How Russian lies become news: ICRC representative death in Donetsk case study



Article by: Alya Shandra

On October 3, Laurent Etienne, representative of the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) working in Donetsk, was killed while the city was shelled. Both the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministries have condemned the incident, and have blamed the incident on the other side: Ukraine – on the Russian-backed terrorists, Russia – on the Ukrainian government. Yuriy Serhiev, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the UN, has said that Ukraine was prepared to assist international representatives with the investigation of the incident, adding that “we have serious proof that the shell came in from the separatists’ side.”

However, international media already displays pro-Russian sentiments. A google search for “Donetsk ICRC responsible” already has a acute pro-Russian tint, with either the headlines being “Moscow blames Kiev for killing the ICRC staff” or, as BBC, quoting the statement of the Russian MFA which accuses the Ukrainian government of “rushing to deny all responsibility” for the ICRC worker’s death. It’s a rule of journalism to show both sides of the story. Thus, when the “rebels and the Ukrainian government blames each other for the shelling,” that’s what needs to be written for the sake of impartiality and balance.

However, it remains unclear how well this universal journalistic principle works when one side deliberately lies, using a network of political connections to fabricate facts. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has published a video in which the “Premier Minister” of the DNR Vladimir Zakharchenko discusses a plan to frame the Ukrainian forces for the death of the ICRC representative with a special correspondent of the Russian  TV channel RTR Rossiya 1 Eugene Pibbubnyi. The plan is simple: to show ICRC representatives shrapnel of a phosphorous bomb that allegedly killed their colleague, and to organize an expert assessment that will prove that the shelling came from the Ukrainian-controlled Avdiivka. Zakharchenko says that an expert will be found.


It seems that wide coverage of this intercepted call has deterred Piddubyi’s media plans – there were no reports of “phosphorous bombs” this time, unlike previous reports of “phosphorous bombings” of Donetsk by Ukrainian  forces in early September that were debunked by stopfake. However, it is interesting to note that the Russian foreign ministry was the first to state that Ukrainian forces as responsible for the shelling, with leaders of the  “DNR” self-proclaimed republic and and Russian journalist discussing plans on how to make that statement a media reality.

Just imagine that every time you hear the phrase “the rebels and Ukrainian government have both blamed each other for shelling city A,” behind it is a network of pro-Putin medias working together with Russia-supported terrorists that work to promulgate the statements coming out of the Russian MFA and fabricate facts that will prove them. International media reports will cover “both sides of the story.” But should we consider such impartial coverage beneficial to the truth?

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