Recurring Disinformation by Pro-Kremlin Media about Organ Trading in Ukraine

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Reading Time: 7 minutes


On December 1st, 2022, in the program of the Georgian pro-Kremlin “Sezoni TV,” while discussing the current war in Ukraine, the host of the program, Nikoloz Mzhavanadze, noted that in the background of the war, the “business of organ trading” has been launched in Ukraine and the organs of injured people are being exported to different countries of the world. Mzhavanadze also asserted that “there were serious allegations” regarding the organ trade against former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s family and specifically his ex-wife Sandra Roelofs.

Information about the alleged trade with the organs of wounded and dead soldiers in Ukraine, “black transplantology,” and the link of Saakashvili and Roelofs with this process in the past has been disseminated by several Kremlin media outlets as well. On November 28th, the website of Луганск 1 reported that children’s organs are being traded in Ukraine. The article mentions that organ trafficking has been active in Ukraine since 2014, claiming that Sandra Roelofs was actively involved in this process. The outlet also notes that in 2022, the Red Cross in Mariupol was conducting an inventory of healthy children’s organs and was therefore involved in the trade in children’s organs. On November 29-30th, the websites of Луганск 1 and Антимайдан, based on the Telegram channel Лохматый Z Николаев, published the claim that an employee of the Security Service of Ukraine exposed the involvement of Saakashvili and Roelofs in the organ trafficking scheme. Before that, on September 12th, an article was published in the Eженеделник Звезда segment of the TV Zvezda, according to which organ trade has been actively taking place in Ukraine for eight years. The article repeats the accusations of the involvement of Saakashvili and Rulovs in the organ trade and the complicity of the Red Cross in the trade of children’s organs in Mariupol.

Allegations around organ trafficking during the military activities in Ukraine are part of the Kremlin’s wave of conspiracies that have been spreading for years now: 1. The claim that the Red Cross was involved in the organ trafficking of children in Mariupol is disinformation that was disseminated as far back as May 2022; 2. Transplantation of organs is a complex and time-constrained medical procedure and is impossible to be carried out in field conditions.

Groundless accusations that after the start of the conflict in the east of Ukraine, the trade in the organs of the military is actively taking place in the country, and various political leaders are involved in this process have been spreading at different times since 2014. In 2019, the aforementioned accusations were amplified by both Georgian– and Russian-language sources.

  • The claim that the Red Cross was involved in the organ trafficking of children in Mariupol is disinformation that was disseminated as far back as May 2022

On May 29th, 2022, Vladimir Taranenko, the head of the non-governmental organization “People’s Detachment” in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, published on the Telegram channel a video taken at one of the offices of the Red Cross in Mariupol, according to which more than 1000 medical cards of children were found there containing medical data of children, including information about their healthy organs. According to the video, they also found “instructions” on the use of the weapons and reports related to the purchase of incubators – these incubators were used in the laboratory “to work with cultures of microorganisms.” In fact, no real evidence substantiating the claims was presented in the video.

Handbook, which, according to the video, contains instructions on the use of weapons
Documents, which, according to the video, show the purchase of incubators

The International Committee of the Red Cross responded to the circulated video on May 31st. The statement mentions that the video contains false accusations. The organization notes that it did not collect data on children’s health as part of its activities, stressing that the hints that the Red Cross is involved in organ trafficking are “unequivocally false allegations.”

The statement also mentions that the “weapon instruction manuals” shown in the video are actually informational manuals that the organization uses to inform the public in the former military operations area. These guides are available in open sources. (For example, the book Practical Military Ordnance Identification shown in the video is also available in the Amazon online store).

The International Committee of the Red Cross also noted that the organization provided incubators for families to start poultry breeding within the framework of agricultural programs for the economic empowerment of the population in the regions affected by the armed conflict. Accordingly, the purchase of incubators by the organization was not related to any kind of “biological experiments”.

