Russian propaganda is grossly misrepresenting a Ukrainian health policy reform to allege it is intended to facilitate “the genocide of Ukrainians by the Zelensky regime, which even throws disabled people, HIV patients and schizophrenics to the slaughter.”

The outrageous fake was revealed by VoxCheck, a fact-checking service which analyzes, on a weekly basis, public health statements and narratives that appear in the information spaces of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

VoxCheck found that the false narrative is not only circulating on Russian-language Telegram channels, but has also been referenced by at least one mainstream Ukrainian media outlet.

The Telegram channel Ukraina.RU is one example. It cited the notorious propaganda Telegram channel, Readovka, that made the claim that Ukrainian authorities were subjecting disabled and unwell people to “slaughter” – while also alleging “ethnocide of Russians, persecution of Orthodox Christians, systematic murders of civilians and brutal reprisals against prisoners of war” by the “elites” of the Zelensky administration.

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The root of the baseless campaign by Russian propaganda outlets, according to VoxCheck, is reform of health-related military eligibility rules in Ukraine announced on Aug. 25.

As part of the reform, the official list of mild and moderate conditions under which conscripts are deemed fit for military service has been expanded.

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Specifically, according to VoxCheck, changes were made to Order No. 490 of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, “On Approval of Changes to the Regulations on Military Medical Examination in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Previously, the Military Medical Commission, and its local offices, were tasked with individually determining whether a conscript was “fit” or “fit, with limitations for service” if they had diagnoses in several categories. This did not take account of the individual’s functionality or severity or stage of the condition or illness they presented. 

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Under the new method, all individuals receive an automatic assessment of “fit” under provisions of martial law. As one worked example, a candidate with asymptomatic and non-transmittable HIV [following treatment] was previously automatically deemed as “unfit”.

By contrast, there is a long history of individuals with HIV serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and a number of those infected with HIV have actually made legal representation to be allowed to voluntarily serve in defense of their country.

Mustafa Nayyem, lawyer and military expert  who is co-founder of the NGO “Pryncyp”, said the changes are “aimed at reducing corruption risks in the operations of local military medical commissions, particularly in the selling of decisions regarding limited fitness or unfitness” with certain illnesses/conditions, according to VoxCheck. 

The illnesses/conditions of specific reform focus include: asymptomatic HIV; clinically-cured tuberculosis; viral hepatitis with minor impairment of liver function; mild, short-term manifestations of organic mental disorders. 

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Russian propaganda has intentionally twisted this reform into the false claim that individuals with these conditions will now be compulsorily put into military service in front-line positions and thereby “slaughtered”.

The introduced changes were jointly formulated after consideration by several Ministries, parliamentary committees, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the NGO “Pryncyp”. The reform process involved surveys of military personnel and staff serving in military medical commissions, the identification of problems, and the development of a roadmap, including organizational, legal, and digital aspects.

VoxCheck is a fact-checking project of the independent analytical platform VoxUkraine. Since 2018, it is a signatory of the Code of Ethics of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

Readovka’s Telegram channel has more than 1 million subscribers and is considered by some as one of the five most cited media outlets in Russia. Some label the outlet as pro-Kremlin, while others consider it ultra-nationalist.

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