Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Video The 'Well-Known Art Gallery' In Prague Being Hailed By Russian State TV

One of the most famous art galleries in Prague?

Viewers of Russian state TV were introduced this week to a revealing photo exhibit being held at "one of the most famous art galleries in Prague."

Organizers are describing the exhibit as an "attempt to overcome the conspiracy of European media silence on what is happening in Ukraine," according to Rossia-24.

But the televised reports, also being aired on Russia's Channel 5, conspicuously leave out the name of the "well-known" Prague art gallery displaying a collection of photos said to have been taken in the aftermath of a fire at Odesa's trade-union building that killed over 40 supporters of pro-Russian separatists.

It is certainly conceivable that one of Prague's more eminent spaces -- the Leica Gallery, New Town Hall, or Prague House, for instance -- would be interested in hosting an exhibit on the horrific May 2 fire, sparked after earlier clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters in which gunfire reportedly killed at least four on the pro-Kyiv side.

But none of them is. Turns out, the display is in an otherwise nondescript fifth-floor hallway in the building housing the Czech communist party, officially called the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia.

During a midday visit by RFE/RL two days after the show's opening, the hall was empty aside from two elderly members of the communist-linked "Czech Borderlands Club" lounging in armchairs lining the walls. 

The exhibit consists of some 20 pixelated photos collected from the Internet, printed on computer paper and glued onto the backs of glass frames. 

Many of the gruesome pictures have appeared widely online.

Monika Horeni, an editor at "Halo noviny," the Czech communist party's news arm and an organizer for the show, says she was asked to display the photos by a Ukrainian who opposes the government in Kyiv. 

Speaking to RFE/RL, the 48-year-old, wearing a "Remember Odesa, Stop Fascism" pin, appeared to parallel Russian state media, which has frequently used misinformation to cast Ukraine's post-Euromaidan leadership as an "illegal junta" influenced by fascism.

"Czech residents don't get objective information from Czech media, unfortunately," Horeni said, speaking Russian. "But we try to show it, because we are convinced that in Ukraine bad things are happening. The current authorities are putschists and many of them didn't come to power democratically. "

Horeni said 20 to 30 people came to the opening in early July, but admitted visitors have since been sparse.

-- Glenn Kates


Video Russian State TV Adds Its Own Twist To RFE/RL Video

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service filmed the disgruntled soldier last week.

Russian state-television is suddenly broadcasting RFE/RL videos -- albeit unattributed. 

On June 19, Rossia 24 broadcast segments of two separate videos shot in eastern Ukraine by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Contrasting the state broadcaster's angle with the on-the-ground reporting by our reporters provides a useful case study in how a video's context can be shifted to represent one particular point of view. 

Video 1: The Disgruntled Soldier

The first video features a Ukrainian national guardsman who is brutal in his criticism of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. 

"Comrade Poroshenko, please establish order if you're a real president and a man of your word," he said. "All of us are beginning to think that we're being used as cannon fodder."

He went on to complain about a lack of apparent strategy, backup support, and food rations.

Rossia 24 aired these complaints, including a threat to turn around and go to Kyiv, here.  

The channel also claimed, wrongly, that the video was posted on the Internet by members of the Ukrainian National Guard. 

What Rossia 24 omits, however, is the soldier's account of why he is in the east in the first place. 

Referring to armed separatists who have been engaged in fighting with Ukraine's military forces since occupying buildings in April, the soldier appealed to Poroshenko to "bring together qualified, reasonable army professionals who can defeat the [separatist] monster that has emerged here."

He added that "We are defending our country absolutely for free." 
 
Ukrainian National Guard Soldier: 'We're Used As Cannon Fodder'i
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June 18, 2014
A member of Ukraine's National Guard has complained about a lack of proper military planning as troops fight the separatist insurgency in the country's east. The unidentified soldier, whose voice has been altered for this video, pleaded with the government to provide more professional support for Ukrainian military operations. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)


So, Rossia -- a channel that has provided a steady flow of coverage in support of the separatist cause -- is content to air the grievances toward Kyiv of a disgruntled Ukrainian volunteer without also showing how he feels about pro-Russian militiamen. 

Video 2: Slovyansk Shelling

In the aftermath of two Rossia 24 journalists being killed earlier this week when Ukrainian troops attacked a separatist checkpoint in Luhansk, Rossia 24 used another RFE/RL video -- of Ukrainian National Guardsmen shelling in a Slovyansk suburb --  to imply that the deaths may not have been a mistake made in the fog of war. 

"They take aim carefully, choosing their targets," a Rossia 24 reporter said over the footage of the shelling. "Fighters of the National Guard are performing an execution in a suburb of Slovyansk. They brag that they can hit a person from several kilometers away. But after the demise of our colleagues, many said Ukrainian soldiers didn't see who they were firing at."

The Rossia 24 report then used audio from the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service report:

"Is it possible to hit [the target] from such a distance?" the RFE/RL journalist asks.

"It is possible," the soldier answers. "With good aim, it's possible to hit the target." 
 
The Rossia 24 version of the video, however, omits the claim by the same soldier -- included in the original RFE/RL video -- that civilians had left the village they were shelling two to three weeks ago.
 
RFE/RL cannot independently confirm the soldier's claim.  

-- RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service/Glenn Kates

Russian Media Claims About State Spokeswoman Appear To Be Fantasy

Jen Psaki

An article about a U.S. State Department spokeswoman in the official newspaper of the Russian government appears to be completely made up. 

On June 20, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that Jen Psaki had rejected claims that Ukrainians were fleeing to Russia's southern Rostov region. 

According to the newspaper, AP's diplomatic correspondent, Matthew Lee, then asked her to explain "all the women and children arriving in Russia's regions." 

"It's tourists" who come for Rostov's "beautiful mountains and curative air" she reportedly responded "without hesitation." 

The first problem with the statement? Rostov is generally flat, with no land more than 253 meters above sea level. 

The second problem? The conversation apparently never took place.

Lee denied it on Twitter today.
 


And there was no similar conversation found in a search of State Department transcripts. 

But the phantom back-and-forth between him and Psaki, which was apparently first reported on a talk show on Russia's state-run First Channel, had already quickly spread in Russian media. A Russian-language Google News search for mentions of Psaki and Rostov on June 20 returned over 120 results. 
 


"Psaki has once again demonstrated her incompetence," tweeted LifeNews, an outlet believed to have ties to Russia's security services. "She called Ukrainian refugees tourists." 
 


