Russia's state-owned Channel One, often accused of "propaganda warfare," conceded that one of its most hair-raising reports about Ukraine could have been a "sick fantasy."
In July, Russia's most-watched channel reported that the Ukrainian army had crucified a 3-year-old boy in Slovyansk, after the city was recaptured from pro-Russian insurgents.
The story was told on camera by a woman claiming to have been a refugee from Slovyansk, who demonstrated a suspiciously insecure grasp on the city's layout.
The woman's identity was never verified, and no independent proof is available for the story, which — as skeptics pointed out — eerily echoed a scene from the hit U.S. television series "Game of Thrones."
President Vladimir Putin was asked about the story by journalist Ksenia Sobchak during his press conference last week.
Sobchak described the Channel One report as "hate-mongering" and asked whether it had been orchestrated by the Kremlin — which Putin denied.
Following through, Channel One presenter Irada Zeinalova conceded during a news program on Sunday that the channel had no evidence to back up the story.
But she was unrepentant, accusing the Ukrainian army of committing many other comparable atrocities in Ukraine's war-torn Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
"Life proved to be scarier than sick fantasies — if the tale of the Luhansk refugee was indeed a 'sick fantasy' of a woman whose mind could not take the hell of round-the-clock bombing of Slovyansk," Zeinalova said in a video posted online.
The United Nations estimates that the combined death toll in the two regions is above 4,000, with comparable losses among the Ukrainian army and the insurgents. Independent reports have alleged that both sides of the conflict may have committed war crimes.