Pregnant with Meaning
The photographs circulate worldwide—a bloodied pregnant woman fleeing a Mariupol maternity hospital bombed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Russian officials and media immediately go on the attack. Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels announce the photos are staged. The charges are picked up by official Russian media and amplified by tweets, replies, retweets, shares. They say Marianna Vyshemirsky, the woman pictured, is an actor, her injuries stage makeup. (Note: Russian and Ukrainian name spellings vary.) Some Russian allegations go so far as to claim that Marianna played two women in the maternity hospital “scene”—the fleeing woman and another critically injured pregnant woman being carried on a stretcher across debris outside the building.
The photographs are accurate straightforward photojournalism. Marianna Vyshemirsky, age 29, was in the maternity ward at Mariupol Hospital No. 3 on Wednesday March 9, 2022. She awaited the arrival of her daughter when the hospital was bombed by Russian forces. After the first in a series of explosions, Marianna pulled a blanket over her head. “You could hear everything flying around, shrapnel and stuff,” she told BBC.
Wearing polka-dotted pajamas, face smeared with blood, Marianna was photographed fleeing the ruined building by Associated Press photographer Evgniy Maloletka. Two days after the attack, Marianna, in a different hospital but still in her blood-stained clothes, gave birth to a baby girl, Veronika. “I want to wish everyone on Earth that your children do not know the word ‘war’.”
(As the story spread around the world, the photographs became the focus of a concerted Russian disinformation campaign. The initial Russian claim: Marianna, an Instagram beauty blogger, used her makeup skills to simulate cuts and blood, a forehead slash. AP photographer Evgniy Maloletka is a propagandist who conspired to fake the photos. From there, Russian disinformation piled up like snow falling over a landscape. The hospital was non-operational. It was occupied by the neo-Nazi-linked Ukrainian nationalist Azov regiment. The hospital was not hit by Russian planes but shelled by Ukrainian forces.)