Psaki has been in the crosshairs of Russian media and supporters of the Kremlin since early May, when, in explaining Washington's refusal to recognize separatist referendum votes in eastern Ukraine, she mentioned carousel voting -- an election rigging method by which voters are bussed around to cast ballots in multiple polling stations.   

Lee, the AP correspondent, followed up by asking her to explain the term and Psaki awkwardly admitted that she was not "familiar with it." 

Shortly after, Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Russia's propaganda arm, Russia Today, introduced "Psaking," a new word based on the incident. 

"“People say [Psaking] when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don’t understand, mixes facts up, and then doesn’t apologize," he said. 

As of writing "Rossiiskaya gazeta" had not yet issued a correction. 

-- Glenn Kates


Watch A Russian News Anchor's Reaction When He Hears A Surprising Opinion

RBK anchor Yury Tamantsev gets an answer he doesn't expect on Russian TV.

RBK is a Russian business news agency not known for the sort of over-the-top, pro-Kremlin coverage of state television channels. It is owned by a group led by Russian billionaire and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
 
Still, over the course of a five-minute interview with the chairman of the Independent Association of Ukrainian Miners, the host of an RBK television program seemed to morph from reserved to agitated to angry.
 
The video below is in Russian, but even if you don't speak the language, the change of tone is obvious.

WATCH: Mykhaylo Volinets interviewed by RBK TV
 The guest, Mykhaylo Volinets, begins by claiming that, over the weekend, "men in masks with automatic weapons" had occupied a Donetsk mine and taken its general director prisoner.
 
"The majority of the Donetsk miners don't support the actions of [pro-Russian] separatists," he continues. "But many -- especially Russia -- are trying to destabilize the country's east. If it weren't for the actions of Russia to destabilize the situation we could peacefully resolve it. "
 
The anchor, Yury Tamantsev, now with his arms crossed, takes a long breath. He claims that a week ago he had seen images of miners protesting against the Ukrainian military operation in the region. It's hard to believe, he says, that they had changed their mind. 
 
"There are different opinions," says Volinets, who goes on to argue that a range of complex measures should be taken to staunch the unrest, including negotiations and an end to violence. Nonetheless, he concludes, it's impossible as long as Russian arms are illegally crossing into Ukraine.
 
Now Tamantsev is agitated. He answers with a sentence that is marvelous for its unintentional irony.
 
"Did you see [the arms] yourself?" he asks. "You are just broadcasting the opinion of Ukrainian television now. For what?"
 
Volinets begins to speak and the host cuts him off.
 
"You said there are different opinions, but your opinion is also just one out of many, do you agree?"
 
Volinets again brings up weapons, as the host's rage builds.
 
"Where did you see them, on Ukrainian TV? Come on, let's talk about what we know is fact," he says, adding that there was no way that the miners have suddenly all turned against the separatists. 
 
"I don't want to fault you, I'm just going over the facts on the ground," Volinets answers. 

"You're not incriminating me in particular, but an entire country in something you can't concretely prove."
 
Volinets tries to speak again, but by now the exasperated host has had enough. He ends the discussion.

-- Glenn Kates

How To Project A Fringe Website Onto 'American Media'

"American Media: Obama Supports State Terror In Eastern Ukraine"

As much as it dismisses the West, Russian media sometimes appears obsessed with Western coverage of the issues that affect Russia -- particularly when that coverage even peripherally supports Moscow's message.

When CNN appeared to implicate Kyiv in a blast at the Luhansk administration building last week, Russia's two main state-controlled channels ran stories on the CNN report, as did the state-run RIA Novosti news agency and the Kremlin's international RT network.

In May, when "The Guardian" ran a controversial (and widely debunked) opinion piece by John Pilger that claimed the United States and the West had unleashed "fascist forces" on Ukraine, virtually all major Russian media provided coverage.

But what should Russian media do if the English-language source criticizing the West is neither "The Guardian" or CNN?

What if there's a picture-perfect, hyperbolic, red-meat headline -- in this case, "Obama Backs State Terror Against Eastern Ukraine" -- but the publication running the piece is called the "World Socialist Web Site"?

What if that website is sponsored by the International Committee of the Fourth International, which is apparently a group devoted to implementing the teachings of Leon Trotsky. 

In other words, what should Russian media do when it wants to quote a fringe source but give it mainstream credibility?

Apparently it can follow the example of "Vzglyad," a website founded by Konstantin Rykov, a pro-Kremlin media entrepreneur. It can bury the source, while projecting its opinion on American media in general.

Here is "Vzglyad's" headline: "American Media: Obama Supports State Terror In Eastern Ukraine."

The article never mentions the "World Socialist Web Site," although it does link to "Axis of Logic," another fringe website that republished the original opinion piece.

A tweet by Rykov, with just the headline, has been retweeted 90 times as of this writing:

According to Alexa.com, a company that provides web-traffic data, "Vzglyad" ranks 82nd in visits and page views in Russia. The "World Socialist Web Site" ranks No. 42,430 in the United States.

Correction: This post originally stated that Alexa did not provide a U.S. ranking for the "World Socialist Web Site." In fact, it does, as noted in the comments. 

-- Glenn Kates

Video Despite Denials, All Evidence For Deadly Explosion Points To Kyiv

Firefighters arrive at the state administration building after the explosion in Luhansk on June 2.

On June 2 an explosion ripped through the Luhansk state administration building.

Before anyone knew what had happened, graphic video from the scene began to appear online. A dazed woman with her legs blown off and seemingly near death stared blankly into a camera amid rubble and lifeless bodies.

Just as soon, rumors began to spread about what had taken place.

As is happening more and more frequently, both the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides were quick to latch onto stories that fit comfortably into their narrative of events on the ground.

Separatist supporters reported almost immediately that the attack came from a Ukrainian fighter jet.

From Ukrainian officials, the denials were swift. "The most likely cause of the explosion was careless and inept handling of small arms and explosives," Oleksandr Dmytrashevskyy, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Andriy Senchenko, deputy chief of staff for acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, declared that a heat-seeking missile fired by pro-Russian separatists had mistakenly targeted an air-conditioning unit on the fourth floor of the administration building.

Video from the scene showed a blown-out fourth-floor window with billowing smoke:
Luhansk Explosion Leaves Casualties, Damagei
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June 02, 2014
Video from the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk shows men trying to move a body amid scattered debris outside the damaged regional administration building after an explosion there. The administration building is under the control of the leaders of the separatist self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic." The footage was provided to Reuters by ANNA News.

Pro-Ukrainian supporters were quick to run with the story:

Despite the Ukrainian denials, the evidence from observers and journalists on the ground overwhelmingly points to a strike from a Ukrainian aircraft.

