Spilnota Detector Media

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Lesia Bidochko

Deputy Head of Detector Media Research Center

Українською читайте тут.

On the morning of July 8, 2024, Russian invaders launched over 40 different types of missiles at Ukraine. During this attack, a missile struck the premises of the Okhmatdyt National Children’s Specialized Hospital. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported that the attack on Okhmatdyt resulted in the deaths of two people and injuries to sixteen others.

The Security Service of Ukraine identified the missile as a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile based on the fragments of its tail section and its serial number. Consequently, a criminal case was opened under Part 2 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine for violations of the laws and customs of war combined with intentional murder.

“The Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv. One of the most important exclusively children’s hospitals not only in Ukraine but also in Europe. Okhmatdyt has saved and restored the health of thousands of children... Russia cannot be unaware of where its missiles are headed and must fully answer for all its crimes: against people, against children, against humanity in general,” President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted to the hospital’s shelling. 

He also announced that Ukraine would initiate an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Overall, the Russian morning attack on Ukraine resulted in the deaths of approximately 33 people, 22 of them in Kyiv, and injuries to 140 people, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

Russian propagandists immediately began spreading falsehoods to deny the Russian army’s responsibility for one of its deadliest war crimes in terms of the number of casualties.

“Ukrainian Air Defense is to Blame: The AFU Hit Okhmatdyt with a NASAMS/Patriot Missile”

Predictably, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that a “precision strike was delivered on Ukrainian military industry facilities and air bases of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” and that civilian facilities in Kyiv were affected solely “due to the actions of Ukrainian air defense.” Anonymous Telegram channels pushed the propagandist claim that Okhmatdyt was hit by Western weapons. “The AFU’s NASAMS air defense missile veered off course and crashed into a building near the children’s wing. Western air defense often makes mistakes as well,” read a message from one of the propaganda Telegram channels with 1.1 million subscribers.

Sorry to disappoint, but this does not look much like a Kh-101; it looks very much like a PAC-3 for the Patriot system,” wrote the authors of a channel with 270,000 subscribers.

Propagandists also attempted to downplay the damage, “[The damage] was limited to defects in the facade with characteristic shrapnel marks and broken glass, and Ukrainian propagandists, as always, are portraying the damage from their air defense as a deliberate Russian attack,” wrote an enemy Telegram channel with over half a million followers.

The narrative of Ukrainian air defense is one of the universal explanations used by propagandists, repeatedly employed in every similar incident — January strikes on residential buildings in the capital, attacks in Dnipro, and more. This is a typical tactic of denying reality and shifting the blame from the aggressor to the victim.

To support the Ukrainian air defense version, propagandists fabricated evidence and invented experts. For example, a Telegram channel with 35,000 subscribers reported that “Ukrainian journalists discovered air defense missile parts and impact elements in the ruins at Okhmatdyt.” As “proof,” the Telegram channel posted a photo with the logo of the Mykolaiv Regional Department of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. According to the TinEye image verification service, this photo was first published in April 2023.

The “proof of the guilt of Ukrainian air defense in the shelling of Okhmatdyt” that was taken out of context. Source    

Propagandists also criticized the “reckless” approach of placing air defense systems in cities. Specifically, a correspondent for the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Olga Kurlaeva, said, “It’s always a pity about the civilians. But [Ukrainian] air defense in the yards is, of course, something else.”

According to the Command of the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, placing air defense systems further from cities would weaken the protection of populated areas. To effectively cover the entire territory of Ukraine, a “ring” of air defense is required, but unfortunately, there are not enough defense systems currently available to achieve this. Therefore, the Defense Forces position air defense systems near specific settlements to create a ring there. “If there were no air defense, the number of casualties would be significantly higher, as many missiles would have reached the cities,” stated the Center for Countering Disinformation.

“Military and Politicians Were in Okhmatdyt”

The second version from the Russians contradicts the air defense narrative: Moscow deliberately targeted the children’s hospital because military personnel and political leadership were allegedly there at the time. This conspiracy theory was mainly spread in the segment of Russian so-called milbloggers.

