A Ukrainian beauty blogger accused by Russian officials of being a crisis actress when she was interviewed and photographed by The Associated Press in a bomb blast Maternity Hospital Mariupol has surfaced in new videos fueling fresh misinformation about the attack.
A Twitter account linked to the Russian government shared an interview on Friday Marianna Vishegirskayain which the new mother says the hospital wasn’t hit by an airstrike last month and that she told AP journalists she didn’t want to be filmed – claims that AP reporting squarely contradicts.
In the interview, conducted by Russian blogger Denis Seleznev and filmed by Kristina Melnikova, Vishegirskaya is asked to provide details of what happened at the hospital on March 9, the day of the bombing. It is not clear where Vishegirskaya is or under what conditions the interview was filmed.
The video was posted on Seleznev’s YouTube account and shared on Telegram and Twitter, and similar videos were also shared on Vishegirskaya’s personal Instagram account. Russian officials have repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the attack on Mariupol, a key Moscow military target, as images were seen around the world and shed light on Russia’s attacks on civilians in Ukraine.
In the new videos, Vishegirskaya says those huddled in the hospital’s basement after the attack believed the explosions were caused by “barrage” rather than an airstrike because “no one” heard sounds that would indicate that bombs were dropped from planes.
But eyewitness reports and Video by AP journalists in Mariupol presents evidence of an airstrike, including the sound of an airplane before the explosion, a crater in front of the hospital that was at least two stories deep, and interviews with a police officer and a soldier at the scene, both of which related to the attack “Air Raid”.
At the time of the strike, AP reporters were in a different part of Mariupol. They clearly heard an airplane and then two explosions. They went to the 12th floor of a nearby building where they filmed two large puffs of smoke in the distance towards the hospital. It then took about 25 minutes to reach the hospital.
“At that point you could hear a plane almost every 10, 15 minutes and there were airstrikes all over the city.” AP video journalist Mstyslav Chernov explained in an interview Saturday. “This one was closer to us, so we heard it very well.”
Chernov said that during airstrikes, the sound of an airplane is followed within seconds by the sound of an explosion. On March 9, he said he heard a plane and two bombs immediately afterwards. Vishegirskaya also notes in the interview published on Friday that she clearly heard two explosions.
“We heard the sound of a projectile. Then, personally, I instinctively put on a blanket, and then we heard the second projectile,” says Vishegirskaya, who speaks Russian.
Vishegirskaya also says in the video that she repeatedly told AP that she did not want to be filmed, but recordings of AP journalists’ interactions with her contradict that. The video shows the reporters’ first encounter with her outside the hospital, where she is wrapped in a blanket and looking directly at the camera.
“How are you?” Chernov asks, and Vishegirskaya replies: “Everything is fine. I’m feeling fine.” Someone off-camera says, “Let’s go,” and she replies, “Yes, let’s go, please,” before entering the building with a first responder to get her belongings.
During the exchange, Vishegirskaya is aware that she is in front of the camera and makes no indication that she does not wish to be filmed. AP reporters also said that neither she nor her husband ever indicated they did not agree to be filmed or interviewed when speaking with the couple on March 11, the day after her gave birth.
In a video recorded that day, she discussed what she saw and heard at the hospital. The question of whether it was hit by air raids or shelling was not explicitly mentioned. The only hint Vishegirskaya made on the matter was that she wasn’t sure where the strike came from.
“I did not see with my own eyes from whom it flew, from where, what and in which direction. We don’t know,” she told the AP on camera, adding, “There are a lot of rumors, but actually we can’t say anything.”
Vishegirskaya’s newly released comments actually contradict talking points that Russia has been pushing after the bombing. The country’s embassy in the UK had shared AP photos of Vishegirskaya and another wounded woman on a stretcher, putting the word “FAKE” over the images and claiming Vishegirskaya posed in “realistic make-up” on both. The misinformation was repeated by Russian ambassadors in other parts of the world.
In reality, the photos showed two different women, and Vishegirskaya confirms in the new interview that she was injured in the attack and that the woman on the stretcher was different.
The Russian government-affiliated Twitter account that shared the clip ignored the contradictions and presented the interview as the authoritative account.
The AP could not identify the woman on the stretcher, but did identify a surgeon Confirmed that both she and her baby died from injuries sustained during the attack.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov that has been under siege for over a month, has suffered some of the worst damage of the war and also symbolize Ukrainian resistance to the invasion. Located in the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass region, where Moscow-backed separatists fought Ukrainian forces for eight years, the city’s capture would give Russia an unbroken land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which it captured in 2014.