A June 3 report from the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said: 
 
"Based on the SMM's limited observation these strikes were the result of non-guided rockets shot from an aircraft. The number of casualties is unknown."

The OSCE did not immediately reply to a request for further information.

A CNN investigation found "clear evidence" that the detonations came from the air:
 
"But a CNN investigation in Luhansk has found clear evidence that whatever detonations hit the building and the adjoining park came from the air. The tops of trees were splintered, and a series of small craters -- about a dozen -- had been blasted in a straight line, starting in the park and reaching the walls of the building, blowing out many of its windows and spraying the area with jagged shrapnel. That's what appears to have killed most of the victims and injured 20 more.

"The pattern of the craters clearly indicated some sort of strafing, according to a munitions expert at the scene with CNN. Their size suggested 30-millimeter ordnance, he said, which is standard equipment on the Su-25, a ground-attack fighter, and the Su-27 -- both combat aircraft operated by Ukraine."

Anna Nemtsova, a reporter for the "Daily Beast," tweeted this from the scene on June 3:

In a dispatch from the scene, Nemtsova also reported seeing 21 craters.

The Ukrainian military -- which has been in a pitched battle for two days against separatists who launched an attack on a border outpost in the region -- has used fighter jets to support its mission in Luhansk.

But it still has not claimed responsibility for the attack on the state administration building, where reports say eight unarmed civilians died.

And the dissembling has become a useful propaganda tool for the Russian side, while apparently hardening public opinion in Luhansk.

A photo making the rounds on Twitter, along with horrific images from the scene, shows the second World Trade Center building being hit on 9/11. The caption says, "air conditioner explosion."

Alex Luhn, a "Guardian" reporter, posted this image of Ukraine's president-elect, who met with U.S. President Obama on June 4 and is due to be sworn in on June 7:

And on a nationally televised Russian talk show hosted by Arkady Mamontov -- a well-known host who has provided a steady stream of sensationalist propaganda about  Ukraine -- commentators said the actions proved the separatists were the last defense against "fascism and American aggression."

All this raises a more troubling question for Kyiv. As it ramps up its offensive against pro-Russian separatists, there are likely to be more civilian casualties -- particularly as air power plays a greater role. If it accepts this, is it also prepared to talk honestly about the consequences of war?

-- Glenn Kates

LifeNews Blames Right Sector, Conscripts For Luhansk Border Fighting

Pro-Russia militants fire from a residential building at Ukrainian border guards defending the Federal Border Headquarters in Luhansk on June 2.

Early morning on June 2, armed insurgents attacked a border-guard checkpoint in the Luhansk region of southeastern Ukraine.
 
According to an unconfirmed account by Ukraine's border-guard service, as many as 400 rebels participated in the operation.
 
Rebel fighters said Ukrainian servicemen had rejected an offer for safe passage if they agreed to abandon their posts.
 
Here is video of the attack, provided by the Ukrainian Border Guard Service:
 
With even rebel fighters admitting an attempt to seize the border-guard outpost, it seems clear that an incursion was initiated by insurgents.
 
But here's how LifeNews -- an Internet video service said to have ties to Russia's security services and criticized as a Kremlin mouthpiece -- frames the battle:
 
"The [Ukrainian] National Guard has opened fire on a southern region of a city in Luhansk," says an anchor for the news portal. "They are using not just small arms but also artillery."
 
She then brings in Aleksei Repin, a correspondent who is reporting from an apartment block apparently located near the fighting.
 
"When did the [Ukrainian] special forces begin their attack and what's happening now?" the anchor asks.
 
Amid the sound of gunfire, Repin explains: "Two-hundred meters from here is the military garrison of the Ukrainian border guards. There are 200 fighters -- including contractors, conscripts, and national guardsmen. We also have information that Right Sector is there as well."
 
Right Sector, an ultranationalist Ukrainian group, has become the go-to bogeyman for Russian authorities, who have accused Ukraine of promoting "fascism."
 
Claims of the group's omnipresence have become more difficult since its presidential candidate, Dmytro Yarosh, received just 1 percent of the vote on May 25.
 
Repin goes on to say that the ragtag Ukrainian group opened fire on the village at 4 a.m., using small arms, sniper weapons, and grenade launchers.
 
The camera then pans to people who appear to be local residents. The correspondent reports that they are running to work.
 
For the non-LifeNews version of what is happening in Luhansk, follow us here.
 
-- Glenn Kates

Video Russian TV Airs Old Footage In Fresh Ukraine Atrocity Claim

What appears to be the same footage was used in a report about a counterterrorist operation in the North Caucasus 18 months ago, and a killing in Ukraine recently.

Both the image and the implication were disturbing: a splayed corpse in an open field that Russian state television suggested was that of a civilian killed by Kyiv's forces to intimidate pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk region.

But the footage of the corpse featured in a May 16 newscast by state-owned broadcaster Rossia-1 appears to be identical to video material aired 18 months earlier in a report on an antiterrorist operation in Russia's restive North Caucasus region.

In its report on fighting between Ukrainian federal forces and militias backing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic near the city of Slovyansk, Rossia-1 set up the footage of the corpse by saying that "every day peaceful civilians continue to die."

The body is then shown lying on the ground next to a handgun as the voiceover explains that the Ukrainian National Guard killed a man whom the armed separatists did not recognize as their own. The weapon was left at the scene to "send a message that an enemy was killed," Rossia-1 explained.
The report, however, shows what appears to be the exact same footage that its sister channel, Rossia-24, used in a November 18, 2012, report about a counterterrorist operation in Russia's North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. 

Five militants were killed in that operation, Rossia-24 reported at the time.

In addition to showing what seems to be the same corpse, both the May 16 report from Ukraine and the 2012 report on the Kabardino-Balkaria operation include apparently identical footage of four armed, uniformed men surveying a grassy, fog-swept field.

The same raw footage was posted on YouTube the same day as the 2012 report on the counterterrorist operation, with Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee cited as the source.
In the May 16 report, Rossia-1 also interviewed a masked separatist holding an assault rifle who alleged that Ukrainian commanders operating in the area had executed their own soldiers who refused to obey "antipopular" orders.

Ukrainian and Western officials have accused the Russian media of engaging in naked propaganda to promote the Kremlin's message that the government in Kyiv is illegitimate and is backing "fascists" bent on persecuting ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who oppose its authority.

Last month, a nationally televised documentary in Russia suggested the Ukrainian government was building an internment camp for those "who speak out" against Ukrainian ultranationalists and for people whom "the current authorities in Kyiv call separatists."