Specifically, propagandists claimed that secret meetings of “Ukrainian leadership” were held in Okhmatdyt, making it a legitimate target for Russian missiles. “In medical facilities — ATTENTION! — Ukrainian leadership likes to hold meetings, using the status of these institutions as cover, hoping they won’t be targeted. Striking medical facilities — I do not approve. But eliminating Ukrainian war criminals hiding behind the sick is a completely different matter,” wrote one of the so-called milbloggers on their Telegram channel with 9,000 subscribers.

Another channel with 24,000 subscribers claimed, “There are far more military personnel than civilians at the strike site. It’s the military who are at the center of the evacuation and debris removal. No children can be seen in the video.” This is another manipulation and an inconsistent one: according to the Russians’ logic, if military personnel were indeed being treated in Okhmatdyt, many of them would likely be unable to assist in clearing the rubble due to their health conditions. Moreover, as “patients,” they would be under the rubble themselves. Additionally, the initial videos following the strike show only civilians, with no military personnel present. Propagandists provided no evidence that the military seen in the footage emerged from the Okhmatdyt hospital rather than arriving with specialized rescue services and concerned Kyiv residents who promptly evacuated the injured and cleared the rubble.

Another Russian argument to diminish the significance of the Okhmatdyt attack focused on devaluing the victims, “There are no reports of minors killed. Two men died, and 15 people were injured to varying degrees,” was written in a chat of Russian milbloggers with 5,800 Telegram users.

“The Target Wasn’t Okhmatdyt, But a Kilometer Away”

A Telegram channel with 167,000 subscribers disseminated a “refutation of the fake” about the hospital shelling. According to this version, the “truth” about the Okhmatdyt attack is, “The real target could have been the carriage depot located 700 meters from the children’s hospital... It is quite obvious that if a missile strike had been aimed at the hospital, the damage would have been much more severe. There would literally be nothing left of the building.”

In addition to the carriage depot, some Telegram channels speculated that the Artem factory, located a kilometer from the hospital, was the intended target. 

“The Russian Armed Forces once again aimed, as they did last year, at the Artem defense plant near [the] Lukyanivska [metro station]... As a result, there were casualties from the missile fragments,” wrote a propaganda Telegram channel with 65,000 subscribers.

This raises a reasonable question: if Moscow targeted Kyiv’s defense enterprise or railway with precision missiles, why did it “miss” by several hundred meters or a kilometer? According to the Russians themselves, the Kh-101 missile is highly accurate, “At a range of 5,500 km, the Kh-101’s circular error probability does not exceed 7 meters, and at a range of several hundred kilometers, it hits the target precisely.” This means that such an accurate weapon could “miss” by a few meters or tens of meters but not by a kilometer.

Moreover, the video does not show any signs of the missile being intercepted or damaged. “Furthermore, since it was in the terminal stage of flight following the traditional ‘climb’ maneuver before impact, it did not deviate from its course. Thus, the video of the Russian cruise missile attack, which unfortunately was not intercepted, proves that the children’s hospital was the target. The coordinates of Okhmatdyt were programmed as the target, and this attack was not an accident or a result of the low accuracy of Russian missiles or a wrong route,” states the Defense Express article.

A Telegram channel with 35,500 readers also attributed the strike on the Okhmatdyt building to its “incorrect” location. Allegedly, the hospital is situated close to military facilities, “There are several military facilities near Okhmatdyt in Kyiv. It seems they were ‘covered’ by Okhmatdyt. Everything is done in the Zelenskyy style.”

It’s worth noting that Okhmatdyt was founded forty years ago, in 1984. The Artem factory began operations in 1892. The railway infrastructure in Kyiv has existed since the 1870s. At that time, no one could have imagined that Russia would decide to attack these places with cruise missiles.

