Dramatic viral combat photo from eastern Ukraine ‘clearly staged’ – war photographer to RT

© Юрий Бутусов
A recent combat picture, supposedly taken in Ukraine’s war-ravaged east by a Ministry of Defense adviser, who was recently dismissed from his duties, has been unveiled as “fake” following a public outcry. A prominent Ukrainian war photographer explains why.

The dramatic picture in question which went viral this month shows two Ukrainian soldiers, carrying their wounded comrade, while a huge explosion is visible behind their backs, sending a plume of smoke into the air.

The author of the photo Dmitry Muravsky, an amateur photographer who served as an adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Minister claimed it was made on June 4 in the village of Shirokino, located on the firing line between the government forces and rebels in east Ukraine.

However in an open letter signed by numerous Ukrainian journalists and photographers, people claimed it was a fake and  they “strongly condemn such manipulative activities.”

RT spoke to one of those, who voiced discontent, a prominent war photographer Efrem Lukatsky. He told us that judging by the picture, “the distance from photographer [to soldiers] was 30 meters and from troopers to blast, let’s say 20 more meters.”

After an explosion at that short range the soldiers “should have been torn to pieces,” or they should have “at least fallen,” Lukatsky stated. However in the pictures presented by Muravsky after the blast, the soldiers simply ran further.

Lukatsky explained that the smoke behind the soldiers also looked “unnatural.” Judging by those facts he said that the picture “was clearly staged” noting that it was extremely important to realize that.

“I recall my friends and colleagues who have died during this war, and I would be ashamed if I ... said nothing,” Lukatsky said.

The controversial picture was  on August 17 by a colleague of Muravsky on Facebook, who praised his work.

It was widely shared on social media users including by officials such as former US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.

Following the wave of criticism and in a bid to prove the photo was real Muravsky  an interview with two soldiers, who were present at his picture. In the video the servicemen confirmed the situation, as described by Muravsky.

However that turned out to be a lie,  to the commander of the respective troopers, Viktor Moroz.

“I officially declare that the photo Murawsky with the explosion in Shirokino was staged,” Moroz wrote citing the testimonies of the very soldiers to him.

The commander confirmed that the picture has been indeed taken in Shirokino, but “there were no shelling and no injuries.” In fact, the officer said the blast was caused by an explosive device, specially planted under the bags with cement.

The officer also stated that Muravsky used his influence to force the soldiers to stage the picture.

Following the public outcry the Minister of Defence of Ukraine General of Army of Ukraine Stepan Poltorak “decided to dismiss him from the position of Volunteer Adviser to the Minister of Defense of Ukraine,” according to a Sunday statement on the ministry’s website. 

“All photos that attracted public attention were taken by the author before his official appointment to the position in the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and at his personal discretion. The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has never considered those photos as real war photos and made no official statement in this regard,” the statement added.

Speaking to RT the photograph Efrem Lukatsky said that the ex-adviser was fired because “he forced the soldiers, using his influence, to lie on camera that it was a real event."

The second reason cited by Lukatsky was that the whole staged action “posed a risk to the servicemen”, due to snipers operating in the area.

In the wake of the scandal, various media outlets, including local ones,  doubts on other pictures by the same phtographer which he claimed had been taken during real-life battles. 

Unusual “light, and a style of image-handling that is more common in commercial photography than in news photography” are  by the media as raising quite a few questions.