Construction of the facility shown in the documentary, however, was begun in 2012 under then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in late February following mass protests in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities.

The building is part of an EU-funded project to temporarily house illegal migrants.

-- Carl Schreck

'Guardian' Op-Ed Quotes Cryptic Odesa 'Doctor' Seen As Hoax

A screen grab from the Facebook page of "Igor Rozovskiy"

A prominent British journalist’s op-ed for "The Guardian" has cited claims of a looming anti-Semitic crackdown in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa that were made on a Facebook page widely believed to be a hoax.

In his commentary piece published on the British newspaper's website, journalist John Pilger quotes an unidentified "doctor" describing the deadly May 2 violence in Odesa that resulted in the deaths of dozens of pro-Russian activists in a fire at the city’s trade-union building.

"‘I was stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals. One of them pushed me away rudely, promising that soon me and other Jews of Odessa are going to meet the same fate. What occurred yesterday didn't even take place during the fascist occupation in my town in world war two. I wonder, why the whole world is keeping silent,’" Pilger quotes the doctor as saying in the op-ed published on May 13.

The quote is almost identical to assertions made on the Facebook page of a user purporting to be a 39-year-old doctor from Odesa named Igor Rozovskiy. The claims surged through Russian social-media sites, appearing to buttress ominous Russian warnings of a takeover by fascists in Ukraine.
 
The Facebook post purportedly from Rozovskiy
The Facebook post purportedly from Rozovskiy

English, German, and Bulgarian translations of the purported doctor’s testimony were distributed widely via social media as well.

Less than a day after the Facebook post emerged, however, Internet users raised red flags about the veracity of the claims and the doctor’s identity.

The Facebook page used a photograph of Ruslan Semenov, a dentist based in Ust-Dzheguta, a town in Russia's Karachai-Cherkessia Republic, more than 1,200 kilometers away. Moreover, the page has since been removed.

Jewish leaders in Ukraine have rejected Russian claims of a rise in anti-Semitism in the country since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February and fled to Russia.

Leading representatives of Ukraine’s Jewish community took out a full-page advertisement in "The New York Times" in March, stating that even the most marginal nationalistic groups in Ukraine "do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior."

Pilger’s op-ed was the most-viewed article on "The Guardian,'" website over the past 24 hours, according to the newspaper on May 14, and it garnered more than 11,000 Facebook shares and 2,000 tweets.

Neither "The Guardian" nor Pilger responded immediately to emails seeking comment.

-- Luke Johnson

Reports Of Plans To Evacuate Odesa’s Jewish Community Appear To Miss Mark

Jewish men attend morning prayers at a synagogue in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

Odesa’s Chabad House -- one of two functioning synagogues in a city that is home to an estimated 12,000 Jews -- is about a 10-minute walk from the trade union building where a fire killed more than 40 people on May 2, most of them pro-Russian protesters.
 
That Friday, as about 100 people were attending Shabbat prayer services, reports said the smoke could be smelled from the synagogue.
 
Jewish community leaders expressed alarm. Press accounts of that alarm were shocking.
 
“Buses and armed guards: Odessa Jews ready for mass evacuation,” screamed the headline on the website of RT, Russia’s English-language propaganda arm. “Odesa again anticipating a Jewish pogrom,” wrote the UralPress website.
 
The reports derived from a May 5 article in “The Jerusalem Post” addressing concerns among Odesa’s Jews. The paper reported that Rabbi Avraham Wolf, who runs Odesa’s Chabad House and is also the city’s chief rabbi, had prepared a fleet of 70 buses after the May 2 event to evacuate the Jewish community.
 
But in follow-up reports the community denied the plan and a spokesperson for the Russian Jewish Congress said they had been exaggerated in Russian media.
 
On a visit to the synagogue a week after the trade-union-building fire, an RFE/RL reporter saw no buses outside and did not have to pass through any security to enter the building. There was one visible guard, who sat behind a desk in the building’s foyer. He did not question the reporter.
 
Wolf was not in Odesa and was unavailable during RFE/RL’s visit, but Berl Kapulkin, who acts as Chabad House’s press spokesman, said the rabbi’s comments were misinterpreted.
 
Kapulkin said that given the uncertainty about the political situation in the country, there are contingency plans to protect vulnerable communities -- including a Jewish orphanage -- in a worst-case scenario for the city. But nothing has happened that makes him think doing so will ever be necessary.
 
“As citizens of Ukraine, the Jewish community felt tension and indeed depression after the tragedy,” said Kapulkin. “Specifically as Jews, we don’t feel a new threat.”
 
But Kapulkin said some outlets have “peddled” a narrative that attempts to put Jews on one side or another in the battle between those who support pro-Russian separatists and those who support Kyiv.
 
Russia, which has refused to recognize the new authoritiesin Kyiv who came to power when former President Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, has relentlessly accused the government of supporting “fascists” and “anti-Semites.”
 
And in Donetsk, where armed separatists backed by Russia now control much of the region, a mysterious pamphlet was distributed outside a synagogue that demanded that Jews pay the separatist authorities a registration fee or face deportation. This was widely seen as a provocation organized by an opposing political force.
 
Real or not, the constant attention may be having an effect on some in the Jewish community. According to the Jewish Agency, the 762 Jews who emigrated to Israel from Ukraine in the first quarter of 2014 represent more than double the figure for 2013.
 
-- Glenn Kates

Odesa Doctor Or Random Dentist? Claims Of Atrocities, Anti-Semitism Face Scrutiny

A screen grab of the Facebook profile picture of "Igor Rozovskiy," who claims to be a 39-year-old doctor from Odesa.

It was a disturbing detail of the deadly violence that unfolded in Odesa on May 2: A local doctor claimed Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life and warned that the city's Jews would soon be dead also.
 
But less than 24 hours after it began circulating widely on Facebook, this testimony appeared to be unraveling as a potential hoax.
 
The claims were made on the Facebook page of a user purporting to be a 39-year-old doctor in Odesa named Igor Rozovskiy on May 3, the same day that the account was created.
 
"As a doctor I hurried to assist those who could still be saved, but I was stopped by militants who would not let me approach a wounded man," the user wrote. "One of them shoved me aggressively and vowed that soon I and other Jews in Odesa awaited the same fate. ...Nothing like this happened in my city even under fascist occupation."
 
