This week, Russian propagandists resurrected the evergreen myth of a “biological threat” allegedly developed by Ukraine. Russians claim that scenarios involving the use of biological weapons, specifically the spread of avian flu among humans, were practiced during a training session in Lviv. Additionally, purveyors of disinformation continue to manipulate the topic of mobilization in Ukraine. Their publications assert that hospitals in Kherson are closing because medical personnel are reportedly going to military enlistment offices for conscription.
With the support of the USAID Health Reform Support project, VoxCheck analyzes and refutes public health narratives spread in the information space of Ukraine, Belarus, and russia on a weekly basis.
Disinformation: The SSU and the National Police are preparing provocations with biological weapons in Ukraine in order to blame it on Russia
Russian officials continue to discredit Ukraine on the international stage. Igor Kirilov, the chief of Russia’s radiation, chemical, and biological protection forces, claims that the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) and the National Police are planning provocations involving biological weapons.
According to Kirilov, the provocation scenario was allegedly rehearsed during a training session in Lviv. The main theme of the training was the emergence of cases of avian flu in the Mykolaiv region. The provocation is purportedly being prepared to later blame Russia for these incidents.
Screenshot of the post
What’s the reality?
From August 21 to September 11, 2023, in Lviv, as part of the project “Building a Resilient Public Health System” (USAID), training on the basics of biological protection and preparedness for responding to biothreats took place. The training explained the principles of international investigation of biological incidents, addressed crisis communication, and discussed how to counter disinformation about biological incidents, among other topics. However, the training did not simulate any scenarios involving the appearance of the avian flu virus in the Mykolaiv region.
Additionally, there is no confirmation that SSU (Security Service of Ukraine) or National Police personnel, or officials participated in the training, as claimed by Kirilov. Representatives from the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, the Public Health Center, the State Emergency Service, the State Border Guard Service, and regional disease control and prevention centers were involved in the training.
Russians are leveraging the evergreen myth of “Western control” over Ukraine, specifically regarding the so-called foreign biolabs. In reality, there are no “U.S. biolabs in Ukraine.”
The trainers of the event included international experts in biosecurity, including a member of the Biosecurity Steering Board of the United Kingdom, Filippa Lentzos, who is mentioned in the post by the Russians. Russia is not the first to accuse Ukraine of preparing “biological provocations.” In October 2022, Russia even convened a UN Security Council meeting, accusing Ukraine and the United States of violating the Biological Weapons Convention. Although the White House emphasized in March 2022 that it is Russia that could use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
Earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the risk of an avian flu outbreak in the world remains low. Cases of avian flu in humans are relatively rare. From 2003 to 2023, a total of 878 cases of human infection with avian flu were registered worldwide.
According to the latest reports from the Public Health Center, during the first 10 months of 2023, avian flu did not spread among humans and birds in Ukraine. Over the last 20 years, neither the Ukrainian authorities nor the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported cases of human infection with avian flu in Ukraine. As for birds, A(H5N1) influenza cases were last recorded in 2021 in Mykolaiv and Luhansk regions.
The main symptoms of the disease include fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle pain, with redness and inflammation of the eyes. At the same time, avian flu can lead to serious consequences such as viral pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, and even death. In previous issues, we discussed preventive measures, including adhering to hygiene rules when in contact with birds, thorough processing of eggs and poultry meat, and general flu prevention practices.
Disinformation: Hospitals in Kherson are closing because all staff have been sent to the Territorial Recruitment Centers
Information is circulating online claiming that there are no more state health services in Kherson. The authors of the post support this information with the words of a “subscriber from Kherso,” who reported that some hospitals in the city have gradually started to close. The post includes announcements posted on the hospitals named after O.S. Luchanskyi and Ye.Ye. Karabelesha, stating that the institutions will not be operational because all medical staff have gone to territorial recruitment and social support centers for enlistment in military registration.
Screenshot of the post
What’s the reality?
This information does not correspond to reality; the announcements have been forged. The hospitals mentioned in the post, as well as other medical institutions in Kherson, continue to operate.
Media “MOST” reached out to the Acting Head of the Health Department of the Kherson City Council, Ihor Osaulenko, for comment. The official stated that no such announcements were posted in the city. He explained that the shortage of doctors is being compensated by directing physicians from other regions to Kherson. Since the beginning of 2023, healthcare professionals from Sumy, Poltava, representatives of the independent international medical humanitarian organization “Doctors Without Borders,” and volunteer doctors from the Ukrainian-Israeli mission “FRIDA” have come to the city.
Additionally, we called the Kherson City Clinical Hospital named after O.S. Luchanskyi. Deputy Medical Director for Primary and Specialized Ambulatory Care, Viktor Kolisnyk, stated that the hospital has not ceased its operations and continues to provide services, and no announcements have been posted in the hospital.
We also called the registration desks of the clinics of the hospital named after Ye. Ye. Karabelesh, and all the specified medical institutions have not ceased their operations. Information about the alleged closure of the hospital was spread on October 22, but the posting schedule on the Facebook page of the medical institution has not changed during this time. They continue to publish up-to-date information about the hospital’s operation or medical news almost every day on the page. Throughout the month, information about the work schedule of doctors of various specialties regularly appeared on the website, and on October 26, the institution celebrated its 109th anniversary.
Errors in the text, such as the missing letter “й” in the word “приняття” (“acceptance”), may also indicate that the announcements are fake. Moreover, the correct terms are “ставлять”(put) or “беруть”(take), not “приймають”(accept), so it is accurate to say, “медичний персонал відбув для постановки на облік” (“medical personnel went for registration”).
In February and September 2023, the Kherson Regional State Administration published contacts of doctors with whom one could re-execute a declaration in case of loss of communication with the previous family doctor, as well as current phone numbers of medical institutions operating in the city. As of November 1, 2023, we called the specified numbers for hospitals, and all the mentioned medical institutions continued to provide services.
In addition, the claim in the “announcement” that all healthcare workers were directed to the Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Centers for military registration seems dubious. The full-scale aggression has been ongoing for almost two years, and during this time, at least a few workers could have independently contacted the TCC to update/clarify their data. According to legislation, the following individuals are not subject to mobilization:
- reserved for the period of mobilization and for wartime, in particular, health care and veterinary medicine institutions of state or communal form of ownership may reserve an employee;
- those recognized by the Military Medical Board as temporarily unfit for military service due to health conditions;
- those independently raising a child/children up to 18 years old;
- those supporting three or more children under the age of 18;
- parents, guardians, caregivers, foster parents, and parent-educators raising a child with a disability up to 18 years old;
- those who have a spouse, husband, parents, or spouse’s parents with disability of I or II group, provided that such individuals do not have other employable persons legally obliged to support them.
Moreover, among the hospital medical staff, there are women whose military registration until 2026 is voluntary, and after this term, they won’t be able to find employment in their field. However, at present, they could have refused to go to the Territorial Recruitment Center.
We have previously debunked the fake that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are conducting forced evacuation of doctors from Kherson.
Source: Ministry of Health of Ukraine
This information piece was produced with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided on behalf of the people of the United States of America. This article’s content, which does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government, is the sole responsibility of Deloitte Consulting under contract #72012118C00001.
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