“An Air Conditioner Exploded, Just Like in Luhansk in 2014. This Is for the Donbas”

Several propagandists couldn’t contain their glee and mockery. Komsomolskaya Pravda war correspondent Alexander Kots reacted on his Telegram channel, which has 570,000 subscribers: “Good news. For victory, daily work is needed.”

“It’s not quiet in Kyiv. Air conditioners (and they were banned, so let’s go with boilers),” sneered the authors of a Telegram channel with 503,000 subscribers, referencing the June 2014 airstrike on the Luhansk Regional State Administration building. Back then, according to one version, militants fired a MANPADS at a Ukrainian plane flying over the city, but the missile hit the working air conditioner’s heat exchanger on the administration building instead.

The strike on Okhmatdyt was also framed as a “retaliatory strike.” Within hours of the attack, propagandists employed narratives developed to justify the invasion of Ukraine, claiming that Ukraine “started the war against Russia,” “has been destroying the people of Donbas since 2014,” and “allowed Nazis to come to power in Kyiv.” Consequently, Moscow had to respond to these “threats” using all available means, including strikes on civilian infrastructure.

To support these narratives, several Telegram channels posted reactions supposedly from residents of temporarily occupied territories who rejoiced that Russia was “avenging” the shelling of Donetsk and Sevastopol. One Kerch-based Telegram channel shared messages stating that “nobody cared this much about Donbas” or “the children of Sevastopol; on the contrary, they shouted ‘more.’”

This normalization of violence by propagandists attempts to justify their own war crimes, presenting them as “victories” despite the harm to civilians.

“An Attempt to Derail Orban’s Tour”

The Russian side also explained the Okhmatdyt strike by claiming that Ukraine was trying to draw global attention and make the international community more sympathetic. The Russian Ministry of Defense called the reports of a Russian missile hitting the hospital a provocation “ahead of another summit of its NATO patrons.” This manipulation quickly spread across enemy Telegram channels. For instance, a channel with over a million subscribers claimed that the Ukrainian authorities were trying to “create hype in the Western press ahead of the NATO summit” and that “Bankova needed a trigger before the NATO summit to secure the promised air defense systems.”

Another version suggested that Kyiv was artificially diverting attention from Orban’s “peacekeeping” tour. “We don’t strike children and hospitals! Unlike the bloodthirsty pack of wild jackals who, to disrupt Orban’s tour, created a threat to the lives and health of their own children,” asserted one propagandist on their Telegram channel with 71,000 subscribers.

These versions underscore the cynicism of Russian propagandists: they justify their own war crimes with fabricated geopolitical calculations of Ukraine, suggesting that Ukraine deliberately creates such bloody images to sway the Western world.

In defending the Russian war criminals for the Okhmatdyt strike, propagandists once again acted as accomplices to Russian aggression. Their role is to justify war crimes, dehumanize the victims, and shift the blame from the aggressor to the victim. In defending the attack on a children’s hospital in Ukraine, propagandists employed a ready-made set of messages that they adapt to different circumstances. Thus, in response to the Russian strike on the children’s hospital in Kyiv, propagandists proposed several lines of argument, which partially or completely contradict each other. On the one hand, the official position is based on denying involvement in the war crime and trying to blame Ukrainian air defense. On the other hand, so-called milbloggers argue the opposite: that it was a “revenge strike” and the target was not Okhmatdyt but a military facility. Additionally, according to their version, the children’s hospital is a legitimate military target. Propagandists bombard people with various versions to confuse readers and divert attention from hearing the affected side.

Photos by Vlada Liberova/Libkos/Getty Images

NGO “Detector Media” has been working for our readers for over 20 years. In times of elections, revolutions, pandemics and war, we continue to fight for quality journalism. Our experts develop media literacy of the audience, advocate for the rights of journalists, and refute Russian disinformation.

“Detector Media” resumes the work of our Community and invites those who believe that the media should be better: more professional, truthful and transparent.


Support us. Become part of the project!

Every day, our team prepares the freshest and independent materials for you. We would be extremely grateful for any support you may have. Your donations are an opportunity to do even more.

Support us