A screen grab of "Igor Rozovskiy's" Facebook post, in which he claims Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life. (Click to enlarge)
A screen grab of "Igor Rozovskiy's" Facebook post, in which he claims Ukrainian nationalists prevented him from saving a man's life. (Click to enlarge)

The testimony jibes with claims by Russia and its supporters in Ukraine that pro-Kyiv forces are teeming with fascists and anti-Semites, allegations that Ukrainian authorities and Western officials say are false.
 
The Russian-language post had gathered more than 5,000 shares on Facebook one day after it appeared, and it also circulated widely on Russia's main social-networking site, Vkontakte.
 
Skepticism about the claims emerged quickly as well, however, and bloggers who began scratching at the surface of the Facebook post say it appears to be part of a coordinated disinformation campaign.
 
The photograph on the Facebook page appears to be that of Ruslan Semenov, a dentist based in Ust-Dzheguta, a town in the Karachai-Cherkessia Republic in Russia's restive North Caucasus region. 
 
It was not immediately clear why, if the Facebook page is legitimate, the author might have used Semenov's photograph.
 
"Unfortunately, Russia, which for the third straight month is engaging in open warfare against Ukraine, works professionally in this sphere," blogger Maksim Savanevskyy wrote on the website of the "Ukrainskaya Pravda" newspaper.
 
Savanevskyy noted that after the Russian-language post began gathering critical mass online, identical translations began circulating in English, German, and Bulgarian. 
 
The government in Kyiv and its allies in the West have accused Russia of engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at ratcheting up tensions and frightening the population in eastern Ukraine about potential repressions by fascists.
 
The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a May 4 statement accusing Western countries of an "information blockade" about the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. 
 
Last month, Russian state-owned broadcaster Rossia 1 interviewed a man they claimed was a pro-Russian protester assaulted by "radical" pro-Kyiv supporters. The same man, meanwhile, told another Russian network, state-friendly NTV, that he was a German mercenary financing unrest in Ukraine.
 
After the man's competing tales came under scrutiny, NTV claimed that the man actually suffered from schizophrenia and that the network had "inadvertently become hostage to a grand hoax."
 
-- Carl Schreck

How Russian Media Turned Construction Site Into 'Concentration Camp'

The TV package, shown nationally in Russia on April 27, followed a Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressing "extreme anxiety" over the construction of buildings "reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps."

Viewed with the sound off, it appears on video to be a tour of a typical construction site in eastern Ukraine.

But unmuted, the report by Russian TV host Arkady Mamontov becomes more ominous. As eerie music overlays the din of power drills, the camera zooms in on a tube protruding from a piece of brick wall and then quickly cuts to what appears to be a small shower room.

For Mamontov, the implication is obvious -- these are concentration camps being built for pro-Russian supporters "who speak out against Right Sector and the people who the powers in Kyiv call separatists."

"The camera will show everything," he says.
The package, shown nationally in Russia on April 27, followed a Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressing "extreme anxiety" over the construction of buildings "reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps."

The truth: The building has been under construction since 2012, when Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-leaning president who fled Kyiv for Russia in late February, was still in power. It is one of two buildings being constructed as part of an EU-funded project to temporarily house illegal migrants.

"In accordance with Ukrainian legislation, the places are entirely for the placement of foreigners and stateless people to be placed until orders for their expulsion are completed," Serhiy Hunko, press spokesman for Ukraine's state migration service, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "Under no circumstances can Ukrainians be placed there."

Moscow has relentlessly invoked the threat of 1940s-era Nazism to both invoke fears of the new authorities in Kyiv, which it refuses to recognize as legitimate, and to reach into the well of Russian patriotism that springs from the Soviet Union's World War II victory.

While the far-right Svoboda party does hold some government posts, there has been little evidence of widespread ultranationalism. Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, an ultranationalist group mentioned by Mamontov and continuously cited by Moscow as a threat to Russian speakers, is polling at less than 2 percent in his quixotic presidential run.

A second reporter working with Mamontov on his story dismisses the explanation that the EU would build a holding center for migrants. "What interest would the EU have in building deportation facilities?" she asks.

She does not bother to ask why the EU would be interested in investing in new concentration camps.

-- Glenn Kates and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Russian Media Coverage Of The Donetsk Attack On Pro-Ukraine Protesters

Clashes in Donetsk.

This is what we know happened in Donetsk on April 28: About 2,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of the eastern city for a march in support of a united Ukraine. 

They were attacked by some 100 men wielding various accoutrements -- including metal rods, baseball bats, and truncheons. 

How do we know this is what happened? Our reporters were there:
 
Pro-Russia Militants Attack Ukrainian Unity March In Donetski
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April 29, 2014
Violence broke out in Donetsk on April 28 after pro-Russia militants attacked a Ukrainian unity march. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

But you don't have to take our word for it. 

From the Global Post: 
 

From "The Telegraph":
 

A short video report from ITV News:
 
It's usually not this simple. On April 27, when pro-Kyiv football ultras clashed with pro-Russian separatists there was clearly violence emanating from both sides. In the case of yesterday's events in Donetsk, however, the evidence of a largely one-sided attack appears to be overwhelming. 

But Russian media has an altogether different story. 

From ITAR-TASS, a state-run news agency:
 
"On April 28, masked men shouting nationalist slogans attacked a [pro-Russian] anti-fascist rally. Several dozen radical [pro-Kyiv] activists began throwing stones at the [pro-Russian] procession. They also reportedly had grenades. Rebuffed, the attackers fled." 

In linking to the report, Tikhon Dzyadko, a host for the liberal Russian Dozhd TV channel, said ITAR-TASS had gone from "continuing to lie" to "plain fantasizing." 
 

Russian TV blamed pro-Kyiv football hooligans for attacking "pro-federalization" protesters.

The Pravda.ru website took the story a step further, claiming the pro-Kyiv protesters -- linked in the report to a Nazi SS "glorification" group -- tried to carry out a "real cleaning" of the streats of Donetsk.  
 
"The [pro-Kyiv] radicals started to attack people, including passersby, beating them with bats," a report on the site said.  

Meanwhile, Graham Phillips, a freelancer for RT, the Russian government's English-language outlet, said Western journalists were being overly simplistic in their descriptions of events. 
 

Although he granted that the pro-Russia side was "just militant today," he said the pro-Kyiv demonstrators had a "peaceful and militant side." And he appeared to blame the "militants" on the Ukrainian side for purposely marching the demonstrators into a pro-Russian attack. 
 

An RT report relied almost exclusively on Phillips' curated tweets -- excluding the one about the militant nature of the Russian side and another about hundreds of peaceful Ukrainians -- and on quotes from the press spokesperson of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, who told RT 1,000 "neo-Nazi thugs" had attacked peaceful pro-Russian protesters.  

