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Fact check: 'Staging' of air attack victims in Kyiv?

October 18, 2022

After the rockets comes the propaganda — pro-Russian voices have claimed that wounded people in Kyiv were just actors staging their suffering. But a DW fact check shows that the victims are real.

 An injured woman receives medical treatment
Not staged: A volunteer tends to a Ukrainian woman after a rocket attack on Kyiv on October 10Image: Efrem Lukatsky/AP/picture alliance

After a period of relative calm, war has returned to the Ukrainian capital in recent days as Russia continues its attacks on Kyiv. 

Bombardments were particularly intense on October 10, the day with the heaviest attacks since Russia's invasion began. According to official figures, 19 people were killed in Kyiv and other regions as a result, and 105 people were injured. In Kyiv alone, 43 people were hospitalized that day according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Images of bloodied civilian victims of the attacks were published by many media outlets. And afterward, a video was circulated on social media that questioned the authenticity of the images coming out of Kyiv.

Claim: "Production of dramatic images for the Western media," tweeted Maria Dubovikova, who claims to be a Russian media expert. And another user wrote, "cheeky-headed actors are filmed for the Western media to show a 'bloody' picture for their owners."

In doing so, both posted a video of an apparently wounded woman with a head bandage taking a selfie of herself. Numerous other accounts repeat the claim, writing of "staging" for Western media.

Verdict: False.

The 14-second video, which was viewed more than 50,000 times on Twitter alone and also spread in Spanish on Telegram and in German on Facebook, among other channels, does not show any "staging" by actors, but actual wounded civilians in Kyiv.

In the photo in the upper part of the video, a woman is shown wearing a bandage around her head and a bloodstained shirt. To the right of the woman are other people, including a man who is also wearing a head bandage and has a bloodied face.

In the sequence shown, the woman says in Ukrainian: "Take my picture, Andrei Andrejitsch! In a moment I'll take a picture of myself and send it to my sister in Russia."

With a reverse image search, DW found out that this is an image from The Associated Press. According to the agency, the photo shows wounded people after the Russian attack on October 10, 2022, and was taken by Kyiv AP correspondent Efrem Lukatsky. Lukatsky also published the image on his Facebook account.

Videos and images document aftermath

DW's fact-checking team contacted Efrem Lukatsky and asked how the picture was taken. He confirmed that both the photo and the video were taken by him.

In a DW interview, the photographer described how on October 10 at 8:19 a.m. local time, he and his colleague from Reuters first drove to the site of the first missile strike at Shevchenko University, and then followed Ukrainian journalists to the site of another missile strike at the intersection of Zhylianska and Lva Tolstogo. Photos and video of the wounded civilians were taken at the latter site. Lukatsky's Reuters colleague, Vladyslav Musiienko, also photographed the wounded, as seen in this news article by Austrian outlet NZZ.

People receive medical treatment on the scene of Russian shelling
People receive medical treatment after Russian shelling in Kyiv on October 10, 2022Image: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo/picture alliance

"Upon arrival, we saw people standing against a wall being helped. They were receiving medical care from doctors and also military people. This was the first scene we shot. Besides me, there were some journalists with cameras. In total, I would say up to 10 people," Lukatsky said.

He himself shot a video on his phone, in addition to taking photos with his other hand, said the Ukrainian photographer. The 14 seconds of the viral Twitter video are a segment of this video — which DW has seen in its full length of 33 seconds.

In the original video, the wounded woman can be heard complaining about a headache. Just before the cut scene and after the pan at the end, other obviously wounded people can be seen, as well as several ambulances and rescue vehicles.

They suffered injuries from flying shards of glass from a high-rise building, according to Lukatsky, who has worked as a war reporter in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and Chechnya.

A screenshot shows a clip of a video of a missile attack on Kyiv on October 10, 2022
Via Google Street View (right), the location of the event in the video (left) can be verified: The video was shot near the 101 Tower in KyivImage: AP/Google Street View

DW was able to locate the site of the video recording: The skyscraper visible in the course of the video is the Kyiv skyscraper Business Center 101 Tower, the glass cladding of which was massively damaged by the air attack on the neighboring heating and power plant, as several videos on the web show

A spokesperson for the German Foreign Office, Christian Wagner, confirmed at a press conference on October 10 that "there was apparently damage to the 101 Tower in Kyiv, which also houses the German visa office." 

Real injuries 

In the same week the missile attacks on Kyiv took place, Ukrainian channel 1+1 published a piece featuring the woman in the allegedly staged video. Ukrainian journalists had visited her in one of the Kyiv hospitals. Her name is Oleksandra Kyselyova, and she described in detail how she was injured on October 10 on the way from her workplace to the shelter. In fact, you can still see several injuries on her face, some of which required stitches.

In the interview, she stressed that the world should see what Russia is doing to civilians in Ukraine. Most of all, she wanted her sister in Russia to see her injured face and thus believe such attacks are taking place. This is the sister Oleksandra Kyselyova referred to in the video. 

Oleksandra Kyselyova, wounded in the October 10 rocket attack in Kyiv
Oleksandra Kyselyova, wounded in the October 10 rocket attack in Kyiv, gave an interview to Ukrainian TV channel 1+1Image: TSN/1+1/YouTube

Ukrainian journalists also found the young man in the military uniform who gave first aid to Kyselyova in the video. Oleksandr Myroshnichenko is a 19-year-old student of the National Economic University of Kyiv who volunteered treating the injured in Kyiv on October 10. Myroshnichenko wears the badge of the medical evacuation unit "Pulse" on his uniform. 

An Instagram story from October 10 can be found on the Instagram account of the "Pulse" unit, in which Myroshnichenko is seen. "Our brother @aamyros saved 8 lives in Kyiv today," reads the caption to the picture, in which Myroshnichenko (his name is on the uniform) is sitting on the ground, seemingly exhausted. The scene where Myroshnichenko applies a bandage to Kyselyova is also in the story. Myroshnichenko also posted some images from the scene on his own Instagram account.

In the same Instagram story, Myroshnichenko reported about the Russian missile attacks in a TV program with the BBC on October 10. He explained how after the first explosion, he and other friends went to the center of the city to help people. 

Conclusion: The claim that the civilian casualties of the October 10 airstrike on Kyiv were actors is false. The missile attack near the 101 Tower took place, with the wounds of people near the impact being documented by several international journalists and outlets.

How to see through Russia's war propaganda

This fact check was originally written in German.