On May 17, Global Information, a media account managed by China’s state-run China National Radio, posted a video on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.
“Independent Journalists from Many Countries Fired for Truthfully Covering the Conflict Between Russia and Ukraine,” the post proclaimed. As of this writing, Weibo posts circulating the video have accumulated more than 110 million views.
The video purportedly features independent journalists who claim they were unable to “speak the truth” about Russia’s war against Ukraine. But the so-called truths are actually debunked Kremlin falsehoods that attempt to blame Ukraine for carnage caused by Russian forces.
The post follows a pattern. Chinese state media reliably spread Russian war propaganda.
The Weibo post says:
“In a recent United Nations meeting, independent journalists from France, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries criticized Western media for false propaganda in their coverage of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“However, they were fired from their jobs and even banned from entering their own countries for insisting on telling the truth they had observed about the Ukraine issue.”
That is misleading.
In fact, several of the “independent journalists” in the video have a track record of regurgitating Kremlin-speak. There is no evidence that any of them have been fired or exiled, though some of their work has been disputed and flagged as disinformation.
The U.N. meeting mentioned was what’s called an “Arria-formula meeting.” These are informal sessions that any Security Council member may schedule and orchestrate.
Russia called the May 6 session to discuss alleged war crimes by Ukrainian forces. This was after a crush of reports alleging war crimes by Russian troops who’d occupied suburbs outside Kyiv, leaving behind mass graves and civilians who appeared to have been summarily executed.
Russia’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia opened the session.
“Today, we will try to speak as little as possible by ourselves and to share with you accounts of the residents of Eastern and Southern Ukraine and to give the floor to foreign journalists who have been working in these areas,” Nebenzia said.
Out spilled some of the false claims Russia has used to justify its invasion and to deny war crimes and indiscriminate strikes on civilian targets, including businesses, theaters and hospitals.
Anne-Laure Bonnel, a French filmmaker described by Foreign Policy magazine as “a noted propagandist on behalf of Russia,” said Western economic sanctions against Russia have fanned divisions and hatred. She accused Ukrainian troops of killing Russian-speaking Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region for the past eight years.
Bonnel made the same claim in her 2016 documentary “Donbass,” which Facebook and YouTube have repeatedly flagged as a possible source of misinformation. France’s Le Figaro newspaper removed an article Bonnel wrote based on the film, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency and the Latin American Telesur agency reported.
After illegally annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia helped incite and sustain a militant separatist movement in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, now the focus of Russia’s expanded war. Over eight years, more than 14,000 civilians and combatants died in that conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of pursuing genocide against Russia speakers in the region. But Ukraine denies it, and other authorities, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Donbas residents themselves, have refuted the allegation.
At the U.N. session, Sonja van den Ende, a Dutch reporter embedded with Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine, also accused Ukrainian forces of killing Ukrainian civilians in Donbas.
“I saw the war, yet we cannot speak the truth,” she said at the meeting. “We are censored in Europe.”
But then van den Ende brought up the widely debunked Russian claim that Ukrainians, and not Russian bombardments, were responsible for a deadly attack on a Mariupol theater in March.
According to witnesses, Russian aircraft struck the theater at about 10 a.m. on March 15. Half the estimated 1,200 people sheltering inside were killed, an Associated Press investigation concluded. The word “children” was painted in huge white script outside for pilots to see.
Still, Van den Ende testified that Ukrainian soldiers blew up the theater from inside, and that “there were no bombings from Russians” the day the theater was destroyed.
On April 13, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called the theater bombing and Russian airstrikes on a maternity hospital in Mariupol apparent war crimes.
Giorgio Bianchi, an Italian filmmaker, testified that mainstream European media are spreading propaganda and “fake news” about the war.
Bianchi said he had returned from filming in Donbas and that Ukrainian soldiers and militias “extensively used civilians as human shields,” another recurring Russian assertion.
Bianchi provided no evidence. On the other hand, multiple media reports citing named sources on the ground showed that Russian troops used Ukrainian civilians, even children, as shields.
The international community has called for and launched efforts to hold accountable those who ordered and perpetrated war crimes in Ukraine. The United Nations, the ICC, and the OSCE have launched investigations into atrocities, as has Ukraine’s top prosecutor.
On April 28, Ukrainian prosecutors filed criminal charges against Russian soldiers accused of war crimes while occupying Bucha, a Kyiv suburb. The filings came after the United States revealed evidence that Russians executed surrendering Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas.
On May 19, an investigation by The New York Times revealed newly obtained videos and witness testimony alleging that Russian paratroopers executed at least eight Ukrainian men in Bucha on March 4. Surveillance video showed Russian troops leading the men away before they were shot outside a temporary Russian command post. One who survived described the event.
On May 18, a Russian tank commander pleaded guilty to shooting dead an unarmed Ukrainian civilian and said he would accept any punishment handed down by the Ukrainian court.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in April that her team had documented during a one-day visit to Bucha the unlawful killing of 50 civilians, mostly men but also of women and children, some of whom were summarily executed, UPI reported.
She said her office was also looking into reports of more than 300 other killings, including executions, in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.