-- Glenn Kates, with reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

RT Claims 'Substantiated' In Four Tweets And A Video

A screen grab from Russia's RT TV station

The Russian government-run RT TV channel claims on its website that it "provides an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints international audience (sic) with the Russian viewpoint."

But the "Russian viewpoint" it provides has been harshly criticized by Western journalists -- and yesterday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- as nothing short of Russian propaganda.

Using language seemingly derived directly from Moscow, the channel refers to officials in Kyiv as "coup-appointed" and armed activists who have taken journalists as hostages in eastern and southern Ukraine as peaceful "pro-federalization" protesters.

After Kerry's comments calling the channel a "propaganda bullhorn," Buzzfeed reported that Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor in chief, promised to seek "an official response from the U.S. Department of State substantiating Mr. Kerry's claims."

A quick look at some posts on Twitter over the past week from RT-linked accounts might make such a substantiation effort rather easy. 

Here are just a few: 

"Ukraine, R.I.P," Simonyan tweeted on April 24. 

The photo below was originally taken by the channel's British contract freelancer Graham Phillips, who claimed the picture showed two snipers. He calls the government in Kyiv a "junta," but in his tweets he has said Ukrainian soldiers he has encountered are "polite" and "nice." RT, reposting his photo, used a different tone. "The Ukrainian army uses snipers against residents of the country's southeast," the channel tweeted.

After an interview with Sergei Lavrov, in which the Russian foreign minister hinted that Moscow would consider invading Ukraine, TV host Sophie Shevardnadze posted this photo:

Check out the caption used during the interview:

Here's what is said to be a spontaneous encounter during one of Phillips' stand-ups. The man on the left has also appeared recently on the Russian language LifeNews channel (at the 45-second mark), which is widely reported to have ties to Russia's security services.
The BBC's Daniel Sandford, who is also reporting from Slovyansk, questioned the veracity of the video, saying it "looks fake." Phillips said the comment was "deeply hurtful." We cannot verify either claim.

-- Glenn Kates

The Online Debate Over A Mysterious Russian 'Medal'

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol.

That the Russian Defense Ministry would present a medal to compatriots for "the return of Crimea" to Russia would not normally turn heads. 

It is pictures of what is allegedly written on the back that have caused alarm. 

Photos that originally appeared on the Facebook page of Volodimir Prosin, a historian and journalist from the Luhansk region of Ukraine, show what he claims is the backside of the medal. "For the Return of Crimea: February 20, 2014 - March 18, 2014," it says.  

The end date makes sense -- on March 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the territory. On February 20, however, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was still in power, Russian troops were still relegated to their Black Sea fleets. And in Kyiv, on that date, over 60 antigovernment protesters were killed by snipers believed to be under the control of Yanukovych. 
 



Putin has said the decision to support a referendum on Crimea took place only after a secret poll conducted after new authorities -- who he claims present a threat to Russian speakers -- took over in Kyiv on February 22. 

We do not normally report on Internet rumors and we cannot confirm the photos, but the circumstances surrounding the medals drew our interest. 

According to Rustem Adagamov, a well-known Russian blogger and photographer, pictures of a March 25 medal ceremony in Crimea, along with the frontside of the awards, were posted to the Russian Defense Ministry website, but then taken down on the same day.  

And "Russian Ribbon," a ribbon-manufacturing company, claimed in a celebratory note, along with photos on its website, that it had been commissioned to "rush" and order the trimming to accompany the medals.  

Evgeniy Levkovich, a journalist for the Russian-language edition of "Rolling Stone," claimed on Facebook that after a conversation with "Russian Ribbon's" general director he had determined that the February 20-dated medal was "not a fake." 

Levkovich said the director, Vera Yolkina, told him that an order for the medals had come directly from the Defense Ministry. 

In a conversation with RFE/RL though, Yolkina acknowledged that her company had agreed to manufacture the ribbons for the Defense Ministry, but said they had never actually seen the metal pieces that would accompany them.

"Only on the Internet did we see them," she said. 

An official at Russia's Defense Ministry, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, denied altogether that such a medal existed. 

"There has never been a liberation of Crimea," he said. "There was a referendum and the people decided." 

-- Glenn Kates, Crimea Unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service


Video Sergei Lavrov's U-Turn On Invasion

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent statements suggest it might only be a matter of time before Russia makes an incursion into Ukraine. (file photo)

In early March, as Russia deployed thousands of troops in Crimea to back the process of the peninsula's annexation, it also began to build up its troop presence on the country's border with Ukraine.
 
At the same time, Russia denied that the buildup was anything more than a military exercise. 
  
Many suspected that Moscow's next target would be Ukraine's south and east -- where there are large Russian-speaking populations -- and reacted skeptically to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's repeated denials that Moscow had "plans to send troops into the rest of Ukraine. 
 
But since the apparent failure of a de-escalation agreement signed in Geneva last week, Lavrov's rhetoric has become harsher -- and in an interview with RT on April 23 -- he all but said Russia was on the brink of war with Ukraine.
 
See how his statements have evolved over the past five weeks below:
 
March 14: After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Lavrov said "Russia does not have -- and cannot have -- any plans to invade the southeastern regions of Ukraine."
 
March 29: On Russian state TV:  "We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border -- absolutely [none]." 
 
April 11: Responding to a question on Russian state TV about whether Moscow had plans to take over the south and east of Ukraine: "We can't have that wish -- it goes against Russia's fundamental interests."
   
April 23: On RT, Russia's state-run English-language news outlet: ""If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law. Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation." Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008 after fighting broke out between Georgia and its Russia-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia.
 

-- Glenn Kates

Video Jewish Community Becomes Unwilling Participant In Ukrainian Political Battle

A woman walks past a swastika and the inscription "Death to Jews' painted on a wall in an underpass in Kyiv. File photo

Glenn Kates
The origins of an anti-Semitic flyer distributed in eastern Ukraine this week are still unclear.
 
But the international controversy it provoked may point to evidence that Ukraine's Jews have become unwilling political tools in the battle for the country's future.
 
The most recent incident allegedly happened on April 15, but it took two days to bubble into the full-blown international scandal it has become.
 
On the first night of Passover, as congregants were leaving synagogue in Donetsk, three masked men reportedly distributed leaflets supposedly stamped and signed by the "governor" of the self-proclaimed and pro-Moscow "People's Republic of Donetsk." The document demanded that all Jews over the age of 16 register and pay a fee or risk being deported as punishment for their "support" of the government in Kyiv.
 
