Russian Media Believes Mass Graves Exist, All Evidence Be Damned

Earlier today, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a series of updated numbers on the casualties both through and during the “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine. Augmenting the prior full-length report, Wednesday’s release found that:

From mid-April to 6 October, at least 3,660 people were killed and 8,756 wounded in eastern Ukraine, the UN Human Rights Office said Wednesday as it released the report.* Since the ceasefire began, between 6 September and 6 October, at least 331 fatalities were recorded, although some of the individuals may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later.

That is to say, as Reuters pointed, an average of ten individuals per day have died since the “ceasefire” was first enacted. Likewise, the number of estimated internally displaced people has spiked, now reaching, as of early October, over 375,000 individuals.

While the new release doesn’t delineate the civilian proportion killed due to government or separatist forces – indeed, today’s text is markedly neutral – the run-down adds that Russian-led and -oriented separatists were recently “bolstered by an increasing number of foreign fighters, including citizens believed to be from the Russian Federation.” Likewise, the OHCHR, thankfully, made sure to continue its updates from Crimea, where Tatars have continued to slough under Russian persecution.  No new numbers, but a note on the “increasing intimidation of Crimean Tatars under the pretext of combating extremism" at least summed the situation.

So, on the whole – not terribly much new in the release. Swelling numbers, and increased evidence that the “ceasefire,” while technically intact, seems relegated solely to the paper on which it’s typed. And further evidence that “armed groups” continue to “terrorize” the local populations.

Still, the latest batch of numbers managed to garner a fair slice of coverage. Reuters, as mentioned above, ran with the rate; The New York Times and RFE/RL centered on the number killed since the ceasefire. This, of course, stood as the starkest reveal – the number, and the frequency therein.

Russian media, however, took a different tack. Instead of centering on the numbers and realities within the report, multiple state-backed outlets instead focused on what wasn’t in the report – that is, the lack of purported information on mass graves “discovered” in eastern Ukraine.

Per TASS, the new report “failed to mention” the mass graves, further citing the fact that the UN, according to interviewees, “intentionally” left out the information. RIA Novosti’s headlined blared that there was “no mention” of the mass graves, with an additional piece saying that UN observers still “need access to mass graves[.]” RT, to its credit, at least headlined the total number of casualties, but further detailed the lack of mass-grave coverage, pivoting off of TASS’s run-down.

Moreover, RT followed with an interview with “analyst” Anna van Densky, who managed to lead with the fact that “it’s a well-known problem that the UN is dominated by the US.” The interview further manages to utilize quotes that don’t exist, denounces any credibility the UN maintains – and cites “mass graves discovered outside Donetsk recently” as assumed fact.

Of course, for those beyond the bubble of Kremlin-funded media, the existence of putative mass graves may strike those elsewhere as a bit peculiar. Even with the myriad distractions of Ebola, ISIS, and mid-terms, mass graves are generally something that could pierce most epistemic bubbles. The lack of coverage of these mass graves within English-language press – beyond Moscow-funded media, that is – would otherwise strike readers as a massive oversight.

But, then, the oversight would require actual validity to the claim that these mass graves were found in the first place. In order for the UN and (non-Russian) English-language media to overlook the mass graves, the graves actually need to, as it were, exist. And despite the claims of TASS, RIA Novosti, and RT – that 400 bodies were discovered in mass graves, often with signs of concomitant violence – the reality stands, unfortunately, far from their narrative.

The assertions come solely from separatist leaders and assorted “friends” – and, even then, are filled with holes numerous, claims backtracked, and Russian media manipulation plenty. There’s been no independent analysis to substantiate any of the claims. There have been no photographic evidences piled. There has been nothing, beyond Kremlin-funded media, that hints that any truth stands behind the claim.

Still, there’s been some non-Kremlin coverage of the graves – the NYT piece linked above notes the claims to their existence. However, the paper promptly follows the claims with the reality that the UN hasn’t received a single piece of evidence about the graves’ existence. Nothing, beyond the continued clamor of Russian-funded media, claiming the discovery in eastern Ukraine – and the UN’s apparent complicity alongside.