Alt-Info’s Disinformation About Ukrainian Prisoners of War

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Reading Time: 8 minutes


On August 14th, 2022, in the air of the pro-Kremlin “Alt-Info,” the host Zaza Davitaia and guest Tristan Tsitelashvili discussed the attack on the prison in Olenivka, Donetsk region. According to Tsitelashvili, Ukrainians bombed the prison so that the members of the Azov Regiment would not give confessions about war crimes to Russia. During the program, Davitaia also noted that Russians treat prisoners in accordance with the international convention, while Ukrainians torture the hostages. The host used the example of the video of the castration of a Russian soldier with a “pencil sharpener knife”, and in connection to this, Tsitelashvili noted that according to the “Chief Doctor of the Ukrainian Army”, all Russian soldiers should be castrated. Tsitelashvili also mentioned that the wives of Azovstal soldiers were asking to meet their husbands, and one of them openly stated that she repeatedly and unsuccessfully appealed to the Ukrainian side to organize a meeting with her spouse, after which she was forced to turn to the Russian side and to see her husband with their help.

The claims voiced on the air of Alt-Info are false: 1) The meeting between the warrior of Azovstal and his wife did not take place with the help of the Russian side; 2) The statement that the prison in Olenivka was bombed by Ukraine itself is without evidence. According to CNN’s journalistic investigation, the Ukrainian side’s artillery attack on the prison was not carried out using HIMARS, and the source of the fire was allegedly from inside the building; 3) Videos of the castration of a Ukrainian soldier, not a Russian one, with a stationery knife, have been circulating since the beginning of July, which Bellingcat investigated and linked to the Chechen group to “Akhmat”; 4) The “Chief Doctor” of the Armed Forces of Ukraine never said that Russian prisoners should be castrated.

  • The meeting between the warrior of Azovstal and his wife did not take place with the help of the Russian side

“Myth Detector” contacted the “Association of Families of Azovstal Guards” to verify the existence of cases of family members meeting with Azovstal fighters. According to the press secretary of the association, Marianna Khomeriki, it is forbidden for relatives to meet Mariupol prisoners while their relatives do not have telephone contact or correspondence with them, which is stipulated by the Geneva Convention, and in such a situation, going to the prison to see the fighters is absurd.

One common case, where a meeting with a captured husband was achieved with the help of the de facto ombudsman of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was the case of Marina Ashifina, the wife of a Ukrainian marine, although she stated that her spouse was not in Azovstal and his battalion was stationed at the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works of Mariupol, which Russia took control of in April. Tsitelashvili talks about Azovstal warriors on Alt-Info. In relation to Ashifina’s case, the “Association of the Families of Azovstal Guards” noted that it categorically opposes visits to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic through the mediation of the Russian side under the conditions of war.

  • What happened in Olenivka?

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, an attack on a prison in Olenivka on July 29th left about 40 people dead and 130 injured. Russia blamed Ukraine for the attack. Due to the fact that Olenivka is in the temporarily occupied territory controlled by Russia, it is impossible for independent experts and journalists to visit the place at the moment.

Tristan Tsitelashvili’s statement that Ukraine bombed its own soldiers captured in Olenivka to prevent them from testifying about war crimes echoes the narrative of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Alexander Fomin, Deputy Minister of Defense of Russia, made the same statement on August 3rd. On the day of the attack on Olenivka, the Ministry of Defense of Russia announced that Ukraine attacked the prison with HIMARS.

CNN investigated the incident based on video and photo materials from the scene, satellite photos, as well as the analysis of military experts. The investigation concluded that it is impossible that the attack on the prison was carried out by HIMARS. Photo and video materials also indicate that the fire that killed the prisoners started from inside the building.

HIMARS are long-range anti-aircraft missile systems that were given to Ukraine by the US. CNN reports that other HIMARS strikes have left visible craters on the ground and a larger scale of destruction. For example, satellite photos of a warehouse destroyed by HIMARS in Nova Kakhovka before and after the attack.

Source: CNN/Planet Labs/SkySat

In contrast, the damage to the warehouse building of the Olenivka complex is significantly smaller.

Source: CNN/Maxar

Weapons expert Chris Cobb-Smith told CNN that the building would be destroyed entirely in case of an attack with HIMARS. He said there was no visible damage to the structure of the building or the bodies caused by the blast, and the injuries appeared to be the result of a large-scale, widespread fire.

Chris Cobb-Smith: “There’s no crater anywhere in those videos, the beds did not move, pillars are undamaged, but there is massive fire damage visible. If it was a guided multiple launch rocket system, you’d see craters, ceilings and walls shattered, bodies blown up.”

In a conversation with CNN, e mother of one POW held at Olenivka, Inna Zatolaka, noted that the prisoners in Olenivka did not hear the sound of rocket attacks and explosions, and it seems that an intense fire started in the warehouse. The day after the attack, the Security Service of Ukraine published a recording, which, according to the agency, shows a conversation between two fighters of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. In the recording, one of the speakers says that they did not hear the usual sound of a rocket, instead, three explosions were heard on the ground, and it was believed that the explosive devices were pre-planted in the building.

Experts told CNN that the evidence points to a sudden and powerful fire that originated from the building. Defense intelligence group Janes, which works on open-source intelligence, said there was no visible structural damage to the building’s walls and roof from the missile, but damage from extremely high temperatures could be observed.

