Russian state television has aired aerial footage showing the devastation wrought by Moscow’s invading forces in the besieged city of Mariupol – with the presenter apparently blaming Ukrainian nationalists for the destruction.
Mariupol, which has been bombed relentlessly since Vladimir Putin’s invasion began a month ago, has become the grim face of Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis after several failed attempts to evacuate civilians, with Mayor Vadym Boichenko warning last week that “no more city center ” may be.
While the Kremlin has tightened Russian citizens’ access to information about Mr Putin’s “special military operation,” which he portrays as an attempt to liberate the Ukrainian people, state broadcaster Channel One appeared to show footage of the extent of the destruction in Mariupol on Wednesday.
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In a clip shared on Twitter by Washington Post Journalist Mary Ilyushina, the presenter can be heard saying, “Sad scenes, of course…the [Ukrainian] Nationalists withdraw and try to leave no stone unturned”.
This claim blatantly clashes with the barrage of independent news reports documenting the seemingly indiscriminate shelling of homes, schools and hospitals by Russian forces.
But the assessment reflects Mr Putin’s false pretense to “denazify” Ukraine with his invasion – with the Russian president attempting to equate a well-documented problem with far-right militias in Ukraine with the country’s democratically elected leadership to justify his war .
In a further nod to that allegation, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces were “fighting nationalists” in downtown Mariupol. Days earlier, Moscow had groundlessly accused Ukraine’s notorious Azov Battalion of blowing up a theater containing hundreds of civilians that had been hit by an airstrike.
While the Azov Battalion, which has ties to the far right and is said to have recruited neo-Nazis, was actively involved in defending Mariupol, Moscow appears to have made little distinction between the city’s defenders and the civilians trapped there.
Nearly 100,000 people remained trapped in Mariupol “without food, water, medicine, under constant fire,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Wednesday, describing the city of Donetsk as “totally under siege.”
The claim that the damage in Mariupol was caused by the Ukrainians themselves has been aired not only on Russian state television in recent days, but also by one of Moscow’s top diplomats in the United States, who was trying to cover footage of possible Russian war crimes in the US United States claiming port city is “fake news”.
Showing images of burning apartment buildings in Mariupol taken by Associated Press photojournalists, Moscow’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations asked Sky News on Thursday: “How do you know these are Russian missiles?”
“It can easily come from Ukraine to the center of the city. It happened in Kharkiv, in Mariupol, because they have their own rocket launchers and many cases that I know are reported by Ukrainian rockets themselves.”
Challenged that his claim was “absurd,” Dmitry Polyanskiy continued, “I think it’s quite logical, it’s not absurd.”
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, claimed this week that the attacks on Mariupol amounted to “a massive war crime” with Russian forces “destroying everything, bombing and killing everyone”.
And Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, during a visit to Bulgaria on Tuesday, compared Russia’s attacks on Ukraine to those of the Nazis in World War II.
“My compatriots, the Poles, look at Mariupol today and say: ‘God’ – they say it with tears in their eyes – ‘Mariupol looks like Warsaw in 1944, when Nazis, Hitler-Germans, brutally bombed houses, killed people, civilians killing without mercy’,” said Mr. Duda.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday claimed that Russia forcibly deported some 6,000 residents of Mariupol to its territory and is now holding them hostage in camps, accusing Moscow of going “to the next level of terror.”
Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian journalist who made headlines around the world by storming into state TV to protest Mr Putin’s war and telling viewers “they are lying to you,” said in an interview this week that her “colleagues Be scared”.
“The heads of Channel One have banned them from speaking about this incident,” Ms Ovsyannikova told VOA. “Some colleagues have resigned, the rest continue to work. They have to feed their families, they cannot find any other work during this difficult time.”
“Because of the Western sanctions, people have become real hostages of the difficult economic situation in Russia,” she added.