The video was verified by the Ukrainian fact-checking agency StopFake. As mentioned in their article, similar disinformation regarding the Red Cross was spread in 2021 as well. At the time, anti-vaxxer blogger Ostap Stakhiv claimed that representatives of the Danish Red Cross were collecting the personal information of students in a school in Lviv in order to sell children’s organs to foreigners. It should be noted that the Security Service of Ukraine later accused Stakhiv of attempting a coup under the leadership of Russian curators.

  • Transplantation of organs is a complex and time-constrained medical procedure and is impossible to be carried out in field conditions.

According to the United States Department of Health & Human Services, providing transplanted organs with oxygen after the death of the donor is crucial for post-mortem transplantation.

In case of cardiac death, the heartbeat stops and the lungs stop working. In this circumstance, the dead patient requires the support of a special ventilator that provides for the inflow and outflow of air in the lungs, stimulated heartbeat, and, as a result, oxygen is still provided to the organs and tissues.

In the case of brain death, the brain tissue is dead and dysfunctional; however, with the use of special mechanical and artificial tools, heartbeat and breath, thus the life of organs can be sustained. Such support is only possible under hospital conditions, under intensive supervision and not at the scene of military actions.

The validity of transplantable organs is restricted in time. Heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and various other tissues (skin, veins, bone tissue, tendons) can be transplanted after death. After the death of the donor, the organ should be removed and stored. In the case of post-mortem transplantation, however, the storage time of the organ is still limited. The maximal period between removal and transplantation varies by organs:

Removed organs should be conserved in special and sterile conditions.In order to transplant the organ of the dead donor, several factors should be considered:

  • Blood type;
  • Body size;
  • Condition of the recipient;
  • Distance between the hospitals of the donor and the recipient;
  • Waiting time of the recipient.

Notably, the organ transplantation procedure requires a large team of experienced specialists and a technologically sound medical infrastructure, which does not exist in field conditions. These factors were discussed with the Ukrainian fact-checking agency Vox Ukraine by A. A. The director of the Shalimov’s National Institute of Surgery and Transplantation, Alexander Usenko, and the head of the surgical department of the First Medical Association of Lviv, Gnat Gerich.

In May 2019, Gazprom-owned NTV aired a story accusing former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and First Lady Sandra Roelofs of organ trafficking. The story relied on anonymous interviews of two people who, according to NTV, were an officer of the Ukrainian army and an employee of the Security Service of Ukraine. The story names the “Emergency Care and Resuscitation Team” which was involved in organ trafficking under the leadership of Sandra Roelofs. According to the Russian media, the group created special centers in Kramatorsk and Sieverodenetsk, where wounded Ukrainian servicemen were sent.  Alexander Kvitashvili, the former minister of health of Georgia and then Ukraine, was also named as an accomplice of Roelofs in the scheme. According to Russian media, Rulovs and Kvitashvili met with Ukrainian generals to carry out the scheme. The story also names Dr Elisabeth De Brück, who was claimed to be one of the central figures in the organ-trafficking scheme and was directly involved in organ-harvesting operations. In addition to the fact that trading the organs of wounded Ukrainian soldiers is a technically impossible task, it should be noted that the information about the meetings between Sandra Roelofs and Alexander Kvitashvili and the Ukrainian generals was not substantiated by any kind of evidence, and it was also impossible to determine the identity of the mentioned “doctor” Elisabeth De Brück. In sum, the NTV story continued the line of conspiracies voiced by the Kremlin in the past about the organ trade in Ukraine. The Telegram channel Лохматый Z Николаев, which media outlets Луганск 1 and Антимайдан rely on, repeats the conspiracy claims voiced by NTV in 2019.

In 2016 and 2019, Russian media outlets have been disseminating several video manipulations on organ trafficking and Sandra Rulovs’ involvement in this process. In one of the stories, footage of the exhumation and burial of dead Ukrainian soldiers, footage of various political events, and footage of a general nature unrelated to organ trafficking were presented as evidence. For more information, see the “Myth Detector” articles:

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Violation: Disinformation
Country: Russia, Ukraine

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