When Russian forces bombed a maternity clinic in the war-torn Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday, they first insisted the facility was a Ukrainian military outpost and, as such, a fair target in the two-week-old, senseless war.
But on Thursday, the Russian Embassy in the U.K. sought to take things one step further, tweeting out a photo of woman who has become the poster person of the atrocity—a young, blonde, heavily pregnant woman in maternity pajamas, wrapped in a dirty blanket with blood dripping down her face.
The embassy tried to insinuate that the woman—who has been identified as blogger Marianna Podgurskaya, according to one of the many photographers who took her photo crawling out of the rubble, and whose open Instagram account @gixie_beauty has chronicled her pregnancy—was a crisis actor.
“She actually played roles of both pregnant women on the photos,” the Russian embassy tweeted, going on to say the first photo was taken by Evgeniy Maloletka, a freelance photographer and filmmaker who has been risking his life to chronicle the Russian invasion of Ukraine since the beginning—and whom Russia considers a provocateur.
The embassy neglected to mention how many other photographers, including Associated Press photographer Mstyslav Chernov, also photographed the traumatized blogger, whose life was threatened in the attack that killed three people. The Daily Beast has reached out to Podgurskaya for comment and it is unclear how her late-term pregnancy is progressing after the attack.
Immediately, the darkest fringes of the internet’s conspiracy web latched onto the suggestion that a pregnant woman from Mariupol, who has an online presence and is a known blogger, would not be in a maternity hospital in the 39th week of her pregnancy. 4Chan and other deep-web cesspits have also embraced the fact that she’s famous and recognizable as a reason she couldn’t have been in a maternity ward in her hometown.
“Yes, she is pregnant, but she wasn’t there of course, she’s a local beauty-blogger,” one 4Chan poster wrote.
Hours later, Twitter removed the Russian Embassy’s tweets on Podgurskaya, telling the BBC it was “in violation of the Twitter Rules, specifically our Hateful Conduct and Abusive Behavior policies related to the denial of violent events.”
Unable to control the narrative of the increasingly hostile war, Russian diplomats are going to other extreme lengths, including to fight with journalists as well. The Russian Defense ministry also ridiculously claimed the “so-called ‘airstrike’” was a “fully staged provocation” to support “anti-Russian fervor among Western audience.”
And on the sidelines of the meeting in Turkey between Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, CNN correspondent Jomana Karadsheh got into a lively debate with Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova over what was reported to be doctored footage of the bombing at the maternity clinic.
Karadsheh asked the spokeswoman if she had a comment about the bombing and the documented evidence of injured pregnant women and children. Zakharova called it a “fake provocation” and tried to shove her own phone with apparently doctored video into the journalist’s view.
Karadsheh, who covered Russian aggression on the ground from Syria for more than a decade, did not back down, refusing to look at the doctored footage and insisting that CNN journalists on the ground were a better source. Kakharova then went off on a tangent, accusing Western journalists of being “blind” to alleged Ukraine aggression over the last eight years.