Denis Pushilin, the man named in the letter and a leader of pro-Moscow separatists who have been occupying a Donetsk administration building for 11 days, says his organization had nothing to do with the missive. Many are now calling it a provocation.
 
A picture of the letter spread on social media, after being published on an Israeli website on April 16.
 
On April 17, U.S. officials weighed in. Geoffrey Pyatt, the American Ambassador to Ukraine tweeted about it throughout the day  - including retweets that directly implicated the separatists -- and went on CNN to declare that the letter was "the real deal." 
 

And in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the leaflet was "intolerable" and "grotesque."
 
Pinkhas Vishedski, the region's chief rabbi -- who was originally reported to be "shocked and hysterical" about the letter -- had a different message.
 
"Whoever was behind this is an open question," he told a local TV station. "But inasmuch as it is a simple provocation it should be treated accordingly. Full stop and end of discussion."
 
Yehuda Kelerman, a Jewish community leader in Donetsk, says the anti-Semitic leaflet may have been a provocation.

WATCH: Donetsk Jewish Leader On Anti-Semitic Leaflets
Donetsk Jewish Community Leader Says Origins Of Anti-Semitic Leaflets Uncleari
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Yehuda Kelerman, a Jewish community leader in Donetsk, said the leaders of pro-Russia separatists denied any role in the making of anti-Semitic leaflets recently distributed around the city. Carrying the stamp of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, the leaflets demanded that Jewish people over age 16 register with local authorities. In an interview with RFE/RL April 18, Kelerman called the leaflets a "provocation" and said their origins were unclear. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)
 
Vishedski's sentiment may be a reflection of a growing weariness of charges of "anti-Semitism" taking on the appearance of political maneuvering in the battle for Ukraine.
 
Since antigovernment protests began in December and eventually led to Ukraine's pro-Moscow government being replaced, charges of "anti-Semitism" and "fascism" have largely been levelled by Russia. Moscow has claimed that both the ultranationalist Right Sector group and the nationalist Svoboda party have an outsized role in the new government. 
 
When Vladimir Putin warned in March about anti-Semitic bandits roaming Kyiv, a group of Jewish community leaders published an open letter to the Russian president asking him to stop speaking in the name of Ukrainian Jews.
 
Over the past two months, there have been a series of attacks on Jewish sites and often it has been unclear whether they have come from Ukrainian nationalists or from proponents of Moscow attempting to foment evidence of a fascist threat.
 
In late February, as a movement to join Crimea with Russia was taking shape, an RFE/RL correspondent photographed a synagogue in Simferopol, the peninsula's capital city, that said "death to Yids," a derogatory term for Jews.
 
The head of the Crimea's Jewish community told RFE/RL he suspected a provocation by pro-Russian forces meant to imitate Right Sector.
 
In April, a Holocaust memorial in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa was desecrated with Swastikas and "Right Sector" symbols.
 
Russian media was quick to pick up on the story, but again Right Sector leaders denied a role and claimed it was a provocation. A leader of the group travelled from Kyiv to help clean up anti-Jewish graffiti and reportedly offered the Jewish community there "protection." 
 
It is not clear, however, if "protection" with political undertones is something Ukraine's Jewish community wants.
 
The most recent attack in Donetsk prompted condemnation from the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League. But a statement from the organization's director, Abraham Foxman, also included a request to political leaders.
 
“We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year,” he said. "The perpetrators and their targets are opposing politicians and political movements, but the true victims are the Jewish communities."

Russian Professor Explains Media Manipulation

Valery Solovei says that in order to create a new reality for Kyiv, Ukraine must look absolutely untenable as a functioning state.

Russian state media has been skewered in the West for its often outlandish coverage of events in Ukraine.

The "misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and occasionally, outright lies," reverberate "hour after hour, day after day, week after week" on Russian TV, according to "The New York Times" on April 15.

But according to a poll, conducted in late March by the state-funded Public Opinion Foundation, some two-thirds of the Russian population trust government-controlled television more than any other medium.

A lecture by a history professor, apparently recorded in mid-April, sheds some light on Moscow's media strategy and why it seems to work.

"Television determines the agenda," says Valery Solovei, in his hourlong talk at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). "The methods that I am talking about create a world view, something that's called a 'reality.' A reality is created for us. If we see this reality the way it is brought to us by television, then we act in accordance with this reality."

WATCH: Outtakes from the lecture by Valery Solovei.
Moscow Professor Explains Russia's Ukraine Media Strategyi
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Outtakes from an April 2014 lecture by Valery Solovei, a professor of history, at Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
​(Watch the full lecture, in Russian, here )

Solovei says that in order to create a new reality for Kyiv, Ukraine must look absolutely untenable as a functioning state.

"You will recall the news reports in January when the really bloody events took place, the rapidly changing images of flames, burning tires, running people, alarming music," he says, referring to antigovernment protests in the Ukrainian capital. "What do you think it's for? For dramatic effect? No. There is a much bigger meaning behind it."

"Chaos is the key word," Solovei explains. "All of it is done to create a stable association in our minds: Ukraine is chaos. It is an old mythologem -- Chaos as a protoplasm from which the gods will then create the world. And what is Russia then? Russia is Cosmos, it is order, and it is the foundation of peace and stability."

"If you watch Russian TV you will see that Russia has no problems other than the adaptation of Crimea. We have no inflation, no decreasing incomes. We don't have any of the typical big-city problems. Russia has none of that. Everything is alright in Russia. What is it? It is called the manipulation of the agenda."

An RFE/RL journalist recently observed this prevailing blend of western chaos and Russian calm through a day of Russian TV watching.

At one point, a student, who seems to be offended by Solovei's speech, objects from the back of the room: "Have you seen what's happening there? They're completely out of control!"

"I beg your pardon," the professor responds. "But it absolutely does not matter how much the real picture corresponds with the media picture. An overwhelming majority of television viewers have never been and will never travel there. And they make their judgment based on the television picture and not on what happens in reality."

-- Glenn Kates and Pavel Butorin

In Eastern Ukraine, The Hunt For A Smoking Gun -- And A Real Russian Holding It

Pro-Russian gunmen stand guard outside the mayor's office in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on April 14. Can Kyiv prove some are Russian servicemen?

Daisy Sindelar
As separatists continue to hold government buildings throughout the Ukrainian east, a desperate search is on to prove that Russian forces are behind the coordinated actions, much as they were in Crimea.

The proof would cement suspicions that Russia, which has maintained a military presence on Ukraine's eastern border for months, is preparing to further destabilize its already fragile neighbor, if not annex certain portions of it outright.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continues to insist that Russia has none of its forces inside Ukraine.

