battalion, the primary defense force in Mariupol. This has obvious ramifications for the objectivity and reliability of all Associated Press coverage of the war.
As The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal revealed in his investigation of the suspicious March 16th Mariupol theater incident, Associated Press published photos of the site bearing Azov Battalion’s watermark and a link to the neo-Nazi unit’s Telegram channel.
The dubious narrative of the explosion at the Mariupol theater bears strong similarities to the official verson of the maternity hospital incident, particularly the wildly conflicting estimates of casualties and purported presence of the same people at both sites. Sky News allegedMarch 26th that pregnant women rescued from the hospital had been moved to the theater “for safety,” being coincidentally housed at “exactly the point” later said to have been bombed by Russian forces, of all places.
The perishing of eyewitnesses to the real events at the maternity hospital is convenient for the Associated Press and Azov Battalion alike. After all, dead people tell no tales. Having anyone able to testify to the on-the-ground reality of incidents such as the dubious theater bombing or the maternity hospital “airstrike” is inherently problematic to the Ukrainian cause.
And though the AP has has reporters on the ground in Ukraine throughout the conflict with Russia, the organization remains silent about transgressions unfolding right before the eyes of its staff.
Case in point: the presence of an AP photographer at the hospital gave it a front row seat for Azov Battalion’s occupation of the facility and its transformation of the site into a base of operations. But the agency avoided any mention of this critical piece of context, showing Western audiences what Azov Battalion wants them to see – and what its overtly pro-Kiev staff deem fit for public consumption.
The information war escalates in Bucha
Hours before the publication of this article, on April 2nd, claims of Russia’s most hideous alleged war crime to date erupted across social media. Footage and photos of scores of dead bodies – some with their hands tied – littering the streets of Bucha, a small city near Kiev, testified to an apparent massacre of military-aged men by Russian troops, as they retreated from the battered city two days earlier.
The gruesome visuals have triggered intensified calls for direct Western military confrontation with Russia. But as with the incident at the maternity ward in Mariupol and numerous other high profile events initially portrayed by Ukrainian authorities as Russian massacres, a series of details cast doubt on the official story out of Bucha.
Within hours of Russia’s withdrawal from the Bucha on March 31st, its mayor announced that his city had been liberated from “Russian orcs,” employing a dehumanizing term widely used by Azov Battalion. An accompanying article noted the Russians had “mined civilian buildings and infrastructure,” but no mention was made of any mass killing of local citizens, let alone scores of corpses left in the street, which one might reasonably expect would be top of any news outlet’s agenda when reporting on the event.
#Bucha – a thread.
March 31. Mayor of Bucharest records a video, saying Russian troops have left. Not a word about “massacre”. 1/ pic.twitter.com/M7lmzQ46Jj
— Irina Molotova (@IrinaGalushkoRT) April 3, 2022
On April 2, within hours of the publication of photos and videos purporting to show victims of an alleged Russian massacre, Ukrainian media reported that specialist units had begun “clearing the area of saboteurs and accomplices of Russian troops.” Nothing was said about dead bodies in the streets.
The National Police of Ukraine announced that day that they were “cleaning the territory…from the assistants of Russian troops,” publishing video that showed no corpses in the streets of Bucha and Ukrainian forces in full control of the city.
A clip of the reported “clean-up operation” published by Sergey Korotkikh, a notorious neo-Nazi Azov member, shows one member of his unit asking another if he can shoot “guys without blue armbands,” referring to those without the marking worn by Ukrainian military forces. The militant stridently responds, “fuck yeah!” Korotkikh has since deleted the video, perhaps fearing it implicated his unit in a war crime.
Lat night, Sergey "Boatsman" Korotkikh, infamous Neo-Nazi & member of Azov, posted a video titled "The BOATSMAN BOYS in Bucha". At the 6 second mark you can clearly hear the dialogue:
"There are guys without blue armbands, can I shoot them?"
"Fuck yeah" pic.twitter.com/n8WY1D0xRe
— Russians With Attitude (@RWApodcast) April 3, 2022
Whether real or fake, and whoever the perpetrators are, the alleged extermination of civilians comes at a critical time for the Ukrainian government. Evidence of atrocities and war crimes committed by Ukrainian troops against civilians and captured Russians – including the shooting of helpless Russian POWs in their knees, and other heinous forms of torture – has come to light for the first time.
What’s more, Russia has virtually eliminated Ukraine’s fighting and logistics capabilities in much of the country, including its entire navy, air force, air defenses, radar systems, military production and repairs facilities, and most fuel and ammunition depots, leaving Kiev unable to transport large numbers of troops between different fronts, and consigning what forces remain in the east to encirclement and almost inevitable defeat.
As Zelensky has made clear, Ukrainian forces are desperate for direct Western intervention – in particular the so-called “closing of the sky.” With compelling but highly questionable atrocity propaganda filtering from media operations of the Azov Battalion and the Associated Press, public pressure for a major escalation is rising.
Featured image: Mariana Vishegirskaya
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.