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Ukrainian family killed in Russian attack, despite denials

Not Real News

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows damaged buildings during fighting in Izium, Ukraine, on March 24. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming that Russian forces did not kill a Ukrainian family whose graves were pictured in a wooded area among scores of others.

CLAIM: Grave markers for a Ukrainian family that say they died on March 9 in Izium prove they were not killed by Russian forces, because Russian troops did not enter the Ukrainian city until weeks later.

THE FACTS: The Ukrainian city of Izium was being heavily bombarded by Russian forces on March 9 and the family was killed in the attack, according to people with direct knowledge of the attack on the high-rise building where the family lived, as well as reports from humanitarian groups and Ukrainian officials who documented the destruction. After Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass grave in Izium this month, social media accounts for the Russian embassy in South Africa openly questioned whether one of the families buried at the site had been truly killed in a Russian offensive on the northeastern city.

On its social media accounts, the embassy shared a screenshot of a tweet by Andrii Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, featuring a photo of the Stolpakov family’s grave site. The simple wooden crosses, found in a wooded area among scores of others, mark the date of their deaths as March 9, 2022.

“The Russians are killing entire Ukrainian families,” Yermak had tweeted. “Izyum. Olesya, 6 years old. Murdered by the Russian uniformed terrorists. Her parents are buried nearby.”

The Russian embassy in its posts falsely claimed that the family could not have been killed by Russian troops, because they were not in the area at the time. But Russian forces did carry out several strikes on Izium on March 9, including one that destroyed a high rise on the east bank of the Severodonetsk River, according to a dozen people with direct knowledge that AP journalists have spoken to in recent days.

A woman who previously lived in the building and whose mother died in the blast told the AP the Stolpakovs lived in the high rise and were among those killed. Tetiana Pryvalikhina, a 40-year-old who now lives in Kladno in the Czech Republic with her daughter, said in messages on Instagram written in Ukrainian that many of the bodies couldn’t be removed until about a month after the attack, making identification difficult.

Izium’s deputy mayor Volodymyr Matsokin told the AP that about 50 people died in the attack, including the Stolpakov family. Matsokin was among those who posted numerous photos and videos of the destroyed city on social media during those weeks. Ukrainian news outlets also reported that the family died in the March 9 attack, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said in a Sept. 17 tweet that they died in an aerial attack on their home that day. Denis Krivosheev, a deputy director at Amnesty International, called the Russian embassy’s comment “totally disingenuous.”

While it’s true that Russian forces did not establish full control of Izium until much later, they were clearly heavily shelling the city at the time the family was killed, he said. “The timing totally fits: our respondents were telling us about events at the time including on and close to 9 March,” he said in an email. George Barros, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based group that’s been tracking major developments in the war, agreed.

“There is ample documentation of Russian indirect fire against civilian infrastructure in Izyum since at least March 3, several days before Russian forces occupied Izyum,” he wrote in an email Monday. During a media briefing on Thursday, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, repeated claims that Russian forces weren’t responsible for the March 9 deaths.

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