People cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing, 10 days after Russia launched a military invasion on Ukraine, on March 5, 2022 ( AFP / Aris Messinis)

Posts mischaracterize photo of BBC journalist during attack in Ukraine

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Screenshots of a BBC news report shared on social media purport to show a journalist exaggerating the danger of a Russian attack on Irpin, Ukraine. This is misleading; the reporter has refuted the claim, and the posts ignore the shelling that took place in the area where the footage was filmed.

One Facebook post shared October 6, 2022 includes a series of images that show a journalist wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest lying on the ground while speaking to a camera. In the background, a woman stands up and watches him.

"BBC reporter making his dramatic 'war' report laying on the ground while a passing babushka asks what's he doing," says the caption of the post, which accrued more than 7,000 likes.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken October 12, 2022

Similar claims were shared on Twitter and in other languages, including Bulgarian, French, German and Hungarian.

The photo's spread comes eight months into Russia's war on Ukraine, as Moscow continues to pummel the country with missiles. Since the conflict began, there have been several online claims aimed at discrediting media coverage.

Recent posts about the BBC journalist are also misleading, as they misrepresent the events that took place in Irpin.

Heavy shelling

Through a reverse image search, AFP identified the journalist in the photos as Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's international editor and an experienced war reporter.

Using keyword searches, AFP also found the original video pictured in the posts. It was published March 6, 2022 on the BBC's YouTube channel and titled: "Horrific scenes in battle for Kyiv as families killed fleeing Russian onslaught."

The footage was filmed just weeks after the Russian invasion, in which civilians from the small town of Irpin started evacuating toward Kyiv across a destroyed bridge. The city faced intense shelling, and eight civilians were killed.

The widely condemned attack was heavily documented. AFP captured footage of the events that took place that day on the Irpin River.

Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said in a report: "For several hours on March 6, 2022, Russian forces bombarded an intersection on a road that hundreds of civilians were using to flee the Russian army's advance in northern Ukraine to Kyiv."

Bowen addresses allegations

Asked about the claim on social media, Bowen said: "The allegation is a malicious fantasy."

"We arrived at the bridge during a brief lull in the shelling," he told AFP. "While we were there, it started again and intensified."

In Bowen's video report, you can see that just before the woman starts walking toward him, she is crouching down. Intense shelling is heard in the background.

Screenshot of a BBC YouTube video taken on October 7, 2022

Bowen also wrote a March 20, 2022 article for The Sunday Times about what he witnessed in Irpin. He said he got down on the ground because he heard shells exploding nearby.

"It is human nature to try to get out of the way, and the only way you can do so in a hurry is to lie on the ground, which is why I was doing my 'standupper,' the bit where a TV reporter speaks directly into the lens, from a prone position as the two sides fired artillery shells at each other," he said in the article.

In an October 6 tweet, Bowen further refuted claims that he exaggerated the danger.

Images from Irpin

AFP confirmed Bowen's location by comparing the photo of him to a picture that AFP journalist Daphne Rousseau took the same day.

The caption says: "Pedestrians cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 6, 2022, 11 days after Russia launched a military invasion on Ukraine."

Side-by-side comparison of BBC footage showing Jeremy Bowen (left) and an AFP photo taken by Daphne Rousseau on March 6, 2022 (right), with common elements circled in red

As of September 18, the war had claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 Ukrainian citizens, according to reports to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

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Ukraine conflict