BBC reports on the suspicious destruction of a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol were co-authored by a Ukrainian PR agent tied to a firm at the forefront of her country’s information warfare efforts.
Before serving as a fixer and reporter for the BBC in Ukraine, Orysia Khimiak handled PR for a start-up called Reface which created what the Washington Post called a “reality distorting app” now serving as “a kind of Ukrainian war-messaging tool,” Max Blumenthal wrote in The Gray Zone.
Article source: BBC correspondent-fixer shaping Ukraine war coverage is PR operative involved in “war-messaging tool”, The Gray Zone, 25 March 2022
Khimiak broadcasts her political bias in her Twitter bio, stating that she is “a fixer in Lviv for journalists for reporters who show honest image of Russian war against Ukraine. Ukraine will resist.”
Khimiak’s Twitter background references the “Snake Island” standoff which was widely reported by mainstream Western media outlets and heralded as a testament to Ukrainian military bravery. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, 13 Ukrainian border guards “died heroically” defending an island base against the Russian Navy. “Russian warship, go fuck yourself!” were the soldiers’ final words, or so the story went.
The Ukrainian guards ultimately turned up alive as Russian captives. The entire story of courage under fire, including the Snake Island defenders’ famous last words, was a myth – one of so many stories fabricated or heavily distorted by pro-Ukraine elements that they have become impossible to count.
On the Twitter page of the PR agent-turned-BBC correspondent Khimiak, the phony Snake Island stand-off is still treated as a real historical event.
And she has not been reticent about Ukraine’s Russian adversaries. “I just can’t accept opinion that not all Russians are bad. All I feel is pain and hate, because their silence is a consequence of this war,” she declared on Twitter in reaction to a video depicting rescuers trying to save a young girl from rubble.
The incident at the Mariupol theatre represents one of the most suspicious events of the war, with both the BBC and CNN citing a claim by one local Ukrainian official claiming hundreds were killed inside the building, but producing no evidence to verify it. Both networks echoed the official Ukrainian claim of 300 dead, but the BBC acknowledged, “Communication with Mariupol remains difficult so it is hard to independently verify information.”
The BBC relied on just a single source for the dramatic allegation: Petr Andryushchenko, an advisor to the mayor of Mariupol who recently saluted the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion as courageous “defenders” of his city.
According to the BBC, “officials were able to check the death toll because they had a record of who was in the theatre before the missile strike and had spoken to survivors.”
BBC did not see fit to mention that Andryushchenko was likely far from Mariupol, as he recently acknowledged “that we are forced to move in order to preserve our intelligence network.” His boss, Mayor Vadim Boychenko, reportedly fled the city several days ago.
On March 17, Ukrainian government ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova stated on Telegram: “The [theatre] building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter.”
One day after the incident took place, civilians evacuated from Mariupol testified to Donbas-based media that Azov fighters blew the theatre up as they retreated. They went on to detail how Azov used them as human shields throughout the fighting, even sniping at them as they tried to escape.
“Multiple people from Mariupol said that Azov Nazis held civilians as human shields in the local theatre. When the Russian advance forced them to retreat, they blew up the theatre to frame Russian forces. This plan was published 3 days in advance by an Azov deserter,” tweeted Jake Morphonios attaching the video below.
Prof. Marcello Ferrada de Noli tweeted the video below with the comment:
“Interview with Mariupol refugee:
“You know what happened at the drama theatre? –They blew up the drama theatre
“So, it wasn´t a bombing but an explosion? –Nothing landed on it, it exploded from inside
“Did Azov let ppl leave the city? –They didn´t let anyone leave”
And, as this reporter on 18 March detailed, the Mariupol theatre was controlled by retreating Azov militants who were desperately appealing for military intervention by NATO.
Ignoring the accounts of evacuees from Mariupol who said Azov militants had destroyed the theatre before retreating, the BBC’s correspondent, Hugo Bechaga, and his fixer, Khimiak, initially turned to official Ukrainian sources and a resident who was not present at the theatre on the day of the supposed attack.
Their only local source said she left the theatre one day before the building was destroyed – when most, if not all those on the grounds appeared to leave. “We knew we had to run away because something terrible would happen soon,” she told the BBC.
Finally, the BBC turned to McKenzie Intelligence, a private contractor founded by a former UK military intelligence officer, to hypothesise that a Russian 500-pound laser guided missile was used to destroy the theatre. But as the open source analyst Kobs pointed out, “the center of destruction sits right in the middle of the stage, so two dumb bombs can’t possibly be to blame.”
While the BBC seems intent on legitimising the official Ukrainian narrative of the theatre incident, other mainstream outlets have quietly moved on.
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