One of the most poignant images from the war inemerged in March, when Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol. As many fled the scene, the photo of one injured woman, wearing a polka-dotted sweatsuit, went viral, as she carried blankets and bags down debris-covered stairs with the walls falling apart around her.
That woman is 29-year-old Marianna Vyshemirsky. And the bombing of the hospital where she was awaiting the arrival of her daughter was only the beginning of a series of attacks she would face.
In the days following the attack at the hospital, the Russian Embassy in the U.K. claimed that Vyshemirsky portrayed multiple pregnant women in photos of the attack.
“She has some very realistic make-up,” the embassy tweeted. “She is also doing well with her beauty blogs.” The embassy’s tweets about her have since been deleted.
Similar comments about Vyshemirsky, who is a beauty blogger on Instagram, went viral. And now, Vyshemirsky is speaking out about her experience at the hospital for the first time.
In her first interview since the Mariupol bombing, Vyshemirsky spoke with the BBC about how she ended up in the global spotlight. On February 28, just days before the bombing, she posted a photo on Instagram of her holding clothes for her impending baby, teasing the question to her followers of whether they think she will have a girl or boy.
“We had a quiet and simple life, and then, of course, things were turned upside down,” she said.
She was soon admitted to the, and on March 9, she said the airstrike hit as she was speaking with another woman in the maternity ward. She told the BBC that she pulled her blanket over her head after the first strike, and then another hit.
“You could hear everything flying around, shrapnel and stuff,” she said. “The sound was ringing in my ears for a very long time.”
Vyshemirsky escaped relatively unharmed physically, with a cut on her forehead and some glass in her skin. Her photographs were taken by journalists as she was exiting the building and waiting outside for her belongings.
Those photos quickly created a spiral of backlash, with a pro-Kremlin Telegram channel alleging that the pictures were “staged,” according to the BBC.
Marc Owen Jones, a professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, posted a graph at the end of March showing how quickly and vastly disinformation about Vyshemirsky spread. He found 1,600 tweets, replies and retweets from 1,300 unique accounts that attempted to discredit her experience at the hospital.
“They all accuse her of being involved in propaganda,” he said. “Some falsely claim she was reportedly killed.”
Two days after the attack and still in the clothes she wore as she fled from the heavily damaged building, Vyshemirskyto a baby girl, named Veronika, in a different hospital. During this time, she was still unaware of the disinformation storm that was swirling around her.
The next time she checked her Instagram account, she said it was filled with accusations and threats.
“It was really offensive to hear that because I actually lived through it all,” she said. “…I received threats that they would come and find me, that I would be killed, that my child would be cut into pieces.”
But in her interview with BBC, Vyshemirsky did not directly criticize Russian officials. She instead said that she was offended that the journalists who posted her photo did not interview other pregnant women who could confirm the attack happened. According to Vyshemirsky, journalists arrived when the last patients at the hospital, including her, were evacuated.
On April 10, a month after the birth of her daughter, Vyshemirsky posted a photo of her holding her daughter’s hand on Instagram, saying she doesn’t hold a grudge against anyone and that there is no room in her soul for insults.
“I want to teach my daughter the same,” she said, according to a translation, “so that her soul remains bright and pure and filled with love and piety.”
“I want to wish everyone on Earth that your children do not know the word ‘war,'” she continued, “that your fathers, husbands, sons and brothers always return home, that love reigns in your soul.”