A video claiming to show “new details of U.S. bioweapon activities in Ukraine” circulated widely this week on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform.
The 14-second video was accompanied by the alarming-sounding statement, “It’s been exposed that the United States has been collecting cholera pathogens in Ukraine.”
“Russia recently released new details of U.S. bioweapon activities in Ukraine,” the video post stated. “It has been revealed that the U.S. not only conducted experiments on patients at a psychiatric ward in Kharkiv but also collected and sorted out cholera pathogens in Mariupol…”
Both claims are false. If anything, it was Russia’s attack on Mariupol and destruction of public services that raised the threat of a cholera outbreak there.
The video, produced by Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), was repeatedly posted throughout the week by numerous state-affiliated Weibo accounts with mass followings, including those of the Chinese Communist Youth League and China Daily. As of July 18, posts with the same hashtag used with the video had accumulated 350 million views.
Though the video provided no proof, both claims appear to repeat allegations made by the Russian military in May.
False: Samples sent to U.S.
Cholera results from a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and potentially fatal loss of fluids. It can quickly spread in areas without clean water or adequate sewage treatment. Cholera kills more than 140,000 people a year worldwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says.
On May 11, Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical and biological protection force, claimed the United States, in collaboration with Kyiv, had collected cholera pathogen samples in Mariupol for a “military biological program.”
“Specialists of the Russian Ministry of Defense have carried out work directly in two biolabs in Mariupol," Kirillov said at a briefing. “We have received evidence of the emergency destruction of documents confirming work with the Pentagon. A preliminary analysis of the preserved documentation indicates the use of Mariupol as a regional center for the collection and certification of the cholera pathogen.”
He also claimed, without evidence, that the purported pathogens were shipped to the United States via the Public Health Center in Kyiv.
In June, the VoxUkraine analytical blog wrote that Kirillov’s claim was “illogical because the United States has its own system for monitoring and preventing infectious diseases, including cholera.” VoxUkraine also noted the lack of evidence that Ukraine sent samples.
Although Kirillov referred to “two biolabs,” he only named one of them – the Donetsk Regional Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. According to the center’s website, its work was suspended “due to [Russian] hostilities” in the region, where “there [was] constant shelling, power supply and communication [were] not stable.”
VoxUkraine reported that the lab’s activity plan called for monitoring infectious diseases, exactly the role a public health agency would be expected to fulfill:
“In particular, the laboratory had to carry out epidemic surveillance and diagnose cholera. Similar disease control and prevention centers operate across Ukraine, carrying out epidemiological surveillance to identify pathogens of dangerous diseases. For instance, the Center’s laboratories in the Donetsk region are analyzing the material of patients with acute intestinal infections and wastewater to prevent cholera.”
Kirillov presented a purported document about the “emergency destruction” of different pathogens at the Donetsk Regional Center. Vibro cholera, the bacteria group that causes cholera, topped the list. But that is no surprise and attests to the purpose of the center’s work.
“Vibrio cholerae is detected in water bodies in Ukraine almost every year, so it is little wonder that the Ministry of Health laboratories closely monitor this infectious disease’s spread,” VoxUkraine wrote. “The last confirmed outbreak of cholera in Ukraine occurred in 2011 in Mariupol.”
Reuters reported in June that the port city, which had been under Russian occupation since May after three months of constant shelling, was on the verge of another cholera outbreak. Mariupol officials said decomposing garbage and corpses had contaminated drinking water and increased the risk of a cholera outbreak.
Kirillov claimed that Ukraine’s Ministry of Health ordered the labs to destroy the pathogens on February 25 to cover up a bioweapons program. However, VoxUkraine reported that it “could not find any letter or order from the Ministry of Health [of Ukraine] confirming” those actions.
False: Human tests
At the May 11 Russian Defense Ministry briefing, Kirillov claimed the Russian military had obtained information “revealing the details of the Pentagon’s inhumane experiments on Ukrainian citizens in the psychiatric hospital No.1.”
“The main category of experimental subjects was a group of male patients aged 40-60 years with a high stage of physical exhaustion,” Kirillov said. "In order to conceal their belonging to the United States, the experts who conducted the biological research arrived through the territories of third countries."
Kirillov claimed that the foreign researchers were evacuated in January 2022.
However, Kirillov provided no evidence for his claims.
Earlier in April, Russia’s Defense Ministry had claimed on Twitter that “it was found that in the period from 2019 to 2021, American scientists tested potentially dangerous biological drugs on patients of the regional clinical psychiatric hospital No. 3 of the city of Kharkiv.”
However, the “evidence” the ministry presented with the tweet were screenshots of the USA PATRIOT Act, with its section 817, titled “expansion of the biological weapons statute,” enlarged and highlighted.
That section of the USA PATRIOT Act was aimed at “making it harder for states, terrorists, extremist groups, and lone-wolf actors to acquire dangerous biological materials,” according to an article published in October 2021 by Arizona State University’s online magazine Issues in Science and Technology.
The act was passed in 2001 following the back-to-back 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax attacks.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that there was no evidence of tests of “potentially dangerous biological drugs” on the psychiatric hospital patients in Kharkiv because those patients had signed non-disclosure agreements.
False: Military bioresearch
Russia has made similar bogus claims in the past.
In March, it released documents purporting to show that Ukraine's Ministry of Health had ordered the destruction of anthrax and pathogens of plague, cholera and other diseases before the full-scale Russian invasion began on February 24.
In fact, as Ukrainian cities came under heavy Russian shelling, Ukrainian labs destroyed pathogens to avoid accidental leaks, as recommended by the World Health Organization. Russia tried to claim this was “evidence of military biological programs” financed by the Pentagon.
Ukraine joined the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) in 2005. The program is an ongoing effort to secure biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons from former Soviet satellites and republics.
Polygraph.info and others have previously debunked Russia’s false claim that the Ukrainian public health labs in the U.S. program were researching bioweapons.
Russian biologists who examined the supposed evidence said that Russia was lying about what those Ukrainian documents meant, The Intercept reported in March.