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Russian misinformation about a pregnant influencer at Mariupol hospital

In the hours after Russia's bombing of Mariupol hospital, a Ukrainian influencer was falsely accused of playing the part of the victim in front of the half-destroyed building in order to make the scene more dramatic. The unsubstantiated allegations circulated in thousands of comments on social networks and were even picked up by the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom, claiming that the influencer had not even been hurt and had been “made up in a realistic way” to simulate some head injuries.

Marianna Podgurskaya, the woman accused of playing the part of the victim, is truly an influencer and currently lives in Mariupol. In the last few weeks, before her and immediately after Russia started the armed invasion of Ukraine, she had posted on her Instagram profile several photos showing her pregnant with her, with messages in which she told about her pregnancy. .

The last photograph on the profile was dated February 28th. Podgurskaya also announced that it had opened a Telegram profile, fearing that Instagram could become unreachable in the country.

Among his latest messages was a photograph of a midwife from the Mariupol hospital with an indication of her Instagram profile. Following the circulation of many false news about the bombing of the hospital, the midwife published an update on Thursday, confirming that she had worked in the structure and reporting that some of the bombed wards, such as the maternity one, had been refurbished a few years ago.

Podgurskaya was photographed by Evgeniy Maloletka, a freelance photographer who works with the international news agency Associated Press, shortly after the hospital bombing. She was portrayed as she went down the stairs accompanied by some soldiers, who were helping people to leave the hospital.

A few minutes later, Podgurskaya was filmed by a camera outside the building with some blankets to protect herself from the cold. On both occasions she had some facial injuries and a hematoma around her left eye. She was visibly pregnant, as shown in the previous weeks on Instagram, and this explains why she was in the maternity ward of the hospital.

The video clearly showed numerous other patients at the hospital, with people in shock and being cared for by health personnel.

In the hours after the bombing, several accounts on social networks (some attributable to the propaganda activities of the Russian government) had begun to spread the images from the Mariupol hospital along with those from Podgurskaya's Instagram, claiming that a staging had been organized to make the attack appeared to be more serious than it should be and that Podgurskaya was not even present in the structure at the time of the explosions.

The images were also taken from the official account of the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom, which had posted some tweets not only to accuse Podgurskaya of having taken part in the alleged staging, but also to declare that the hospital had been empty for days and that there could have been no deaths and injuries among civilians as declared by the Ukrainian authorities (similar claims have been made by several other Russian embassies, including the one in Italy).

The hospital was actually active, as demonstrated by the photographs and videos of other patients injured by the bombing and by messages posted on social networks by the same health facility in the days before the attack, with which it asked for resources to remain operational and provide assistance to the many injured due to the incessant air attacks on Mariupol.

After being online for several hours, the tweets were removed from Twitter for violating the terms of use of the platform.

To argue that it was a conspiracy, some accounts had also accused Podgurskaya of playing the part of two different pregnant women outside the hospital, shown in different photographs also by Maloletka. The posts claimed that Podgurskaya had herself photographed in different clothes on a stretcher to give the idea of ​​being another person. Zooming in on the images clearly shows that they are two different people.

Following the false accusations, Podgurskaya's Instagram profile received hundreds of mostly insulting comments in Russian. After a few hours, the social network suspended the possibility of commenting on the profile, but the false information about the bombing of the Mariupol hospital, where three people died, are continuing to circulate on forums and social networks, with the theory of the staging that continues to be shared and resumed, contributing to further confusion about one of the most serious acts committed so far by the Russian army in Ukraine.

The journalist Olga Tokariuk, expert in the analysis of propaganda and disinformation campaigns and who followed the story, on the morning of 11 March reported on Twitter that she had heard from a relative of Podgurskaya, who had managed to hear her briefly on the phone . According to the information gathered, Podgurskaya gave birth at 10 pm (local time) on Thursday 10 March. She and the girl are doing well, compatibly with the situation in Mariupol where the bombing continues unabated.

I received an update from a relative of Marianna – a pregnant girl from Mariupol's bombed hospital. They were able to reach her on the phone briefly. Last night at 10pm, Marianna gave birth to a baby girl! They are ok, but it's very cold in Mariupol and the bombing doesn't stop pic.twitter.com/PSLxI6I0zZ

– Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 11, 2022