Marianna Vyshemirsky, the pregnant woman photographed escaping a bombed maternity hospital in Mariupol who became a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody war on Ukraine, said she received death threats after false suggestions the photos were fake.
“I received threats that they would come and find me, that I would be killed, that my child would be cut into pieces,” Vyshemirsky told the BBC’s Marianna Spring.
The BBC interview was arranged through Denis Seleznev, a blogger who backs pro-Russian separatists.
Speaking from a separatist part of her native Donbas region, where she has since relocated, the 29-year-old woman who used to work as a beauty influencer described how her life changed overnight.
“We had a quiet and simple life,” Vyshermirsky said. “And then, of course, things were turned upside down.”
She described the dramatic scene at the maternity hospital after it was bombed on May 9, with patients and staff staying in the basement for 15 minutes before they were evacuated. She was one of the last to leave, she told the BBC’s “War on Truth” podcast, because she was not as badly injured as some others.
She became subject to online abuse following a Russian campaign to discredit the photos of her as fake. The claims that she used makeup to paint her bruises started on a pro-Russian Telegram channel. The claims later spread to mainstream Russian media.
“It was really offensive to hear that, because I actually lived through it all,” she said.
Still, she does not blame the Russians, but instead The Associated Press journalists who took the photos, claiming they did not speak to enough people impacted by the attack and allowed readers to get “the impression that it was all staged.”
AP didn’t immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.
This is not the first time Russia has used such tactics to undermine photos and news reports documenting the reality of its war on Ukraine. Russian state TV channels suggested photos and video depicting the atrocities in Bucha were fake. Some Russian media claimed Ukraine staged war crimes to gain world sympathy.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said more than 260 fighters were evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Monday. The country continues to evacuate those remaining, saying they had “completed their mission,” AP reported.