Russia is promoting 'outlandish and ridiculous' propaganda about the killings in Bucha, fact-checkers say
- Videos showing suspected Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian town of
Buchaflooded social media.
- The clips shared on social media appeared to show dead civilians and other atrocities.
Videos showing potential Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha have flooded social media as journalists and researchers have worked around the clock to document and verify the atrocities.
Their efforts have pushed back against the Russian government's propaganda campaign attempting to discredit evidence of suspected war crimes.
Images, witness accounts, and videos from Bucha began circulating at the beginning of April after Russian troops withdrew from the town just north of Kyiv. The footage appeared to show some of the worst atrocities of the war documented so far, showing bodies lying in the streets and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Some of the videos and photos shared on social media appeared to show civilians dead on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. Other videos showed what appeared to be civilians with gunshot wounds to their heads. The bodies of hundreds of civilians have been found in the town, according to Ukrainian officials.
Russian officials almost immediately attempted to cast doubt on the videos and photos, claiming without evidence that they were staged or otherwise manipulated. Russian-owned
"I think with everything that happened in Mariupol, I think at that point I was like, this is the most obvious campaign of
"A lot of what they're saying seems kind of outlandish and ridiculous," she added.
Journalists and researchers are debunking Russian conspiracies about Bucha
The Kremlin and Russian media have repeatedly tried to push conspiracy theories and allegations that the killings in Bucha have somehow been forged. Official Russian channels, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Telegram account, claimed that the bodies seen in the videos didn't appear until days after Russian troops left at the end of March or the beginning of April, according to Bellingcat.
But the first footage showing civilian deaths in Bucha appeared on April 1, not days afterward. One video showing dead bodies lying on Yablunska Street in Bucha was posted to Telegram on the evening of April 1, and another video that also showed the same bodies was posted to Twitter less than three hours later, according to the report.
"I feel like there's a big demand to kind of get information out as quickly as possible. And that's understandable," Muller-Heyndyk said. "This is a really kind of scary chaotic time, but actually, in terms of kind of verifying videos and images, it really takes a lot of time, and it requires a lot of patience."
In another instance of Russian government propaganda, the Russian Ministry of Defense in an April 3 post to Telegram claimed that a video of civilian bodies in Bucha shared by the Ukrainian outlet Espresso.tv had been manipulated because they said corpses appeared to move.
"It was almost immediately debunked because if you look at the high-resolution video, you could definitely see that there is an artifact on the front glass of the car," Roman Osadchuk, a research associate at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Insider.
That artifact — likely a scratch on the windshield or a water droplet — caused the illusion that the body had shifted when it had not, he told Insider.
Osdachuk also said Russian officials have also claimed Bucha was "fine" when they exited the city and the bodies seen lying on the street actually "appeared" afterward.
"But it doesn't make any sense," he said.
Videos taken on April 1 and on April 3 showed bodies lying on the street remaining in the same location, he said. And an investigation by The New York Times that relied on satellite imagery further refuted Russia's claims, determining that some bodies were on the street in the same location for weeks.
Many civilians who were killed had died more than three weeks before Russian troops left the region, according to The Times' analysis.
"There's a lot of claims, but basically all of them are being debunked quite easily and smoothly," Osdachuk said.
Russia's propaganda is trying to create plausible deniability about atrocities in the war
Russia's government creates this type of disinformation likely because it believes people in Russia have already seen the footage or photos, Osadchuk said, and officials need to come up with some sort of explanation.
"It means that people are seeing — in Russia — those messages, and they need to provide some counterpoint for their own citizens to avoid them being unsure in their armed forces," Osadchuk told Insider.
While they're relatively easy to debunk, these types of claims are used to evade "cognitive dissonance" for people living in Russia or others who are primed to side with the Kremlin, he added.
Muller-Heyndyk said there wasn't a singular audience for Russian disinformation, but said those already distrustful of news sources and others who have previously believed conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 have appeared to be more primed to spread it.
Others may spread the propaganda unintentionally, she added.
As Insider previously reported, people living in Russia have been almost entirely cut off from the global internet, including from social-media platforms and from news outlets, making it difficult to get news from outlets that aren't state-run.
Many western companies severed ties in the country last month after Russia invaded
The Kremlin has itself blocked access to western social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, pushing Russians to VPN services and the dark web for access to global sites.
Efforts to spread disinformation related to Bucha come down to Russia's desire to play "the game of deniability," Osadchuk said.
"They are trying to sow this distrust toward the information and basically leave people puzzled about what actually happened and make them restrained from searching for the truth," he said.
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