A top Ukrainian official who was ousted over unsubstantiated claims that Russians were committing mass rape admitted she “exaggerated” but did so to convince the West to send more weapons to Ukraine.
Lyudmila Denisova, who had served as the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, was recently removed by the Ukrainian Parliament over what they said were her false claims about mass rapes. The members of Parliament at the time said that her work focusing on alleged sexual assaults by Russian troops “couldn’t be confirmed with evidence … and distracted the global media from Ukraine’s real needs.”
Speaking to a Ukrainian news outlet, Denisova said that the information about rapes that she spread served her goal to obtain more military aid, confirming that “indeed, maybe I exaggerated” some of the rape claims. She did not elaborate.
“When, for example, I spoke in the Italian parliament at the Committee on International Affairs, I heard and saw such fatigue from Ukraine, you know? I talked about terrible things in order to somehow push them to make the decisions that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people need,” she said this week, according to a translation.
She added in the interview: “I conveyed everything that the applicants wanted to say to society and the world; that the enemies, the Russian Federation, be punished. Yes, then this vocabulary was very harsh, we discussed it … I said that, indeed, maybe I exaggerated. But I tried to achieve the goal of convincing the world to provide weapons and pressure [Russia].”
As an example, she said that an Italian political party, the Five Star Movement, was initially “against the provision of weapons to us, but after [Denisova’s] speech, one of the party leaders… said that they will support [Ukraine], including by the provision of weapons.”
Ukrainian Parliament member Pavlo Frolov had accused Denisova of pushing misinformation that “harmed Ukraine” in connection to her statements about “the numerous details of ‘unnatural sexual offenses’ and child sexual abuses in the occupied territories, which were unsupported by evidence.”
But her false claims about mass rapes committed allegedly by Russian soldiers received significant media attention in the United States, with CNN, Business Insider, and other corporate news outlets publishing them within the past several weeks. On May 9, CNN featured an article with a headline that blared: “Ukraine has accused Russian soldiers of using rape as a tool of war. These two women say justice is hard to come by.”
CNN’s article has not been edited or amended since Denisova’s remarks admitting that her claim was false. As of Thursday, the article still includes her quote when she was still human rights commissioner: “There have been 700 reports since the first of April.”
Business Insider’s article, published in late April, included claims by Denisova that Russian soldiers committed 400 rapes since the start of the conflict, including sexual assaults against teenage girls. The article also hasn’t been amended with a correction after Denisova was ousted by Parliament.
Since the start of the conflict on Feb. 24, there have been concerns that both Russia and Ukraine are spreading misinformation about the war and on the ground events. Western countries including EU nations, YouTube, and some social media websites have since blocked or restricted Russian state-run TV channels including RT and Sputnik, saying such platforms disseminate Kremlin propaganda.
However, in the case of Ukraine, a number of Western media outlets, politicians, and celebrities have re-posted or echoed claims made by Kyiv officials, including now-debunked tales that a so-called “Ghost of Kyiv” fighter pilot shot down dozens of Russian fighter jets or that a Russian warship killed the entirety of a Ukrainian battalion on Snake Island. Ukrainian officials later said that many of the claims around the “Ghost of Kyiv” and Snake Island were not true.