Several media publications have reported that a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol in Ukraine was attacked on Wednesday (March 9) by Russian warplanes, leaving three dead and 17 injured. The hospital was targeted several times with high explosive Russian bombs, thereby, forcing pregnant women to deliver their newborn in the basement.
“Many of the pregnant women present at the hospital were hiding (in) the basement at the time of the strike on the orders of hospital authorities – a move indicative of the harsh bombardment suffered by Mariupol’s citizens over the past week, and one which likely saved many lives,” reported Daily Mail.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had condemned the attack on civilians by Russian forces. He dubbed it as a ‘war crime’ and ‘the ultimate proof of genocide against Ukrainians.’ On Twitter, Zelenskyy had shared a video that captures the extent of damage caused by the bombing.
Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity. pic.twitter.com/FoaNdbKH5k— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 9, 2022
Russia dismisses claims of attack on maternity hospital, cites ‘model’ theory
After the alleged attack by Russia at the maternity hospital drew global condemnation, Russia claimed that hospital was operational. The Russian embassy in the United Kingdom claimed that the maternity house was non-operational and was being used by the neo-Nazi Ukrainian Azov Battalion.
Citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the embassy tweeted, “The maternity house was long non-operational. Instead, it was used by armed forces and radicals, namely the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Moreover, Russia warned UN Security Council about this 3 days ago.”
AFP News agency had also posted a video of the Russian Foreign Minister, dismissing allegations of bombing an ‘active’ maternity hospital.
VIDEO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claims that a hospital which was attacked in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol had been serving as a military base for Ukrainian nationalists pic.twitter.com/qxIGk6fiv6— AFP News Agency (@AFP) March 10, 2022
In a bid to dismiss the attack as ‘staged propaganda’, the Russian embassy claimed that a ‘pregnant’ woman seen in the photos captured at the now-destroyed maternity house was a beauty blogger by the name of Marianna Podgurskaya.
“She actually played the roles of both pregnant women on the photos. And first photos were actually taken by famous propagandist photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, rather than rescuers and witnesses as one would expect,” it said. The tweets were later removed by Twitter for violating the rules of the micro-blogging platform.
Popular Twitter user (@ThePollLady) has also sent credence to the Russian version, claiming that Ukraine had hired a model to ‘roleplay’ as a victim of the bombing in Mariupol. She wrote, “Twitter blocked Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov after he called out false-news about Russia shelling maternity hospital in Ukraine.”
“Medical facility did not work for a long time, was used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine & radicals and Ukraine used ACTORS to shoot videos,” the user further added. She had also shared the Instagram profile of one of the women, who was spotted in the pictures shot in the aftermath of the Russian bombing.
Counter-narrative dismissing Russian ‘propaganda’
Others have refused to concede that the pictures shot after the attack at the ‘operational’ maternity hospital were staged. Zaborona Media Editor, Katerina Sergatskova, had shared a picture that reflected the devasting effects of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
She had shared a picture of Marianna Podgurskaya with her husband from a month earlier and another picture that showed the beauty blogger standing outside the hospital ruins.
Director of Training & Research at Bellingcat, Aric Toler, also dismissed the Russian claims.
He tweeted, “A lot of people were asking how Russia respond to bombing a literal maternity hospital. I figured they’d just not address it or say it was full of weapons. Turns out, they’re even more ghoulish: this woman is actually pregnant — you can find her IG — and was nearly killed.”
Toler further emphasised, “The clearly fake information is bad enough, but naming her like this is more than enough to boot the embassy’s account off of the platform. As if her and her unborn child nearly dying isn’t bad enough, she’ll likely be harassed for years now because of this accusation.”
The clearly fake information is bad enough, but naming her like this is more than enough to boot the embassy’s account off of the platform. As if her and her unborn child nearly dying isn’t bad enough, she’ll likely be harassed for years now because of this accusation.— Aric Toler (@AricToler) March 10, 2022
Several women have come forward to extend their support to Marianna.
A smear campaign launched by Russia against Marianna, a pregnant woman from Mariupol’s bombed hospital, is terrible. Not only Russian officials harass her, users from Russia write atrocious things on her Instagram page. These people are completely deprived of humanity https://t.co/n1hJDkc9pS— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 10, 2022
As per the woman’s Instagram profile, she is a beauty blogger and has 53,000 followers on the platform. Her last post on Instagram was uploaded on February 28, 2022 i.e. four days after Russia declared a full-scale invasion in Ukraine. Marianna Podgurskaya is indeed pregnant as established from her multiple images with a ‘baby bump’.
Source of the images that Russia claims to be staged
On Thursday, the Associated Press (AP) published a series of images captured from the besieged city of Mariupol in war-torn Ukraine.
“Another pregnant woman dressed in pyjamas and with cuts on her face gingerly makes her way down a debris-covered staircase, while in the courtyard, emergency employees pick their way across a desolate landscape littered with mangled cars and shards of glass from blown-out windows,” read the picture
The pregnant woman seen in the picture is Marianna Podgurskaya. The scintillating image was clicked by AP photographer Evgeniy Maloletka.
Another image of Marianna that has been doing the rounds of the internet was clicked by Ukrainian photographer and Associated Press journalist Mstyslav Chernov.
From the pictures shot from ground zero, it becomes clear that the beauty blogger was indeed at the maternity hospital at the time of the attack.