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22 Dec, 2018 20:52

Tanks on Maidan, president’s gold bath & more outrageous Ukraine fakes by disgraced Spiegel reporter

Tanks on Maidan, president’s gold bath & more outrageous Ukraine fakes by disgraced Spiegel reporter

One wonders just how outrageous ‘fake news’ must be in order to get busted, but Der Spiegel's ex-star reporter Claas Relotius got away with it all while writing for several outlets – maybe because it was about places like Ukraine.

Titled ‘Bribing prohibited’ Relotius’ piece on the new Ukrainian police has all the elements of his trademark style: dramatic narrative, likeable heroes – and entirely made-up ‘facts’.

The ‘report’, published by the Swiss magazine Reportagen in June 2016, tells a tale of two young people – Dimitri and Valeria – who became members of the rebranded police force of post-Maidan Ukraine. Given the recent revelations over his fictional reporting, it's now unclear whether Relotius met the duo in reality, but the story makes for a very compelling read indeed.

It states that each day before going on patrol, Dimitri and Valeria have been coming to the center of Kiev to pray near the “altar” erected in memory of those who died during the 2014 Euromaidan unrest. The two were among the protesters back then, it reveals, describing how they recall burning buildings, the “smell of corpses,” a man “with a child in his arms” shot dead beside an old well – and a ruined wall, where dozens were “slayed by snipers” and “rolled over by tanks.”

Wait, what? Given that the majority of victims in Kiev – both protesters and law enforcement officers – were killed over two days of murky clashes in February 2014, the “smell” of dead bodies appears to be a little of an exaggeration. No “old wells” could immediately be found in central Kiev, and there's nothing to back up the story about a “man with a child” either.

Also on rt.com Game of deception: How a fraudster who faked his stories for years got to be Germany’s top reporter

But most glaring of all, no “tanks” were ever deployed to curb the city unrest, so the “ruined wall” part was made up in its entirety. In reality, the police unsuccessfully tried to use light APCs to storm some barricades, but the vehicles were pelted with Molotovs and burnt down. At least the “burning buildings” part holds some water, as some central Kiev sites, including the Trade Unions Building, were indeed put to the torch.

It's not much of a surprise that the rest of the article is riddled with inconsistencies and false statements. Notably, it claims that the ousted President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, had a mansion where he “lived like a pharaoh, with banisters and baths made of pure gold.” The claim appears to be based on the long-debunked rumor that the protesters who stormed the president's lavish residence discovered a golden toilet.

Incumbent president of the country – Petro Poroshenko – is also described, for some reason, as a “billionaire praline manufacturer from Odessa.” Poroshenko has held several top government posts since the early 2000s, but this fact is not even mentioned in the article. He was indeed born in the Odessa region in the Soviet Union, yet the image of a “successful businessman from Odessa” seems to be quite a stretch.

Describing the old bribery mindset the new police officers have been supposedly battling, Relotius managed to make another, quite outlandish, mistake. The article says that the new police force was in use not only in the capital city of Kiev, but in other major cities, namely “in Kharkiv and Donetsk, in Lviv and in Odessa.”

The problem is, at the time of publication, the eastern city of Donetsk had for two years been under the control of anti-Kiev rebels, who rejected the Euromaidan coup, proclaimed their own republic, and had actual tanks and warplanes sent to crash them into submission – with only limited success.

It doesn't seem probable that the new Ukrainian police force would have been welcome there – a fact that may have eluded the disgraced Der Spiegel reporter. Just as it, sadly, would go over the head of many of his readers, submerged in the MSM reporting on Ukraine – a narrative often fed from the Kiev government's POV – and with little fact-checking.

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