How Russian propaganda lies: a case study of the Mariupol maternity hospital bombing

On March 9, Russian troops carried out an air raid on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, dropping several powerful bombs on the hospital. As a result, they destroyed the building and wounded 17 people. The official Russian version says that the armed forces were there, which means that the shelling, in their opinion, was justified. However, Russian propaganda started working long before the shelling. The team of the Ukrainian OSINT agency Molfar made a case study of how the usurper propaganda works on the example of the shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. The editorial board of AIN.Capital publishes the full text upon the author’s consent.

On February 28, the Russian media showed a photo of a “kindergarten occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” On March 1, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared the same building as “a maternity hospital occupied by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.” However, the shape of the building shown in the Russian news does not match the shape of the Mariupol maternity hospital No. 3 hit by a Russian missile.

Key facts of the case:

  • Russia used fake news in advance to have reasons for shelling.
  • The destroyed hospital differs from the building shown by the Russian media.
  • The distance from the bombed hospital to the building shown by Russians is 10 km.
  • There was no military personnel in the hospital, as was said by the Russian government. There was also no military machinery, weapons, or equipment.
  • Despite the Russian reports, staff and civilians, including pregnant women, have been injured in the hospital. Russians have also damaged civilian vehicles belonging to the staff and patients in the hospital’s courtyard.

Chronology of events:

02/28/2022 – The pro-Russia VK page Военный осведомитель (Military Whistleblower) published a photo of the Ukrainian soldiers at a civilian facility in Mariupol.

03/01/2022 – The Russian TV channel Россия 24 (Russia 24) used a photo of the “occupied” building in Mariupol in its video (YouTube, accessed via VPN or Tor).

03/07/2022 – The Russian representative, Vasily Nebenzya, during the meeting of the UN Security Council, said that local nationalist battalions drove people out of a maternity hospital, opened fire there, and destroyed a nursery school in the city.

03/09/2022, 1:05 pm (Moscow time) – During a briefing, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, reported that: “in Mariupol, the Ukrainian national battalion, chased the staff and patients out of the maternity hospital, set up firing positions inside the building.”

03/09/2022, 4:00 pm (Kyiv time) – The Russian Armed Forces bombed the central part of Mariupol, including the Woman & Child Health Center with Pediatric Consultative Diagnostic Clinic and the maternity ward of City Hospital No. 3.

03/09/2022, 7:38 pm (Moscow time) – the newspaper Комсомольска правда (Komsomol Truth) published an article saying that, in late February, Ukrainian soldiers took up combat positions in Maternity Hospital No. 1, while civilians were sent to other facilities or their homes. The article included a photo of the militaries next to an unknown building, taken from the VK group Военный осведомитель (Military Whistleblower), which had been broadcast by the TV channel Россия 24 (Russia 24) eight days earlier.

Russia’s propaganda mistakes

1. Russia used fake news in advance to have reasons for shelling

Russian sources started reporting on the occupation of the hospital by the AFU as early as a week before the bombing, most likely using a photo of a nursery school instead of a hospital. Here is a satellite image of the territory of hospital No. 3, which was actually bombed:

The photo that was shown by the Russian TV channel Россия 24 (Russia 24) on March 01, 2022:

Комсомольска правда (Komsomol Truth), March 09, 2022:

2. The destroyed hospital differs from the building shown by the Russian media.

Note that Военный осведомитель (Military Whistleblower) on the 28th of February reported that it was a kindergarten in the photo, not a maternity hospital:

The typical form of the building also suggests that there is indeed a children’s educational institution in the photo. Here are examples of such buildings on the territory of Mariupol:

Here is a photo of the hospital before and after the bombing by the Russians.

As we can see, the same yellow-green medical buildings were bombed:

We also draw attention to the fact that Google Maps shows that on the territory of the Pediatric Consultative Diagnostic Clinic there is no object of such a shape as in the photo of Комсомольская правда (Komsomol Truth):

A similar building is next to Maternity Hospital No. 1, which was shown by Комсомольская правда (Komsomol Truth). But its shape and surroundings are completely different from the photos shown by the pro-Russian media.

The building from the photo with the military personnel has only one ledge in the middle. But as we can see on the map, the buildings are completely symmetrical. Also, there are three fir trees near the building, but they are absent in the satellite image.

3. The distance from the bombed hospital to the building shown by Russians is 10 km.

In fact, the attack was made on the Pediatric Consultative Diagnostic Clinic, which is located 10 km from Maternity Hospital No. 1, mentioned in the article of Комсомольская правда (Komsomol Truth).

4. There were no military units in the maternity hospital

Комсомольская правда (Komsomol Truth) reported: “Since the start of the military operation, this Mariupol maternity hospital has been occupied by two companies of the 36th Marine Brigade, and all patients and employees have been moved to other facilities, and some went home.

But the video of the destroyed hospital inside does not show any signs of weapons, military equipment, etc. But you can see specialized medical equipment, the personal belongings of the patients, and the blood of the victims:

Also, despite the Russian media’s information about the military personnel in the maternity hospital, there were no military vehicles on the hospital grounds. But we can see burned civilian vehicles of the staff and patients on this video, another video, and one more video.

5. The victims

Quote from the article of Комсомольская правда (Komsomol Truth):

“Can you imagine the number of corpses and casualties that would have been there if an aerial bomb had hit the courtyard of a functioning hospital? There is no doubt that the Ukrainian side would have shown them all. At least as they bandaged them or carried them to the ambulance. But where are they?”

Okay, let’s watch one video, another video, and one more video. If it is not enough, let’s see the photos of the evacuation of the victims:

Photo credits: Evgeniy Maloletka

Here is a photo of this woman from her husband’s Instagram account dated January 24, 2022:

Yes, this girl is a beauty blogger Marianna Pidhurska. She does live in Mariupol. Marianna was supposed to give birth on the day of the bombing. On March 10, she gave birth to her daughter in occupied Mariupol.

It should be noted that as of March 10, 2022, 7:55 am, according to the State Emergency Service and the words of the adviser to the chairman of the Mariupol City Council, Petro Andriushchenko, the number of victims is 17 injured women, three dead people, including one child.

The article was prepared by the Molfar team