On November 27, 2019, pro-Kremlin online media outlet News Front Georgia released an article headlined “Bloody business of organ trade and the Nationals [members of the United National Movement] in Ukraine.” The article refers to the story prepared by Shota Apkhaidze for “Open Broadcast” (“Открытый эфир’”) TV program aired by the Russian Defense Ministry’s Zvezda nationwide TV network on November 13, 2019.
The story is about trading of solders’ organs during the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine by Ukrainian politicians, including Mikheil Saakashvili and Yulia Tymoshenko in Western European countries. Shota Apkhaidze, the author of the story, was even invited to the program as a journalist. Apkhaidze claimed that in January 2015, Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his wife Sandra Roelofs arrived in Kiev to hold negotiations with Ukrainian top military officials on organ trade and achieved the exhumation of the deceased soldiers and their transportation to Kharkov.
Conspiracy theories about organ trade during the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine are Russian media’s widespread narrative aimed at discrediting and demonizing Western forces and anti-Russian Ukrainian politicians, whereas the video footage used in Apkhaidze’s story is manipulative and does not contain real evidence.
Video manipulation N1: The video footage passed off as being shot in 2005 was actually shot in 2017.
Shota Apkhaidze’s “journalistic investigation” involves the footage featuring Mikheil Saakashvili and Sandra Roelofs, who arrived in Kiev in January 2015 for “secret negotiations.” In fact, the video footage was shot in December 2017 and it is featuring Saakashvili, who was released from custody by supporters, and his wife, Sandra Roelofs addressing the participants of the protest rally against ex-President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko outside the Parliament building in Kiev.
Video manipulation N2: The footage about organ removal is actually featuring the process of exhumation of Ukrainian soldiers’ bodies and their transportation for identification.
Apkhaidze’s video footage also involves the process of exhumation of soldiers for “organ removal.” The video footage was taken from the story prepared by „Настоящее Время” in April 2016, which was covered by Radio Liberty. The story describes the process of exhumation of deceased Ukrainian soldiers from mass graves and their transportation for identification and burial.
Radio Liberty’s footage
Video manipulation N3: One and the same footage to describe two difference stories
To prove organ trade in Eastern Ukraine, “Открытый эфир” also refers to the story prepared by Oleg Zakhadiakin. The story involves a video footage, which, according to Zakhadiakin, shows mass exhumation for organ transplantation. Russia’s Channel One aired identical footage in 2014, saying that it depicts opening fire at Russian servicemen near Slaviansk. Moreover, it claimed that the documents shown on the footage below belong to the servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Video manipulation N4: General footage as “evidence”
It is worth noting that Apkhaidze’s journalistic investigation also involves general footages, such as medical devices and an operating room that do not serve as evidence of illegal organ trade. Such materials can be easily found on the Internet and they are used in a manipulative manner to promote groundless claims.
Lie N1: Correspondence between Yulia Tymoshenko’s former defense lawyer and German surgeon about organ trade is a fabrication.
The correspondence described in the story at 14:37 between Serhiy Vlasenko, former defense lawyer of Yulia Tymoshenko, and German surgeon Olha Viber on illegal organ trade was also covered by the programs prepared by Россия 24 and Россия 1 in 2014. StopFake verified the correspondence in 2014 and found out that it was fake.
Olha Viber is not a surgeon and she is not acquainted with Serhiy Vlasenko and Semen Semenchenko. StopFake spoke with Olha Viber who said that she is not a doctor, does not know Serhiy Vlasenko, Semen Semenchenko and their correspondence is fake. The information was also verified by Western German radio station WDR Horst Kläuser, who communicated with Olha Viber, and made a request to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and to the German Fund of Organs Transplantation and received confirmation that there were not the slightest signs of such an illegal trade.
Lie N2: It is impossible to remove and sell organs of soldiers killed during the Ukrainian war, considering technical and medical factors.
According to the story, both wounded and deceased soldiers were used as organ donors. The accompanying video shows that the bodies are being exhumed for organ removal.
In fact, exhumation of bodies for the purpose of organ sale is unreal, because time is very important when transplanting organs from deceased donors to patients on the waiting list. Period between removal and transplantation in case of the majority of organs should be less than 12 hours. It is also important to keep a transplanted organ in special conditions and provide it with oxygen after death of the donor. Therefore, dead organs removed from a body with delay are useless for post-mortem transplantation.
Pro-Kremlin media outlets have spread similar disinformation for multiple times since 2014. See the detailed information in Myth Detector’s earlier publication.
About the sources
Shota Apkhaidze joined the Eurasian Institute after he was released from custody as a political prisoner following the change of the government in 2012. He was convicted for bursting into the studio of Kavkasia TV in 2010, together with the representatives of Orthodox Parents’ Union and People’s Orthodox Movement, and committing a hate crime. In 2015, Apkhaidze founded the Caucasus Center for Islamic Studies. Prior to his detention, Apkhaidze served as a publicist for Malkhaz Gulashvili’s media holding Georgian Times. In 2013, he took part in the event organized by Caucasian Cooperation, involving a tour to North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan. Presently, Apkhaidze lives in Moscow and frequently appears in various media outlets, among them Sputnik, Tsargrad TV, Новостной Фронт, etc. Shota Apkhaidze was positioned in Russian propagandistic media as one of the organizers of xenophobic and anti-migration march held in July 2017 upon the initiative of an ultranationalist movement, Georgian March.
The Facebook page of Georgian-language News Front was created on October 13, 2019. News Front Georgia’s Facebook page is administered by Konstantine Chikviladze, who simultaneously is the author of articles published by Georgia and World as well as the admin of its Facebook page. Simultaneously, News Front’s Facebook page administers a public group “Россия и Грузия- дружба навеки!” (Russia and Georgia – Friendship Forever).
Prepared by Lika Chkhetiani
Winner of the Contest “The Most Media-Literate Young Person”