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Is Russia Inventing a Ukrainian Refugee Crisis?

03/05/2014 12:03 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2014

#Ukraine: ‪#Russia claims 675.000 refugees from Ukraine came to Russia in last 2 months. Nobody saw them. ‪#propaganda

News stories emanating from Russian state media this past week raise a serious question. Is Russia creating a fake refugee crisis in the Ukraine to justify its military intervention in the region?

On Sunday, March 2nd, Channel 1, Russia's first and premier TV channel, reported the following story:

Meanwhile, more and more Ukrainian citizens are coming to the southern parts of Russia, who were forced to leave their country due to the aggravation of internal political situation. Only during the past two weeks more than 140,000 people crossed the border. And among them are not only the residents of the south-eastern parts of Ukraine, but also of central and western ones. They arrive to Kursk region, Belgorod region, Rostov region and Bryansk region. The regions are ready to help those coming from Ukraine.

A caption installed later on the Youtube video, points to the sign above the 20 or so cars and reads: "Shehnyi is actually a Poland-Ukraine border crossing." Indeed, the letters on the sign are clearly visible: Шегині -- or Shehnyi -- a Ukrainian village in the far Western province of Lviv that borders Poland. But there are other issues with this and similar stories that have been reported by numerous Russian media outlets. None provide credible film or photos of the hordes of Ukrainian refugees reportedly 'forced to leave their country'.

Also on Sunday, the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service, Voice of Russia, reported that 'More than 675,000 Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Russia since the beginning of this year' and cites a warning by the border authority of "a coming humanitarian catastrophe" if "revolution chaos" continues in Ukraine.

The accompanying photo shows a German tourist bus (Zellertal Reisen) and a lone border security guard.

Russian news agency ITAR-TASS released the same story with a photo of two people at a passport control booth.

In a related story also by Voice of Russia, Belgorod Governor, Yevgeny Savchenko told the press that, 'Thousands of refugees from southern, eastern and central Ukraine are pouring into the Belgorod region' apparently fleeing 'the ongoing rampage unleashed by the unruly ultra-right who seized power and think that they can get away with anything.' Governor of the Rostov Region, Vasily Golubev, chimed in. 'People are fleeing political and social uncertainty, saying they no longer feel safe in their country.'

The photo shows a girl walking her Spaniel down an empty street.

The 24/7 multi-language news giant, Russia Today, carries a similar story, but asserts that the number of 140,000 is only those Ukrainians who have applied for asylum in Russia in the past two weeks, not the number of people who have actually crossed the border as Channel One claims.

'Tragic events in Ukraine have caused a sharp spike in requests coming from this country seeking asylum in Russia," said the chief of Russia's Federal Migration Service's citizenship desk, Valentina Kazakova. But even the number of 140,000 asylum seekers from Ukraine has yet to be substantiated, and RT's photo is of three 'pro-Russian demonstrators'.

No international news agency is independently reporting on the Ukrainian refugee story, which remains uncorroborated. Forbes posted the figure from ITAR-TASS of 675,000 since January with an appropriately dramatic headline, although admitted that 'The numbers may be an exaggeration on Russia's behalf.'

Twitchy.com has a host of Twitterites, including journalists, questioning the validity of these stories.

ITAR-TASS has reported four related stories in the past two days worthy of attention [1], all concerning the willingness of surrounding regions to assist the fleeing Ukrainian refugees. If these reports of a Ukrainian refugee crisis have indeed been fabricated by the Russian state media, perhaps they intend to create a real one.