KIEV, Ukraine — As several hundred thousand people took to the streets Sunday in possibly the largest anti-government protest since Ukraine's political crisis started last month, pro-Kremlin Russian media desperately scrambled to play down numbers.
Channel One claimed that "only a few hundred" people attended the protests, which were "dying out." NTV, famous for its pseudo-documentary hit pieces on the Kremlin's enemies, had a reporter spend a whole week filming an elderly woman complaining about the noise the protests made near her apartment.
Protesters, reporter Mikhail Fedotov said, were paid provocateurs hell-bent on ruining Christmas by depriving Kiev of its usual holiday tree.
Since massive demonstrations erupted a week ago in response to President Viktor Yanukovych backing out of a deal with the EU and the violent breakup of a tent city, the other state TV channel, Rossiya, has outstripped its competitors in showing bizarre, paranoiac, and misleading reports.
One host said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was an ex-CIA agent who organized the protests to get back at Russia for the battle of Poltava in 1709; another claimed Ukrainians were only angry because of sharp seasonal changes in the weather.
They also showed a historical documentary about the Battle of Kiev in 1943.
On Sunday, Rossiya correspondent Artem Kol's live report - which cited "over 50,000" protesters at Independence Square, the Maidan - was interrupted by a man who gave him an Oscar for the channel and Kiselev's "lies and nonsense."
Boxer Vitali Klitschko's opposition party, UDAR, tweeted a picture from the protest to the channel with the caption, "You think there aren't a lot of us?"
Kol shoved the man out of the shot and struggled to be heard over the crowd's chants of "Tell the truth!" and "Shame on you!" in Ukrainian - which he translated as calls for Rossiya only to show positive coverage of the "Euromaidan" protests.
Not one to shy from a challenge, Kiselev spent 20 minutes Sunday ranting about protesters, who, he said, used "ancient African military techniques" and a "battle elephant." He also claimed Klitschko and his brother Vladimir were gay icons.
Watch the crowd from atop the Christmas tree:
Correction: An earlier version of this story claimed that Channel One showed video of Sunday's protests while claiming only a few hundred attended. The channel made the claim; they did not show the video.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
Contact Max Seddon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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