But Western officials say they are already convinced of Russian involvement. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the weekend instability that swept through cities like Slovyansk, Mariupol, and Kramatorsk "was choreographed in and by Russia."

Ukrainian officials, too, have offered evidence of Russian involvement. In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said the armed men seizing government buildings were armed with automatic rifles used by the Russian Army, and not the types of rifles stolen from Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) forces, as many pro-Russian protesters have claimed. (Although he does not offer specific details, Deshchytsya appears to be referring to documented use of Kalashnikov AK-100 rifles, which are not part of the Ukrainian arsenal.)

But it may be Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, who holds the true smoking gun. Parubiy, a former lawmaker and Euromaidan protest leader, announced on April 15 that SBU agents had detained officers from the Russian Defense Ministry's main intelligence wing, the GRU, for involvement in the eastern actions.

The "Kyiv Post" later identified the main detainee as Igor Strelkov, a GRU commanding officer and the leader of the paramilitary group that has taken control in the eastern city of Slovyansk. The SBU said Strelkov arrived in Crimea at the beginning of March and had been identified in a recorded telephone conversation with a Moscow official on April 14: 
In addition to working with Russian troops and special forces, Strelkov had reportedly recruited Ukrainian citizens to help conduct subversive activities. Parubiy said Ukrainians were among those detained.

Nelya Shtepa, the mayor of Slovyansk, said in a television interview on April 15 that the "little green men" -- as pro-Russian fighters without identifying insignia have come to be called -- had not attempted to hide that they were from Crimea and Russia when storming city buildings on April 14.

The Foreign Ministry will release evidence on April 17 that it says will also prove the involvement of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in the separatist plots. The SBU says it has determined as well that separatist groups were receiving funding from an unidentified Russian bank.

Elsewhere, the direct presence of Russian forces has been more difficult to prove. Several videos from the city of Horlivka show a man dressed in military camouflage announcing a new occupation-led government and identifying himself as a lieutenant colonel with the Russian armed forces. Several observers, however, have pointed out inconsistencies in the claim, such as the fact that the man's uniform is unmarked, he wears a casual black baseball cap rather than a regulation watch cap, and as documentation presents a Russian passport rather than military identification.

Elsewhere, there are disturbing suggestions of Ukrainian involvement in the unrest. Writing on Facebook, Kyiv-based political analyst Ivan Lozowy cites an informed source as reporting that pro-Kyiv self-defense forces in another besieged city, Luhansk, have come under the command of the region's deputy governor, Vasyl Khoma, who is suspected of earlier colluding with "titushky" and other hired fighters to stage attacks on Euromaidan protesters.

Even more worryingly, the deal was reportedly struck by Kharkiv's pro-Moscow mayor, Hennadiy Kernes, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Avakov has increasingly come under fire in recent weeks, with protesters in Kyiv on April 14 calling on him to resign and for the central government to take action to quell the separatist uprisings in the east.

Video Foreign Mercenary Or Pro-Russian Patriot? Depends On The Russian TV Channel

"Andrei Petkov" as he appears in the NTV report

Meet Andrei Petkhov. Actually, make that Petkov.

He emigrated to Germany some 20 years ago but traveled to the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv recently to act as a mercenary organizing against pro-Russian protesters.

Wait, check that. It seems the 40-year-old is a local pro-Russian patriot who "as per the usual" went to Mykolaiv's central square to peacefully protest the "radical" government in Kyiv.

So who is Petk(h)ov? That depends on whether you're watching the Russian state-run NTV or the state-run Rossia 1 channel.

On NTV, he is the foreigner Petkhov, who brought 500,000 euros from Germany to stir up trouble but accidentally got caught up in an attack orchestrated by Ukrainian ultranationalist Right Sector members on peaceful pro-Russian protesters. He has been hospitalized with a broken leg and nose.
NTV: German Mercenary Brings 500,000 Euros To Ukraine For Right Sectori
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"His ward is being heavily guarded now, but our correspondents were able to record an exclusive interview with him," says NTV. 

In the rambling interview, Petkhov, who claims to be a doctor who holds four passports, says that on April 7 he arrived at an anti-Kyiv protest camp where he immediately saw a woman who had injured her hand. As he began to treat her, he says, drunk radicals began attacking the peaceful protesters with stun grenades, truncheons, and firearms. 

"In five minutes, my life changed," he says. "I was in your city for 24 hours and by the evening I was nearly killed." 

Petkhov, who also says he is suffering from a concussion, says he is a representative of a group whose name he "doesn't want to discuss." He never claims to have been sent to fight against the pro-Russian protesters. Nonetheless, NTV's interpretation of his story is clear.

"German mercenary comes to Ukraine with 500,000 euros for Right Sector," says the video's headline on the NTV website.

But Rossia 1 provides more than just a different camera angle on NTV's exclusive. In its report, the patient, now the local Petkov, is seen lying in what is apparently the same facility. This time the camera pans to an orange and black ribbon of Saint George -- a symbol of the pro-Russian protests -- tied to his bedpost. 

"Forty-year-old Andrei Petkov won't be able to walk for half a year," says the Rossia 1 correspondent. "On April 7 Andrei came as usual to the central square to openly declare his unhappiness with the actions of the new authorities in Kyiv. But at the peaceful protests, radicals suddenly began a campaign of absolute carnage." 
Rossia 1: Victim Describes Attack By Right Sector Nationalistsi
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Petkov, who speaks only briefly in the report, now claims an armed man nearly took his life. 

"He put a gun to my temple as I was lying on the ground," he says. "He said he was going to kill me. I said, 'Shoot.' And then some girls ran up to us, kicked him, and he left."

The story then leaves Petkov and cuts to a segment explaining how the Ukrainian authorities allegedly bussed in radicals and coordinated with them to destroy the peaceful pro-Russian protest camps. Anti-Kyiv protesters show the Rossia 1 reporter spent cartridges they say are from ammunition used against them. 

So who is Petk(h)ov? It's impossible to say for sure -- First Channel, Russia's third major state TV station, has yet to submit a report.

-- Glenn Kates

About #UkraineUnspun

The information war is in full swing in the tense standoff between Ukraine and Russia. In an attempt to present a clearer picture, #UkraineUnspun will unravel information coming from Russian and Ukrainian media, politicians and activists. Written by Glenn Kates and contributors from RFE/RL.

Follow the hashtag #UkraineUnspun on Twitter and let us know what we should be covering -- or to weigh in on any of our stories. Or write us at webteam@rferl.org
 

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