On May 29, the Russian state broadcaster Sputnik reported that the Russian Investigative Committee “says it will study the video footage from the Red Cross base in Mariupol, Ukraine, where hundreds of dubious medical files were found.”
“According to investigators, hundreds of medical files found at the Red Cross base contain information on children’s healthy organs, with no indication of any illnesses,” Sputnik reported. “The files also have data on who the children’s parents are.”
The committee’s statement said the inquiry was "within the framework of the criminal cases already being investigated in the department about the crimes of the Kyiv regime, [and] will study the specified information and give it a criminal legal assessment," Sputnik reported.
In a story the next day, Russian state broadcaster RT also reported that the Investigative Committee would “look into allegations the Ukrainian Red Cross Society was involved in shady activities, including keeping records of children with ‘healthy organs’ in the city of Mariupol.”
RT reported that the source for the claim of “shady activities” was Vladimir Taranenko, who reportedly heads a civic organization in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine.
According to RT, Taranenko “posted a video of what he called a search of the Red Cross office in Mariupol on his social media and claimed some of the evidence found there casts the group in a very suspicious light.”
Mariupol is now under Russian occupation following a brutal assault that left much of the port city in ruins. The claim about “shady” and “suspicious” activities of the Red Cross also spread elsewhere on the internet.
The implication of the Russian reports is that the ICRC in Ukraine might have been involved in some sort of illegal activities involving human organs.
That is misleading.
The records cited as evidence, even if authentic, could well be kept for legitimate reasons. And Taranenko is a biased source for the accusations of suspicion given his allegiance to the breakaway, pro-Russian DNR.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a vehement denial, saying it has “not collected any such” medical records of children.
“The video also insinuates that the ICRC is involved in organ trafficking. This is another unequivocally false allegation,“ the ICRC said.
RT also reported Taranenko’s misleading claim that among discoveries in the Red Cross office were instructions on “how to use weapons, including in a format intended for children.”
Addressing that allegation, the ICRC said that in fact, the “instructions” were about how to identify and safely handle unexploded munitions, developed under its mission “to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population in armed conflict.”
“In order to properly identify and dispose of unexploded ordnance, the ICRC prints and distributes manuals to explain the threat such weapons pose to civilians living in contaminated areas,” the ICRC statement read.
“These ICRC manuals are not confidential. In fact, our reference material is publicly available online in multiple languages. Another manual that appears in the video is commonly used by teams working to neutralize dangerous items to avoid accidents.”
Disinformation about organ harvesting has been a regular feature of Russian propaganda.
In a May 29 article devoted to the allegations against the Red Cross office in Mariupol, Russia’s Izvestia newspaper linked to an April report claiming that in 2014-2015, Russian-controlled authorities in the DNR had found mass graves where the dead “were found with their bellies torn open.”
“Experts believe that Ukraine, under the current Kyiv authorities, can become a source of cheap ‘spare parts’ for Europeans and Americans,” Izvestia reported, without evidence.
In April, state-owned Crimea-24 reported, also without evidence, that Russian forces had foiled a plot by the “Ukrainian side” to kidnap 58 children from an orphanage in Russian-occupied Kherson to harvest their organs elsewhere.
In a May 2019 piece attacking former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, NTV, a television channel owned by Russia’s state energy monopoly Gazprom, falsely claimed the organs of wounded Ukrainian soldiers were harvested in eastern Ukraine for export to Europe outside the war zone.
Similar claims have been made since Russia clandestinely fomented war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. But as Polygraph.info previously reported, multiple factors make the idea of a vast organ trafficking conspiracy impractical.
Organs have a short shelf life, and there are numerous compatibility issues with the organ recipient, including blood type, body size and severity of medical condition.
“Organs cannot be frozen. They have to be kept very sterile and are kept in a wet-ice solution with a chemical preservative that they flush the organs with,” Joel Newman, senior communications strategist for the United Network for Organ Sharing, told Polygraph.info in 2019.
Newman added that the match level between donor and recipient “is very important and needs to be well-documented.”
Then there are regulatory obstacles.
“In the U.S., if Dr. Johnson books the OR [Operating Room], there is going to be a large paper trail as to why he did that, including the primary surgeon, nurses and anesthesiologist involved. This process involves immense documentation,” Newman said.
As Torsten Trey, executive director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, told Polygraph.info in 2019, Europe also has a transparent donor system, with most countries prohibiting transplant tourism.
“If an organ is being imported, it would be known,” he said.
Trey also noted the issue of payment, as the European donation system “is based on altruism.”
“Transplant tourism bypasses this by offering incentives to donors abroad. It is unlikely that transplant centers in Europe would permit transplants after paid organ donations, which would be revealed if traced back,” Trey said.
Newman said the accusation of illicit organ harvesting often springs up in war zones.