The Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Lyudmila Denisova, was relieved of her duties May 31st, following a vote of no confidence by the Ukrainian parliament. The move comes after a series of public appearances in which she reported on sexual atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine.
She has been criticised for failing to oversee the opening of humanitarian corridors in warzones and of spending a lot of time in “warm calm western Europe” rather than in war-torn Ukraine and Russia. More significantly, she has been accused by MP Pavlo Frolov of spreading misinformation about rape offenses. These reports “only harmed Ukraine” due to “the numerous details of ‘unnatural sexual offenses’ and child sexual abuses in the occupied territories, which were unsupported by evidence.”
Earlier, Denisova had received international news coverage by Western media outlets with her stories about mass rape committed by Russian soldiers. CNN published a story based on Denisova’s claims, of Russia using rape as a “tool of war” on May 10th, and even prior to that, Business Insider shared Denisova’s detailed reports of rape incidents on April 27th.
But after being removed from office, Denisova has since given an interview to the Ukrainian outlet LB.ua, in which she admits having “maybe exaggerated” in her stories, but justifies her decision as follows:
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. There is a party, “Five Stars,” which was against the provision of weapons to us, but after my speech, one of the party leaders expressed support for Ukraine; said that they [would provide] support, including the provision of weapons. I conveyed everything that the applicants wanted to say to society and the world; that the enemies, the Russian Federation, [should] be punished.
She went on to admit that her claims were not entirely truthful: “Yes, then this vocabulary was very harsh … I said that, indeed, maybe I exaggerated. But I tried to achieve the goal of convincing the world to provide weapons and pressure Russia.”
Denisova’s recent disavowal of the rape stories had previously caused 140 Ukrainian activists, media professionals, lawyers, psychologists, and other public figures to release an open letter criticising her detailed reporting on the alleged crimes. “Sexually motivated crimes during wartime are a tragedy, but they should not be the subject of a kind of ‘chronicle of scandal’,” the open letter read. “It is the job of the ombudsperson to first and foremost consider the rights and dignity of survivors and their relatives.”
Denisova announced plans to contest her dismissal in court.
Western media outlets have been lax in correcting their stories since the news of Denisova’s unverified claims broke. Neither CNN nor Business Insider have corrected their initial stories on the alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers.
While Western media has made a valiant effort to combat Russian propaganda since the outbreak of the war by banning many Russian news outlets altogether, misinformation from the Ukrainian side seems to still find its way into headlines.