Black Transplantology in Ukraine: Why Does the Kremlin’s Fake Horror Stories Work in Serbia?

Written by Ms.c Darko Obradović

The article by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, “World Leader in Black Transplantology: Organs are Traded in Ukraine Online and Offline“, for “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, August 7, 2023 [1] gains its popularity in the Serbian media and among pro-Kremlin opinion makers. This piece of disputed and repeatedly repeated misinformation is experiencing its new information cycle. Somewhere at the beginning of June 2023, Russia launched a disinformation campaign about the black market trade in the organs of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who died during Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The Kremlin very deliberately spreads disinformation, which is reinforced by a strong emotional charge, in order to weaken the support of public opinion on the issue of aid to Ukraine. 

We should not forget stories about “bio-laboratories” and “special mosquitoes” that spread pathogens that can only harm Russians. In May 2022, the first disinformation related to the hospital in Mariupol and the trade in children’s organs appeared. The fake-claim that the Red Cross is involved in child organ trafficking in Mariupol was spread as far back as May 2022[2]. “The video recorded in our office in Mariupol, which is now circulating in some media, is full of false claims and unfounded assumptions about the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)”, – the Red Cross announced in its press release[3].

In support of the fact that it is disinformation, there is also the claim that Red Cross manuals were found as “secret” while it is common knowledge that all Red Cross manuals are public on their website. Inserting the element of “secrecy” is a technique to strengthen the false claim and make the forgery more believable. Moreover, this makes debunking the disinformation much more challenging.

The RIA Novosti agency also participated in the distribution of disinformation about the Red Cross and the Mariupol hospital[4]. The official Twitter account of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia shared this disinformation in the form of a comment by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Maria Zakharova.

Allegations of organ trafficking during military activities in Ukraine are part of the Kremlin’s disinformation toolkit and have been in circulation since 2014. In the past, accusing others of organ trafficking has been a recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation technique, be it NATO, the Syrian White Helmets, the Ukrainian military with its soldiers, or even the wife of former Georgian president Mikheil Sahashvili[5].

At various intervals, Russia spreads this recycled disinformation while constantly adding new content in order to gain credibility with the audience. Disinformation about the “black market of organs” is spread in the form of a constant narrative in order to influence vulnerable segments of domestic and foreign public opinion, such as the citizens of Serbia, but also the civilian population of other countries. The goal is to cause negative reactions and anti-Ukrainian sentiment. This disinformation is aimed at target groups in Russia, Ukraine, Europe and America.

The method used in the distribution of this disinformation:

  • Official announcement – text by Maria Zakharova from August 7, 2023, Twitter announcement of the Russian MFA-a, etc.
  • False or fictitious witnesses – citing an unspecified person and his affiliation (Serbian newspaper Politika quoted a Serbian from USA to whom is “offered“ Ukrainian organs on black market)
  • Falsified documents, recordings, quoting interviews out of context, interpretations out of context
  • Misleading interpretation of announcements and interviews
  • Recycling of material that cannot be brought into a concrete context.

In the author’s text, Zaharova states: “There is information that people involved in the Kosovo Liberation Army may own or at least engage in this business.” One of its leaders is now on trial for trafficking the organs of killed Serbian soldiers, civilians and other dissidents during the war in Yugoslavia. The army is still functioning, but under a different name and its soldiers may be fighting as mercenaries in Ukraine.”

The only truth here is that the Kosovo Liberation Army was the organizer of illegal organ transplantation through the “Medicus” clinic, which Dick Murphy reported in detail in his report. So far, not a single international or state organization has reported on the organized “black market” of human organs in Ukraine, while the “yellow house” in Kosovo really existed. For this reason, the text by Maria Zakharova abounds with techniques of creating false analogies. Citizens of Serbia who are familiar with the crimes in the “yellow house” will be more inclined to believe in this deception due to the application of the technique we have described.

Disinformation about the “black market of human organs” is one of the pillars of Russian propaganda[6]. Thus, on July 31, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, announced that Ukraine is using its wounded soldiers as biological material, secretly removing their organs for transplantation: “Zelensky signed a law that allows the transplantation of human organs from the body without consent.” In fact, Ukraine has never adopted such a law, Ukraine’s  legislation literally explicitly prohibits the purchase and sale of organs. Furthermore, the law prohibits the posthumous removal of organs from orphaned children, disabled persons, those who died in combat or persons whose identity has not been established[7].

On July 12, a video of a person posing as a former observer of the OSCE mission under the name Vera Vayiman was broadcasted. The woman was talking about the trade in children’s organs. However, in fact, her real name is Vera Nikulina, she is from Vladivostok, holder of the Medal for Courage and is associated with Putin’s United Russia party.

Information operations carried out by Russia effectively act against the civilian population in Serbia and create a situation contrary to the strategic goals of the country. The purpose of disinformation is to create an informational alibi that Russia is a “just” party in a “defensive” war against Ukraine, which is presented as a “criminal and terrorist” state that is involved in the most monstrous crimes, including the illegal trade in the organs of its citizens. Russian propaganda always has general goals and specific ones. In this disinformation, Maria Zaharova’s specific target is Serbia, and that is why her article mentions the crimes of the KLA.

Those who would believe the statements of Maria Zakharova should keep in mind that organ transplantation is a complex logistical task and not a fair trade in carts. More about the complexities of organ transplantation can be found on the official websites, while everyone else who hates to read should ask a logical question related to the health and previous diseases of the donor, which must be known before the transplant. Exploitation of ignorance among the general population is the strongest weapon of propagandists. Russian diplomacy represents the world’s most active disinformer.