Russian state media are abuzz with accusations of murder and gang-rape levelled against government forces in eastern Ukraine by a purported Western monitor.
The charges stem from Einars Graudins, a Latvian political activist who, according to Russian media reports, is part of a team of international monitors dispatched to eastern Ukraine by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The "OSCE expert" is also widely quoted as claiming that hundreds of bodies have been exhumed from mass graves in the Donetsk region.
The problem is, Graudins has never worked for the OSCE.
"We are currently checking the identity of this person, but as far as I know at this moment he is not a member of the special monitoring mission in Ukraine," OSCE deputy spokesperson Natacha Rajakovic told RFE/RL. "We have no record and we certainly couldn't confirm any such statements."
The OSCE's chapter in Ukraine later confirmed that he has "no link whatsoever" to the OSCE.
Graudins did visit the grave sites, but only as a group of eight human rights experts from different European countries who accompanied the regular OSCE monitors.
Known for his pro-Russian and anti-American views – his Twitter account describes him as an anti-globalist and a theoretician of Marxism -- Graudins makes no secret of his sympathy for the separatists rebels.
This has not prevented Russian media from misrepresenting his comments, initially published on September 30 in the "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" daily, the Russian government's official newspaper.
The RIA Novosti agency, for instance, ran the headline "OSCE Expert: About 400 Bodies Found in Gravesites Near Donetsk."
The Russian media has been portraying the alleged mass graves as evidence of "war crimes."
Separatist leaders themselves have confirmed the discovery of only 9 bodies in the alleged mass graves.
A RIA Novosti report claiming that an OSCE monitor had found a mass grave with hundreds of bodies that are supposedly evidence of "war crimes" by Kyiv-backed forces.
In fact, what Graudins told "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" is that there are currently about 400 unidentified bodies in the morgues of Donetsk, without specifying their provenance, and that "their number will grow as the exhumations are conducted at the discovered graves."
"Rossiiskaya Gazeta" itself did not balk at putting its own spin on the interview.
The 400 bodies, it said in introductory remarks, belonged to "civilians and executed insurgents." Again, Graudins makes no such claim.
According to Graudins, the international delegation in which he was embedded visited two alleged mass graves, one in the village of Nizhnyaya Krynka, the other at a mine near the village of Kommunar.
The bodies, he is quoted as saying, "lie under a thin layer of earth."
"You can see," he adds, "that the bodies of those killed were hastily thrown into the pit and covered with earth."
Graudins then appears to contradict himself by stating that the bodies were removed prior to the group's arrival due to their "advanced stage of decomposition."
In Nizhyaya Krynka, too, he is unable to provide any evidence that the site ever hosted a mass grave.
He only mentions the "unbearable smell," which, he argues, is proof that "not all bodies have been taken out of the ground."
According to him, the delegation was invited to witness the exhumation process.
Rather implausibly for international monitors investigating allegations of mass graves, the team supposedly declined due to what Graudins describes as time constraints.
"You have to understand the situation there is difficult," he adds. "Ukrainian snipers operate in this area."
Graudins then launches into an emotional account of the ordeal allegedly suffered by local residents at the hands of Ukrainian troops.
"The people of Donbas are still screaming in terror," he says, relating reports that government troops routinely murder innocent civilians "for no reason."
In Nizhyaya Krynka, he claims, the villagers accuse fighters from the pro-Ukrainian "Azov" and "Donbas" battalion of gang-raping every single local woman, including underage girls and elderly women.
"The grief experienced by these women have rendered me speechless," he is quoted as saying.
In a related development illustrating what has been widely denounced as a disinformation campaign in the Russian media, BBC reported that a Russian state television channel is using photos of victims of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines disaster to illustrate its own reports on "mass graves" in eastern Ukraine.