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Does Ukrainian leadership intend to mobilize pregnant women, and how is Russian agitprop exploiting this to highlight Zelensky’s alleged “incompetence”? We unravel the fabrications that were spun in mid-September.
Since February 24, 2022, Detector Media has been monitoring the Ukrainian segment of social networks and Kremlin media and documenting the chronicle of Russian disinformation about Russia’s war against Ukraine on a daily basis. Over time, we started making regular reviews. Read the latest ones here: July 31 — August 5, August 7-12, August 14-19, August 21-27, August 28 — September 2, September 4-10, September 11-17. In addition, check out the ten-month summary, as well as an overview of the most ridiculous fakes published during the first year of the full-scale war.
In the week of September 18-24, 2023, DM analysts identified 25 instances of disinformation. Propagandists claimed that Russia had purportedly attacked a depleted uranium ammunition depot in Kyiv, urging residents to evacuate due to radiation. They also accused Volodymyr Zelenskyy of usurping the Ukrainian media.
Various social media platforms, notably Telegram channels echoing pro-Kremlin sentiments, disseminated the notion that Ukraine is committed to an unending conflict in exchange for endless Western support. They insinuate an insatiable Zelenskyy, eager to expand his coffers.
This is a conspiracy theory advanced by propagandists who assert these claims without any substantive evidence or concrete facts. The Russians’ depiction of this is an overblown, apocalyptic portrayal, suggesting that Ukraine is a puppet, with its strings being pulled from abroad, and its president is kowtowing to Western leaders for personal benefit.
Russian agitprop has consistently twisted the narrative surrounding humanitarian aid. They paint Zelenskyy as a supplicant, happy to grovel for weapons and resources. Accusations have also been made against Ukrainians for alleged deceit and criminal acts, like attacking civilians, to attain their objectives.
Such distortions are designed to vilify Ukraine and project a distorted image to allied nations.
“Kyiv is the Next Chornobyl”
This campaign of disinformation includes the false assertion that Russians had obliterated depots housing depleted uranium ammunition in Kyiv. Such reports insinuated an impending doom akin to the Chornobyl disaster, as they claimed that the aftermath of the explosion scattered uranium dust throughout the city, urging residents to flee to avoid radiation exposure.
However, this claim falls apart, as Ukraine had not yet received such ammunition. Following his visit, on September 6, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced a forthcoming aid package to Ukraine, which included depleted uranium rounds for U.S. Abrams tanks. The official did not specify any dates for the delivery of the weapons to Ukraine. The Ukrainian media likewise has not published any news about the delivery of this type of ammunition to Ukraine. Thus, these claims were merely a disinformation attack by Russian media outlets.
Furthermore, the Russian propaganda machine amplifies the dangers associated with depleted uranium weaponry beyond reality. While it is a radioactive material, its radioactivity is not potent enough to warrant prohibition. The impact of the level of ionizing radiation emitted by depleted uranium ammo is insignificant.
BBC military expert Pavel Aksyonov explained that projectiles with depleted uranium cores are not banned under any existing conventions. These projectiles contain a thin core or rod composed of robust alloys made from tungsten or depleted uranium, not the entire shell. The propagandists’ attempts to convince the public otherwise are grounded in distortion rather than fact.
“Great Losses in the War”
We documented a fake story claiming Ukraine has adopted the practice of burying fallen soldiers in biodegradable capsule bags. This claim was supported by a manipulated video purportedly advertising this new development, presented by “Ukrainian environmentalists” for the Armed Forces.
However, a closer examination reveals that no such advertisement exists, and the individuals portrayed as Ukrainian environmentalists are anything but. The propaganda machine crafted the commercial using a presentation of the Capsula Mundi project by Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel from 2016. This initiative proposed the use of biodegradable capsules as an alternative to traditional wooden coffins. Russian propagandists added the logos of the 1+1 TV channel and the United News telethon to the video to falsely associate it with Ukraine.
Through this fabrication, the Kremlin aims to exploit the emotions of Ukrainians by exaggerating the “enormous losses” among their soldiers and suggesting that the military leadership is overwhelmed.
“Mobilization of Pregnant Women”
Another piece of disinformation claims that Ukraine has developed bulletproof vests specifically for pregnant women as preparation to send them to the frontline, allegedly due to a faltering counteroffensive by the Armed Forces. The misleading narratives suggest, “Pregnancy will not be a valid reason for deferring service.”
However, the truth is starkly different. Ukraine has no mandatory mobilization for women, although they can voluntarily enlist in the army. As per the amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Military Duty and Military Service,” only women with medical or pharmaceutical education are required to register with the military starting October 1, 2023, but this does not equate to compulsory service. There is no specialized bulletproof vest for expectant mothers, and Ukrainian law recognizes pregnancy as a valid reason for a servicewoman’s dismissal (Article 26).
Discover more on how Russian agitprop aims to malign Ukrainian women by depicting them as “feminine shells with dark contents” in our latest analysis.
“Zelenskyy or There and Back Again”
Analysts from Detector Media debunked a spurious propaganda claim that Suspilne Ukraine had edited a video of President Zelenskyy’s speech at the UN General Assembly. These propagandists asserted that Zelenskyy was ignored and unsupported during his address, claiming foreign officials were “escaping” the Security Council meeting room in opposition to the Ukrainian president. The propagandists added video evidence that was allegedly an excerpt from a live broadcast of the United News marathon, where, as they contended, the Ukrainian media outlets resorted to editing. For example, at one point, when Zelenskyy was delivering a speech, they inserted a shot from the audience, showing the president sitting and listening to someone.
However, a factual examination revealed that Zelenskyy’s live speech was broadcast with an entirely different translation. Verification is straightforward when comparing the two video clips — the fabricated one and the authentic broadcast. The genuine video, with the same translation used in the propaganda piece, was found on the official TSN YouTube channel. However, the video edited by the propagandists differs from this broadcast. The TSN video does not have an instance when Zelenskyy is depicted seated in the audience during his speech.
This deception is an element of a broader campaign to promulgate the narrative that Ukraine’s president has monopolized the nation’s media landscape. Given that the Public Broadcaster is state-funded and ostensibly immune to political manipulation, the propagandists assert that such alleged editing indicates the Ukrainian government’s readiness to compromise journalistic integrity and suppress freedom of speech.
“Against the Ukrainian Government”
Propaganda narratives took another twist later in the week, claiming residents of Odesa had protested against Zelenskyy, expressing their disdain for his leadership.
Yet, the reality was different. The rally was convened to oppose public procurement competitions for reconstructing local buildings. Participants bore placards reading, “First the Armed Forces, then everything else,” and “Deputies, my taxes for the Armed Forces,” underscoring their demand to redirect funds intended for construction towards supporting the Ukrainian Defense Forces. In other words, Odesa residents held a peaceful rally, calling for the funds allocated to public procurement to be transferred to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
However, propagandists distorted this narrative, attempting to depict the rally as a public outcry against President Zelenskyy. By leveraging elements of mass culture, they strive to insinuate widespread public discontent directed specifically at the president and, by extension, the broader Ukrainian government.
Take a look at the latest fakes on similar topics: how graffiti was allegedly created in The Hague, the capital of European justice, with a picture of Zelenskyy hanging from the gallows; or about the fake cover of the allegedly British newspaper The New European, where the Ukrainian president was supposedly depicted sitting in Dalai Lama’s lap. Find out more about yet another fake cover with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, supposedly numbed by the figure of dictator Putin and Jesus Christ here.
Illustration by Detector Media