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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