Video does not show staged bodies in Bucha
CLAIM: A video filmed from a moving car in the Ukrainian city of Bucha shows dead bodies moving in the street, including one body “waving” its hand and another body rolling over.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Following Russian troops’ withdrawal from the city, social media users are sharing a low-quality, edited clip that’s being used as propaganda. The original video shows the bodies were not moving. The so-called hand movement shows a mark on the car’s windshield, while the other portion of the video shows a distortion from the side-view mirror, according to a review by The Associated Press and an analysis by an independent expert.
THE FACTS: After Russian troops withdrew from towns around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv last week, the bodies of dead civilians with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture were discovered. Ukrainian authorities on Sunday accused the departing Russian forces of committing war crimes and leaving behind a “scene from a horror movie.”
Meanwhile, Russian government-linked accounts on social media employed a familiar strategy of denial, suggesting the scenes from Yablonska Street in Bucha, a city northwest of the capital, were staged and calling reports of such atrocities a “hoax.”
Other social media users and at least one Russian government official seized on a specific video from Bucha that had been circulating on Telegram and Twitter, falsely claiming it showed one dead body “suddenly” waving its hand and another body seeming to “rise” or otherwise move from its position on the street.
Those making the claim shared a blurry, poor-quality version of the footage that was taken from an April 2 broadcast on Espreso TV, a Ukrainian media outlet, and then edited. But an analysis of a clearer version first posted on Facebook by lawyer Ilya Novikov the same day shows the bodies were not moving.
The first body said to be moving is seen to the right side of the vehicle, as the camera is recording through the windshield, which is spotted with dirt, water droplets and other markings. As the car approaches, a white mark appears to move across the body’s torso, which social media users claimed showed its hand waving. In the poor quality version of the video, the clip slows down, zooms in and then plays forwards and in reverse several times to emphasize the speck’s movement over the torso.
But the original video shows the white spot is on the windshield and happens to briefly align with the body. It remains on the glass, but is more obvious when contrasted with the dark clothing on the body.
In the second part of the clip, the cameraperson films the street from the reflection in the right-hand side-view mirror and a corpse behind the car is visible. Social media users falsely claimed it shows the body standing up.
But again, the video was edited. It’s replayed forwards and backwards in slow motion to emphasize the warped reflection from the side-view mirror and to give a sense of movement. The original video shows the body stays still, but the angle of the mirror’s reflection changes as the car moves forward.
Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on digital forensics and misinformation, reviewed the video and confirmed that there is no indication either body moved.
“What we are seeing is rain on the windshield that just happens to align with the body in the road,” Farid wrote in an email to the AP. “As for the portion from the side-view mirror, the video is so badly distorted due to the car motion, rain, and video compression, that it is impossible to even plausibly claim the body is moving.”
Further, satellite imagery provided to the AP by Maxar Technologies shows multiple dark objects, comparable in size and shape to human bodies, on Yablonska Street in the same positions, well before the video was posted and Russia says its troops left town on March 30.
For example, satellite images from March 19 show a dark object in the exact place on the street as the body that supposedly waves. The two other bodies nearby on the left-hand side of the road – one under a bike, at the intersection of Oleksy Tykhoho Street – also correspond with the objects in the satellite photos.
Sam Gregory, program director at Witness, a nonprofit working on using video technology for human rights, said the claims are being used to undermine “the copious visual and social media evidence” of civilian killings in Ukraine.
“These are just playing on the element of doubt in a willing audience rather than making any real case for fakery of a series of killings,” Gregory wrote in an email.
Ukrainian officials said the bodies of 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv. In Bucha, AP journalists saw 21 bodies. In Motyzhyn, to the west of Kyiv, AP journalists saw the bodies of four people. The discoveries followed the Russian retreat from the area after Moscow said it was focusing its offensive on the country’s east.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.