State television programs in Russia have not shied away from showing images of death and destruction in Ukraine. Viewers have seen corpses in the streets of Bucha, blasted-out cars at a train station in Kramatorsk and the remains of a hospital complex attacked in Mariupol.
But the images are accompanied by rhetoric that blames Ukraine or the West for the attacks, or accuses the Ukrainian government of falsification. The word “fake” is thrown around constantly — in some cases printed in bright red letters across gruesome videos and photos.
When the first photos and videos of the slaughter in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, began emerging on April 3, Russian propagandists quickly responded by saying that the bodies in the streets were those of actors.
“They call this evidence,” said a news host on Channel One. “This is yet another fake. The footage is staged.”
On Telegram, an app with broadcasting capabilities, channels devoted to supposed “fakes” pump out the same message, falsely claiming, for example, that a closer look at a video of bodies strewn across Yablonska Street in Bucha shows one of the corpses raising an arm and another one standing up.
One of the most popular news programs in the country, “60 Minutes” on the channel Russia-1, uses the English word fake liberally, stamping it on screenshots of articles published by the Western news media and on videos and photos from Ukraine.
“There is no evidence of victims, but the West doesn’t need the truth,” the show’s host, Olga Skabeyeva, declared in one episode. As she spoke, huge screens in the studio behind her projected a video showing corpses in Bucha, with “fake” written in red in one corner.
On Channel One, an entire program devoted to exposing “fakes” is hosted by Alexander Smol, who also hosts the Russian equivalent of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
In each episode of “AntiFake,” Mr. Smol convenes three experts in history, military tactics, social media or data — usually men — to pick over the details of social media posts or articles about the war in Ukraine published in Western publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC and The Associated Press.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
Mr. Smol and his guests have argued that the scenes in Bucha must have been staged. There is not enough blood, they say. The bodies are positioned in different ways in photos, they claim.
They have not limited their campaign to Bucha.
In a recent episode, Mr. Smol broadcast a video of doctors trying unsuccessfully to revive a 6-year-old girl who was rushed to a hospital in Mariupol after a catastrophic shelling. The video was first released in late February by The A.P. and circulated on Ukrainian television and Western news media sites.
As the video of the dying girl was played over and over — the word “fake” stamped across it — the men on Mr. Smol’s show said it had been shot from too many angles and in too smooth a manner to be real. And they said a camera operator would not be allowed into an emergency room.
Mr. Smol and others on his program have also echoed the state narrative that Ukrainian forces were behind the attacks on the hospital complex in Mariupol — a strike that killed a pregnant woman and wounded staff and maternity ward patients — and the train station in Kramatorsk, which left at least 50 people dead.