Anti-Ukraine narratives spread following Kyiv children’s hospital attack

Narratives blamed Ukraine for the incident, accusing it of targeting itself or deploying air defense systems ineptly

Anti-Ukraine narratives spread following Kyiv children’s hospital attack

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Banner: A fireman puts his hands up while smoke rises at the destroyed Ohmatdyt child hospital in Kyiv after Russian missile attack, July 8, 2024. (Source: IMAGO/Andreas Stroh via Reuters Connect)

On July 8, 2024, more than 40 people were killed and at least 170 injured in Russian attacks across multiple Ukrainian cities. According to the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU), at least three children were killed in the attack on the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv; media reports estimate that at least 27 people were killed in the attack. The exact number of fatalities and injuries, however, remains unknown as search and rescue teams continue to look for people buried under the debris.

This latest tragedy in Kyiv has become a hotspot for disinformation and pro-Russian narratives blaming Ukraine and its allies for the strike that hit the children’s hospital. These narratives are particularly prevalent in Eastern Europe, which is among the main target areas for Russian information operations.

Narratives about Ukrainian air defenses and accusations against Ukraine and its allies

In Bulgaria, for example, pro-Kremlin accounts spread propaganda talking points that at face value would seem most credible to Bulgarian audiences. One of the most common narratives in Bulgarian groups, chats, and channels, claimed without evidence that a Ukrainian AIM-120 air defense missile hit the children’s hospital.

As the DFRLab has previously reported, Facebook is the primary platform for propaganda distribution in Bulgaria, with narratives routinely coming from foreign sources in apparently coordinated disinformation attacks. Bulgarian Telegram channels also distributed a translation of a statement by the Russian ambassador to the US accusing Ukraine of the hospital attack. The statement appeared on Russian channels on Telegram and was also shared in Slovak media. Other popular Bulgarian narratives frame the tragedy as a Ukrainian set-up, saying that the hospital had been closed for six months and that it was being used for storage of weapons and ammunition. Telegram is increasingly popular among Bulgarians, especially channels promoting anti-government messages or pro-Russian talking points.

In the Czech Republic, another narrative blamed the children’s hospital attack on inept Ukrainian air defenses.This talking point is connected to allegations made by pro-Russian propagandists blaming the placement of air defense systems in Kyiv. Yet as the Ukrainian Air Force Command explained in July 2023, if the Ukrainian military deploys air defense systems further away from cities, it will weaken the protection of populated areas. Ukraine’s Center for Countering Disinformation similarly noted, “If there had been no air defense, the death toll would have been much higher, as many missiles did not reach the cities.” Another Czech source blamed Ukrainian air defenses, adding, “Ukrainian regime uses this for collecting money from Western countries.”

According to claims in pro-Russian and Russian channels, a Norwegian-supplied Ukrainian air defense missile hit the children’s hospital in Kyiv while attempting to intercept a Russian missile aimed at the neighboring Artyom facility. The messages also emphasized that the incident happened just before  the July 2024 NATO summit in Washington DC, claiming there was a pattern of similar incidents before previous summits, implying that Ukraine and its Western partners acted deliberately.

The question of the missile

Russian Kh-101 cruise missiles are deployed via Tu-95MS aircraft. Typically, the Tu-95MS is used by the Russian military to conduct long-range missions – for example, from bases in the Caspian region or deep into Russian territory that are far out of range from Ukrainian weapons. The Kh-101 can carry conventional and nuclear warheads. The conventional warhead, like the one that hit the children’s hospital in Kyiv, weighs 450 kg and can carry fragments or submunitions. One of the most recognizable components of the Kh-101 missile is the TRDD-50A turbofan engine located on the rear section. The engine is one of the elements clearly visible in the video footage from the attack on the Okhmatdyt pediatric hospital, which would confirm that the missile was a Russian Kh-101 rather than a Ukrainian AIM-120.

Tu-95MS aircraft have flown over the Kursk region of the Russian Federation from Olenya airfield on the Kola Peninsula, some 200 kilometers from Russia’s northern border with Finland and Norway. The Ukrainian Air Force announced on Telegram at 6:19 am local time on July 8 that five Tu-95MS had taken off from Olenya field.

Cite this case study:

Ruslan Trad, “Anti-Ukraine narratives spread following Kyiv children’s hospital attack,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), July 10, 2024,