A photograph of a heavily pregnant woman fleeing a bombed maternity hospital became one of the most iconic images of the war in Ukraine. But its subject was targeted by an extravagant Russian propaganda campaign and received hatred from both sides.
The image of Marianna Vyshemirsky, draped in a scarf with her forehead covered in blood, was seen around the world.
The photo above was taken after a Russian airstrike in Mariupol. It circulated online on the front pages of newspapers and was argued about in the United Nations Security Council. But, having survived one attack, Mariana faces another attack – one of propaganda and hatred aimed at her and her family.
As Russia attempted to lie about the attack, 29-year-old Mariana was falsely accused of “acting”. Russian diplomats also claimed that he had “played” not one but two different women.
I have spoken to her friends and relatives in detail but have been trying to interview her namesake for weeks. So when she finally shows up on my screen on a video call, it feels a little too real. She tells me about her tragic escape and the online abuse that followed.
“I received threats that they would come and find me, that I would be killed, that my child would be cut to pieces,” she says.
It is her first interview with a significant Western media outlet since being evacuated to her hometown in a part of the Donbas controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Mariana looks relaxed and talks to me without any preconditions, but a separatist blogger accompanies her.
She tells me what it’s like to find herself in an information battle while giving birth to her daughter Veronica in a war zone.
“He chose to show up in difficult times, but it’s better not to get into these situations.” ” she explains.