According to German pathologist Benjamin Ondruschka, although the exact cause of death can only be determined after a full autopsy, photographs from the scene indicate that the temperature of the fire was at least 300 degrees Celsius. According to him, something exploded close by to the very burned people, resulting in a detonation, resulting in a fire.

CNN also points out that evidence, satellite photos, conversations of fighters of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and testimonies of family members of Azov prisoners captured in Olenivka indicate that a few days before the incident, part of the prisoners from the main prison barracks of the Olenivka complex, about 200 people in the “industrial zone” of the complex They were taken to the warehouse building. The Ukrainian side also declares the same.

Source: CNN
  • The video showing a soldier being castrated, depicts not a Russian, but a Ukrainian prisoner of war

Zaza Davitaia, the host of the Alt-Info program, asserts that the Ukrainian military castrated a captured Russian soldier, and a video showing this was disseminated on the Internet. In April 2022, Russian blogger and “military correspondent” Yuri Katyonok also claimed that Ukrainians castrate Russian prisoners, film them, and then send the videos to their family members. However, the statement is not accompanied by any evidence.

Due to the severity of the footage, the video was not shown in the Alt-Info program, although Davitaia mentions a specific detail, the soldier was castrated with a stationery knife. It should be noted that on July 28th, several videos were released on Russian Telegram channels showing the castration of a Ukrainian soldier and his subsequent shooting. Telegram channel АSTRA published a short part of one of the videos, where the stationery knife is visible.

АSTRA also wrote that the soldier who cuts off the genitals of a Ukrainian prisoner is a member of the Chechen group “Akhmat” and was identified using the RIA Novosti video. According to the description of the Telegram channel, АSTRA is a project of independent Russian journalists.

Bellingcat investigated the above-mentioned videos. According to the investigation, the videos of the torture and execution of the Ukrainian serviceman were initially shared on Russian Telegram channels, celebrating the death of Ukrainian servicemen, and were later shared by the Telegram channel Rosich, which belongs to Russian nationalist mercenaries. Initially, the channel administrators rated the videos positively, but within a few hours, the videos were deleted. According to the same administrators, the video was made by foreigners and was distributed by Ukrainian agents in pro-Russian channels to discredit the Russian army.

Bellingcat’s investigation found that the videos were filmed in Pryvillya Sanatorium in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. As a result of the analysis of the video, Bellingcat linked the case of torture to the Chechen military group “Akhmat”. In addition, the publication was able to identify the fighter who raped and castrated the Ukrainian prisoner. This fighter in the video of the torture was wearing a typical hat (cowboy hat), accessories, and military symbols, a man of the same description has repeatedly appeared in the stories prepared about the “Akhmat” group.

Scene from the video. Source: Bellingcat
Scenes from the RT story about the fighters of Akhmat. Source: Bellingcat

Bellingcat did not disclose the identity of the identified fighter and hid his face in the photos, although the publication managed to contact him. In a conversation with Bellingcat, he admitted that he fought in the ranks of the “Akhmat” group in Ukraine, and he is the one who wears the cowboy hat in the news stories, although he denied participating in the torture of the Ukrainian military. In the conversation, he also mentioned that after returning to Russia, he was detained by the FSB for two days and interrogated regarding the case of torture. According to the “Akhmat” fighter, the FSB told him that the video depicts the torture of a Ukrainian soldier by the Ukrainian military. The publication notes that several inconsistencies were revealed in the conversation with the “Akhmat” fighter.

Bellingcat: “Despite the fact that this man was filmed in multiple places holding a long rifle, he claimed that he was not a soldier and was merely escorting the journalists who filmed the ‘Akhmat’ videos, in five of which he claims he appears. If it was Ukrainian soldiers in the video, as he states the FSB told him, he did not offer any explanation as to how these soldiers came to be wearing a strikingly similar hat, bracelet, ribbon and uniform as he was seen wearing in other videos. He also claimed that he never saw, and that ‘Akhmat’ did not use, a white car such as that filmed in the execution footage, despite the fact that he is standing directly next to it in Patrick Lancaster’s video.”

On July 29th, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine launched an investigation into the violation of the rules and laws of war in connection with the video of the torture of the Ukrainian soldier.

  • The “Chief Doctor” of the Armed Forces of Ukraine never said that Russian prisoners should be castrated.

According to Tristan Tsitelashvili, “the chief doctor of the Ukrainian Army” said that all Russian soldiers should be castrated. The commander of the medical forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Tetiana Ostashchenko, has never made a statement about the castration of Russian soldiers. A similar statement was made in March 2022 by the head of the volunteer project “Mobile Hospital”, Dr. Gennadiy Druzenko. Druzenko apologized and noted that he made the statement on an emotional basis. “Mobile Hospital” also published an official statement, according to which the emotional statement about the sterilization of the Russian military was taken out of context by the Russian media. The organization noted that the “Mobile Hospital” has never done and is not going to castrate Russian soldiers.

The article has been written in the framework of Facebook’s fact-checking program. You can read more about the restrictions that Facebook may impose based on this article via this link. You can find information about appealing or editing our assessment via this link.

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Violation: Disinformation
Country: Russia, Ukraine



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