Fact Check: Did BBC Report Blame Ukraine for Kramatorsk Station Bombing?

A video branded as a BBC News report was widely on social media Wednesday.

It claims that serial numbers on Tochka-U missiles used in the Ukrainian conflict provide proof that it was in fact the Ukrainian Armed Forces behind the missile strike on a rail station in Kramatorsk, which resulted in dozens of civilian deaths on April 8.

The Claim

The clip starts with a BBC News logo flashing briefly in the center of the video, before the BBC watermark pops up in the left corner, along with the label "Kramatorsk, Ukraine" along the right edge.

The video, which does not feature a voiceover, proceeds to show several cut scenes, first the scene of the bombing in Kramatorsk with dead bodies on the ground, followed by a shot of the Tochka-U missile that was found near the bombing site and filmed by multiple news outlets shortly after the attack.

Missile in Kramatorsk
Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a fragment of a Tochka-U missile with a writing in Russian "For children" , on grass after Russian shelling at the railway station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022. Andriy Andriyenko/AP Photo

"The serial number of the Tochka-U missile is identical to... the series of missiles from the arsenal of the 13th AFU missile brigade," the captions — added with the BBC's trademark red line — say.

"The same type of missiles and the same serial number were previously fired by the Ukrainian army at the cities of Khartsyzsk, Logvinovo, Berdyansk and Melitopol," the captions continue, as the video quickly jumps through several bits of additional footage, including another missile on the ground and video of a launch of a missile.

Though the captions purport the ensuing bits of footage show previous strikes by Ukraine, it was not possible to independently verify the provenance of the additional footage.

The next segment appears to return to the Kramatorsk missile and is accompanied by Italian commentary, as a man—apparently a reporter—points out the "Ш91579" serial number on the shell.

The next caption states that "when the missile factory numbers hit social media, the Ukrainian media stopped covering the topic."

"Military experts stress that Ukraine has often started using fake news to promote its position," as the video skips to footage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It then shifts into a different topic altogether, addressing Ukraine's claims of alleged Russian atrocities in Bucha.

The video was shared widely by pro-Kremlin channels on Telegram, referenced as a "BBC report," as well as by Twitter accounts. Some of the posts received hundreds of interactions before being taken down by Twitter. Others remained up as this article went live.

The Facts

The BBC did not run a report stating that Ukraine was behind the shelling of Kramatorsk. The video presented as such is in fact manipulated, as evidenced by several incongruities and the broadcaster's statement.

While an apparent attempt has been made to replicate the BBC's branding, some of the elements do not match the original style. For example, the BBC logo does not appear from the beginning. Although it is at the top left corner, it is actually slightly lower than in the BBC News clips available on the official YouTube channel.

The location label is also misplaced, appearing along the right edge of the screen rather than at the top, as in other reports.

Other stylistic incongruities are apparent throughout the video, including the lack of background commentary, which is instead replaced by excessively long captions.

The phrasing in the captions is also suspicious, with constructs such as "Ukraine has often started using fake news" indicating that they were likely not written by a native English speaker.

The video could not be found on the BBC's YouTube channel or any other affiliated platforms. The BBC issued a statement on Wednesday exposing the video clip featuring its branding as a fake.

"We are aware of a fake video with BBC News branding suggesting Ukraine was responsible for last week's missile attack on Kramatorsk train station," the broadcasting network said in a Tweet. "The BBC is taking action to have the video removed. We urge people not to share it and to check stories on the BBC News website."

In fact, genuine reports by the BBC regarding the deadly attack did not assign blame, but cited analysis that put in question Russia's claims that it no longer deploys this type of missile.

Speculative Claim

The substance of the arguments presented in the fake video also raises some red flags. While it is impossible to ascertain at this point who carried out the attack, until an independent investigation is concluded, Russia began spreading misinformation about the strike in the hours and days following the missile strike, as Newsweek reported at the time.

Pro-Kremlin media outlets initially appeared to claim Russian responsibility for the attack on Ukraine's Kramatorsk railway station—but swiftly took a U-turn as reports of mass casualties began to seep through.

One such post, cited in this tweet, that was not immediately deleted, on state-affiliated reporter's "Vоенкор diZa" channel, linked the attack to the elimination of supposed Ukrainian military equipment it claimed was smuggled on one of the trains.

Russian officials and state media later denied that pro-Russian forces were to blame, instead claiming that it was a "Ukrainian provocation," because "only Ukraine has the Tochka-U missiles."

The falsely labeled viral video appears to rehash a report in RIA Novosti, a Russian state media outlet, that claimed the serial number on the missile, which was briefly revealed on an Italian TV News segment, "proves" it came from the AFU.

Those claims are at the very least unproven: as other fact-checkers have explained, the Soviet-era OTR-21 "Tochka-U" ballistic missiles were produced in Votkinsk Machine Building Plant, in the Udmurtia region of Russia. It is not clear whether production is still active.

Several countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and Syria, are believed to hold stocks of these missiles and they have been deployed in several conflicts, including the 1994 Yemen Civil War, the Russian invasion of South Ossetia and by the government forces in Syria. The missiles were distributed at different times and the serial numbers were unrelated to the destination in which the units were shipped.

Contrary to Russia's denials, western intelligence services, Amnesty International reports and social media footage suggest it has not stopped deploying the Tochka series.

Though reported Russian strikes appeared to most commonly feature the Ш89 series, other series have been reportedly used by Moscow or its allies in the past, including this February 2018 video from Idlib, Syria, showing the number 9M79-1 ВГ910865.

As other analysts have pointed out, the serial numbers can also be easily forged and individual missiles can be sold or stolen, rendering any attribution to a specific nation's stockpile meaningless.

However, by mislabelling the video with BBC branding the makers of the clip infused the unsupported claims with the authority of a prominent and broadly trusted media outlet.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

No, the BBC did not report that Ukraine was to blame for the missile strike on the Kramatorsk rail station, the video is fake. It is an example of manipulated content that is mislabelled with the branding of an authoritative source in order to lend credence to speculative and misleading claims.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK