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Fact Check: The Mariupol Maternity Ward Airstrike was not Staged
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Fact Check: The Mariupol Maternity Ward Airstrike was not Staged

Social media posts saying so echo Russian propaganda.

On March 10, a Russian airstrike hit a Ukrainian maternity hospital in Mariupol. At the time, per the Associated Press, Ukrainian officials reported the attack wounded 17 people. Earlier this week an unidentified woman* who had been evacuated from the maternity ward on a stretcher, died, along with her baby, according to AP. It had also photographed Mariana Vishegirskaya, who had given birth to her daughter, Veronika, just one day after the airstrike.

Despite this reporting, a viral Facebook post featuring an image of Vishegirskaya claims that Ukrainians staged the maternity ward airstrike: “Hollywood-esque production at Mariupol’s maternity hospital?” the post reads. “The hospital was evacuated at the end of February by the Azov Battalion, which had turned it into its own base. At the time of the strikes, neither patients nor medical personnel were present. Crisis actors were used for the tragedy staged by the West. Things aren’t always what they seem.”

Russian officials are promoting the false claim as well. Business Insider reported that during a U.N. Security Council meeting last week, Vasily Nebenzya, Russian ambassador to the U.N., claimed that the pregnant women featured in pictures of the Mariupol airstrike were “crisis actors” involved in a scheme to frame Russia.

The Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom promoted the rumor too. 

A now-deleted tweet from the embassy said: “The maternity house was long non-operational. Instead it was used by armed forces and radicals, namely the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.” The tweet was accompanied by pictures of the attack with a red “fake” label across the images. Twitter removed the images for violating its rules, but the Guardian took screenshots of the original tweets, which can be viewed here.

These claims are  false. 

AP journalists documented the attack and the victims, and have extensive video and photos of the airstrike, Vishegirskaya, and her baby.*  Furthermore, Vishegirskaya’s Instagram’s account, in a post dated February 28, shows her visibly pregnant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a video of the damage in the Mariupol maternity hospital: “Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital,” he wrote.

The attack was also confirmed by the World Health Organization, and on March 9, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that the attack was  “horrific.”

Correction, March 17: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the name of the maternity ward patient who died (along with her baby) was Mariana Vishegirskaya. But the woman and baby who died after the airstrike were not identified.

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Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.