In the past two weeks, a conspiracy theory claiming that NATO members donated blood infected with HIV and hepatitis to Ukraine was originally posted and circulated on Weibo by “Guyan Muchan,” an influential account with more than 6 million followers.
The Asia Fact Check Lab (AFCL) tracked down the pro-Putin Telegram channel, Breaking Mash, and confirmed it as the source of the disinformation. Further investigation by Ukraine-based fact-checking organization StopFake prompted the Ukrainian government to release a formal statement debunking the disinformation.
On November 3, Guyan Muchan, a popular Weibo user, published a post claiming to expose a depraved blood scandal involving NATO and Ukraine. The explanation is:
“Ukraine has asked NATO to provide more than 60,000 liters of blood for wounded soldiers in the Odessa, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Zaporozhye regions. NATO member states donated blood to Ukraine.
However, after random tests, Ukrainian medical personnel found HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses in the blood. Kyiv has written to NATO asking for an independent assessment of the donor blood and requesting that blood “not be collected on the African continent”.
In the first group, 6.3% of the samples had HIV, 7.4% had hepatitis B, and 3.2% had hepatitis C.
In the second group: 5.9%, 6.8% and 3.1%, respectively.
The information comes from leaked files after Ukrainian government offices’ computers were hacked.”
The post contained three images. The first was an image of a statement that hackers allegedly obtained confidential documents from Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal’s email. The second was an alleged letter from the Minister of Health of Ukraine to Schmyhal. The third was the English translation of the letter. The background of each image contained the word “mash” as a watermark, which AFCL used to trace the post back to its original source.
Guyan Muchan is one of China’s “patriotic” influencers who has risen to fame in recent years for supporting domestic nationalist sentiments. Her post, in which she claimed the use of contaminated blood, was liked by hundreds of people, and other social media influential figures shared it with millions more. This “news” quickly spread to a number of Chinese-language websites, including the popular Internet news portal 163.com.
What is the source of the claim?
AFCL could not find any reports of the claim from credible English media. Some English sites with poor news credibility reposted it, including the pro-Russian site info.news and the gun lovers’ community forum snipershide.com. A number of unreliable Twitter accounts also posted the claim in English. The most important among them is ZOKA, a user with more than 105,000 followers. Marcus Kolga, director of DisinfoWatch, a fact-checking project run by the Macdonald Laurier Institute in Canada, told AFCL that ZOKA is a “known pro-Kremlin account.”
AFCL also found that the Russian version of the claim was circulating on many websites, forums and social media platforms. After comparing the release time and watermark, AFCL traced the claim to a post on Telegram’s Breaking Mash channel, first published at 1am on November 3. The original post has since been viewed over 1 million times.
Breaking Mash is the official Telegram channel of the Russian-language website Mash.ru. According to Christine Eliashevsky-Chraibi, a media veteran and translator at Euromaidan Press, the website’s content is full of lies and heavily biased towards Moscow’s propaganda. Mash executives are suspected of being close to the Russian government, and company director Stepan Kovalchuk’s uncles, Kirill and Yuri Kovalchuk, have been labeled by the United States as “Putin-aligned elites.”
In summary, both the original Russian source of the claim and the English websites and social media accounts that propagate the claim all suffer from low credibility.
Is the claim true?
AFCL believes Guyan Muchan’s post to be false. It came from a pro-Russian Telegram channel with low credibility. The Ministry of Health of Ukraine denied the claim in a statement giving further details on blood donation in Ukraine.
The claim claims that the “scoop” was leaked from Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal’s hacked email. But no credible media outlets have reported on the leaked emails.
The statements on which the claim is based use questionable language that would not normally be appropriate for official documents. For example, the allegation alleges that the Minister of Health demanded that NATO’s donated blood “not be collected on the African continent”. The possibility of such racist language appearing in a formal government document is unlikely.
Eliashevsky-Chraibi said the alleged government letter was “very suspicious” as there was “no date, no signature, no stamp” and there was “no formal procedure”.
Through the Ukraine-based fact-checking organization StopFake, AFCL verified the Ukrainian government for the veracity of this claim. On November 7, Ukraine’s Health Ministry published a statement on its official website refuting the claim.
Ukraine has never requested blood donations from organizations outside the country, and all donor blood needed for the battlefield comes from Ukraine and meets European standards, the ministry statement said. Whenever there is an urgent need at a blood donation center, people respond quickly to donation requests, eliminating the need for out-of-country shipments.
The statement adds that Ukraine does not have a “random sample” system for donated blood. Instead, it tests all donations to ensure they are safe and reliable.
The alleged letter from the Ukrainian Minister of Health is a forgery, the statement said.
The allegation of blood donations to Ukraine comes from the Russian Telegram channel Breaking Mash [left] and was then picked up by a pro-Kremlin account on Twitter [center] and a few hours later from an account on Weibo [right] with 6.44 million fans. Photo Credit: Screenshots from the Asia Fact Check Lab
In late October, the Kyiv Post, a leading English newspaper in Ukraine, published a report that the Russian private military company Wagner had been recruiting Russian prisoners suffering from serious infectious diseases, particularly HIV and hepatitis C. This message bears some similarities to the claim made on the Breaking Mash Telegram channel, including mentions of HIV, hepatitis and the war, but makes no mention of NATO or donor blood. The disinformation published by Mash could be used to discredit NATO as part of Russia’s information warfare.
Manufacturing and spreading virus-related disinformation has been one of Russia’s commonly used tactics since the days of the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, the KGB and its East German counterpart, the Stasi, ran the “Operation Denver” disinformation campaign.
The campaign claimed HIV was a US-made biological weapon; that the virus has been tested on prisoners, ethnic minorities and homosexuals; and that the virus originated in Africa. Since the outbreak of COVID and the Russia-Ukraine war, “virus” has become a buzzword in public discourse, often associated with false or misleading information.
1. Guyan Muchan’s Weibo post
3. The original source in Telegram channel “Breaking Mash”.
4. Project report on Mash Telegram Channel: Cart from the Kremlin
5. Statement of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine: We refute another Russian fake about substandard blood for patients
6. Wagner recruits prisoners with HIV and hepatitis C
7. Operation “Denver”: KGB and Stasi disinformation about AIDS
8. Guyanmuchan spoke at a Youth.cn forum
The Asia Fact Check Lab is a new branch of RFA formed to counteract disinformation in today’s complex media environment. Our journalists publish both daily and special reports aimed at enhancing and deepening our readers’ understanding of public issues.