Professor faces government crackdown for questioning Ukraine narrative
A Scottish professor was slammed for sharing an article declaring the Mariupol theater bombing was “staged".
University of Edinburgh professor Tim Hayward is being attacked in the media for sharing an article suggesting the bombing of a theater in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol may have been staged by Ukrainian nationalists. His skepticism has already led Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to promise a “crackdown” on such "wrongthink".
Hayward shared an item from the Grayzone, a left-wing news outlet, on Sunday. According to eyewitnesses in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Ukrainian Azov Batallion militants — formerly labeled as "neo-Nazis" by Western media and lawmakers – hid behind civilians in a Mariupol theater before blowing it up when Russian forces approached the Ukrainian city.
The Azov Battalion and media affiliated with the extremist unit accused Russia of hitting the structure and used the incident to demand Western intervention against Russia. In reaction, US President Joe Biden labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal," and American leaders from both parties, as well as those from Europe, reiterated calls for military aid – including fighter jets – for Ukraine.
However, no video of the theater being attacked exists, and Russia denies hitting it, saying it was "never considered as a strike target." Conflicting reports on the alleged weaponry used and civilian casualties, or lack thereof, only add to the confusion.
Nonetheless, Hayward was chastised by his colleagues for addressing the matter. Dr. Aliaksandr Herasimenka, a researcher at Oxford University, said in a Times article on Tuesday that "we must be very careful" when reading reports critical of the official narrative in Ukraine and claimed that outlets like the Grayzone "are currently engaged in a massive disinformation campaign." He did not present any evidence to back up his charges against the media outlet.
The Scottish government has also singled out Hayward. After sharing articles questioning the alleged bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol and claiming that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad did not gas his own citizens, contradicting never-proven Western claims, the professor was branded a "useful idiot for President Putin's atrocities" in Westminster last week by Tory MP Robert Halfon.
Academics such as Hayward are already being probed, according to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, and their universities will be notified.
Hayward told Edinburgh Live that he is concerned about constraints on free expression and believes that hearing both sides of an argument is critical during a war.
"In war, miscalculations can have terrible consequences. We also know that misinformation can sometimes even slip through on our own side, as when the UK went to war in Iraq, mistakenly believing it had weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
"As for the people of Ukraine, their need is for peace – not to become the epicenter of World War III,” he added, alluding to the widely held notion that if Western powers intervened in Ukraine, it would lead to a third world war.