“We strongly condemn apparent atrocities by Kremlin forces in Bucha and across Ukraine. We are pursuing accountability using every tool available, documenting and sharing information to hold accountable those responsible.”
– Secretary of State Antony Blinken
After Ukraine’s forces liberated the town on March 31, 2022, disturbing reports emerged of civilians found lying dead in the streets, in back yards, and in mass graves. Some of the victims had their hands bound, some had fatal gunshot wounds to the head, others were beheaded or burned. Amid mounting evidence that Russia’s forces had committed atrocities in Bucha, the Kremlin immediately deployed a disinformation campaign to deflect responsibility for the slaughter from its forces.
A Kremlin Disinformation Blitz in Response to Bucha Reports and Global Condemnation
The Putin Regime’s disinformation campaign in response to the discovery of apparent killings of civilians in Bucha is notable for its speed and adaptability. In response to international shock and outrage at the initial images coming out of Bucha, the Kremlin was quick to deny everything. As reports continued to mount from Bucha and liberated areas surrounding Kyiv of killings, torture, looting, and rape, the Kremlin adapted and expanded its lies, drawing from the same playbook of false narratives it uses to deflect blame from the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria, where members of the Syrian Civil Defense Organization “White Helmets” were falsely accused of staging fake attacks. Similarly, the Kremlin’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem falsely depicted the atrocities in Bucha and in other parts of Ukraine as an “attack of fakes” and a “provocation by Ukrainian radicals” while also claiming that the victims are paid actors.
After reports from Bucha surfaced, Russian Federation officials and Kremlin-aligned purveyors of disinformation launched into a well-established pattern of simultaneous denial, “what-aboutism,” and counteraccusations. Russia’s state media broadcasts, and official statements, such as the remarks of Russia’s UN Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenzya at a Security Council meeting regarding Bucha, were all designed to hide the facts of the Russian Federation’s responsibility for these atrocities.
The Truth Behind the Lies
- Russian Federation’s Disinformation Narrative: The bodies of the victims in Bucha have not entered rigor mortis and therefore could not have been killed when Russia’s forces were in the town.
Fact: According to experts, rigor mortis usually subsides by day four, so it is not unusual that the bodies are not stiff in the images.
- Russian Federation’s Disinformation Narrative: One of the bodies allegedly moved an arm in a video and therefore the people are not dead but instead are just actors.
Fact: The alleged “movement” is simply a distortion effect of the video due to a rain drop on the mirror that warps the image.
- Russian Federation’s Disinformation Narrative: The dead bodies appeared four days after Russia’s forces had left Bucha, so Ukraine’s Armed Forces must have put the bodies there.
Fact: Satellite images show the bodies were on the streets for more than three weeks, that is, during the time Russia’s forces still controlled the town.
Why Vladimir Putin Won’t Pull the Wool over the World’s Eyes about Bucha
The world is not falling for the Russian Federation’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem’s false claims about Bucha. International fact checkers and media outlets, such as the New York Times, Bellingcat and BBC, have produced detailed analyses of the Kremlin’s false claims. Future investigations into the atrocities will only further reveal to the world the true extent of the Russian Federation’s responsibility for the atrocities in Ukraine, and its ongoing efforts to escape international accountability.