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

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