MOSCOW — The conflict on the ground in eastern Ukraine may have quieted down over the past few weeks, but the information war in the region is still raging.
In a short news documentary, a BBC reporter tried to hunt down the family of a 10-year-old girl who Russian news reports had claimed was killed by artillery shells fired by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk in March.
But locals she interviewed had not heard of the event, could not help identify the girl's family and had not even heard the shelling that was supposed to have killed the girl. The local morgue had never handled her body. Officials either claimed to know nothing or refused to help the reporter track down the family.
Eventually, a member of another television film crew — ostensibly from Russian media (their faces were blurred) — tells the BBC reporter that the girl “doesn’t exist” and, hence, didn’t die. When the reporter asks why the story was aired, one man answers: “We had to broadcast it.”
Many Russian outlets had carried the story in late March, citing information from leaders of the separatists’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. The episode is reminiscent of an incident last summer in which a state-run Russian television station broadcast a story alleging that the Ukrainian military had tortured and then crucified a 3-year-old in the eastern city of Slovyansk. No one could turn up any evidence of such an event, however, and it is widely accepted as a fabrication.
Television is a prime vehicle for getting news in Russia and Ukraine, and each side accuses the other’s media outlets of broadcasting more propaganda than news. National Ukrainian television channels were turned off in most areas of rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine last year. Kiev has blocked the broadcast of various Russian state television channels.