MOSCOW - Russian state television has provoked a storm of criticism after it aired an uncorroborated report claiming the Ukrainian army publicly nailed a three-year-old boy to a board in a former rebel stronghold.
Kiev on Monday accused Russia of ratcheting up its propaganda war by airing an interview in which a woman gave graphic details of the alleged crucifixion in the flashpoint city of Slavyansk, which neither AFP nor other media have been able to confirm.
Channel One TV broadcast footage of a woman who said she saw Ukrainian soldiers round up people in central Slavyansk, which the army retook this month after three months of clashes with separatists, and nail an insurgent's child to a notice board.
A spokeswoman for Ukraine's interior ministry, Natalya Stativko, slammed the report as "following in the footsteps of Goebbels," Nazi Germany's minister of propaganda.
"The cruder and the more monstrous the lie, the better it will look for the Russian propaganda machine," Stativko told AFP.
Throughout the crisis both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of "fascist" tendencies.
Russian official rhetoric has often compared events in Ukraine to the darkest crimes of Nazi Germany and called authorities in Kiev a "fascist junta".
But the Channel One report appears to represent a new low in Russia's media war against the ex-Soviet country, which signed an association agreement with the EU last month, analysts said.
"This is provocative, outrageous, abnormal," Anna Kachkayeva, a media expert at Moscow's Higher School of Economics told AFP.
"This is a way to inflame hatred, to get gullible, innocent people agitated" she added.
Galina Timchenko, former editor of prominent Russian news portal Lenta.ru, said the report was a gross breach of professional ethics by one of the country's most watched channels.
"This is an egregious violation of professional ethics," she told AFP. "This is beyond good and evil. Not only is there no proof anywhere - this is not even being questioned."
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny denounced the channel as "nutty" for airing the report.
"Are they completely sick to be concocting this?" he wrote on his blog. "The people behind this are a danger to society and what they are doing is a true crime."
Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov called the report an attempt to rally "naive people behind a war with Ukraine".
Channel One declined to comment.
The report featured a woman named as Galina Pyshnyak, interviewed at a Russian refugee camp, who described the incident as an act of revenge.
"They gathered women on the square because there are no more men. Women, girls, old people," Pyshnyak said.
"They took a child of around three years old, a little boy in his underwear and a T-shirt and nailed him to a notice board like Jesus. One was nailing him and two others holding him."
The Russian channel then claimed, citing Pyshnyak, that after the boy died, his unconscious mother was tied to a tank and dragged around the central square.
Muscovite Maria Bunina said she could not believe her ears when she heard the report.
"Information warfare is going on right now," she told AFP. "You cannot trust anyone."
Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta released videotaped accounts of several Slavyansk residents who said they had not heard of the alleged incident.