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A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (AP) A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (AP)

A firefighter walks outside a destroyed apartment building after a bombing in a residential area in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek March 21, 2022

Question: Did Vladimir Putin say that Russia would not target or harm Ukrainian civilians?

Answer: French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine. In his account of the Feb. 28 call, Macron said Putin had committed to stopping strikes on civilians. We were not able to verify exactly what Putin said. The Russian account of the call repeated the false claim that Russian forces have not threatened or targeted civilians. Russian strikes, however, have hit apartment buildings, health care facilities and places where Ukrainian civilians were sheltering. 


Days after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone. 

News reports said the Feb. 28 call with Putin lasted 90 minutes. Macron "reiterated the international community’s demand to end the Russian offensive against Ukraine" and asked Putin to stop strikes and attacks on civilians and residential areas, preserve civilian infrastructure, and secure main roads, according to a statement from Macron’s office.

"President Putin confirmed that he was willing to commit to these three points," Macron’s statement said. 

When reporting on the French account of the call, some news outlets said that Putin had agreed to stop strikes on Ukrainian civilians. 

Reuters’ headline read: "Macron demands Russia stop offensive, says Putin agrees to halt strikes on civilians."

An Agence France-Presse story about the phone call, run by the Times of Israel, carried a headline that said, "France: Putin tells Macron Russian forces won’t target civilians in Ukraine."

Despite what Putin might have signaled to Macron in diplomatic talks, Russian forces have shelled residential apartment buildings, hit a hospital with a ballistic missile and bombed a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, where hundreds were said to be sheltering. 

A reader asked PolitiFact whether we could verify what Putin told Macron.

PolitiFact found no detailed public record of exactly what Putin told Macron during the call on Feb. 28.

It is typical for readouts of conversations between world leaders to be summarized rather than precise transcripts, as Macron’s office did in its statement. For comparison, here is an example of the White House briefly recapping a March 18 conversation President Joe Biden had with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

The Russian account of the Putin call, meanwhile, varied from Macron’s by repeating false claims that Russia was not threatening civilians or targeting civilian facilities. The account also falsely claimed that Ukrainian nationalists were using civilians as human shields and deploying offensive weapons in residential areas.

News reports documenting attacks in Ukraine show otherwise.

The U.N. Human Rights Office reported that from Feb. 24 to March 17, 816 Ukrainian civilians had been killed and 1,333 had been injured. 

The office said it believes the number of civilian casualties is undercounted "as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration."

The coastal Ukrainian city of Mariupol remained under siege March 21, though its leaders refused to surrender. A Ukrainian official accused Russia of trying to starve the city into surrendering.

Mariupol has been bombarded for weeks, and hundreds of thousands of people trapped there have "little if any access to water, food, heating or electricity," according to local officials. An art school where about 400 women, children and elderly people had been sheltering in Mariupol was bombed by Russia on March 20, according to the city’s mayor and city council. Days earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol that was sheltering hundreds of people and where the word "children" was written in Russian on the ground, visible to passing aircraft. 

The World Health Organization has verified more than 40 attacks on health care patients, workers, facilities or infrastructure in Ukraine, the Washington Post reported.

On March 9, a Russian airstrike hit a maternity hospital, initially killing three people, including a child, and injuring 17 more in Mariupol. 

"Accused of attacking civilians, Russian officials claimed the maternity hospital had been taken over by Ukrainian extremists to use as a base, and that no patients or medics were left inside," the Associated Press reported

Attacks on residential apartment buildings in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol have also been reported.

RELATED: Evidence of Russia’s war in Ukraine is plentiful and proves it is not ‘staged’

RELATED: Russia’s Pants on Fire claim that it is not occupying Ukrainian territory

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Our Sources, "Entretien téléphonique avec Vladimir POUTINE, Président de la fédération de Russie - in English," Feb. 28, 2022 

The Times of Israel, "France: Putin tells Macron Russian forces won’t target civilians in Ukraine," Feb. 28, 2022

CNN, "French President Macron spoke to Putin and Zelensky separately," Feb. 28, 2022, "Telephone conversation with President of France Emmanuel Macron," Feb. 28, 2022

The Washington Post, "Russia says attacks aren’t hitting civilians. Scenes in cities tell a different story," Feb. 25, 2022 

CNN, "Why the big table in Moscow? Macron refused a Russian Covid test," Feb. 11, 2022

Reuters, "Macron demands Russia stop offensive, says Putin agrees to halt strikes on civilians," Feb. 28, 2022, "About AFP," March 18, 2022 

ABC News Australia, "Russia says Ukraine civilians aren't targets, but these attacks tell a different story," Feb. 27, 2022

CBS News tweet, Feb. 25, 2022

Associated Press, "Russia-Ukraine War: What to know on Day 8 of Russian assault," March 4, 2022

U.N. Human Rights Office, "Ukraine: civilian casualty update," March 18, 2022

The Washington Post, "At least 43 attacks on health-care facilities and patients in Ukraine, WHO says," March 17, 2022

The Washington Post, "Mariupol officials say 3 dead, 17 injured after Russian airstrike hits maternity hospital," March 9, 2022

Associated Press, "Pregnant woman, baby die after Russian bombing in Mariupol," March 14, 2022

The New York Times, "Time is running out for civilians in Mariupol, Red Cross warns," March 13, 2022

CBS News, "Hope that many survived Ukraine theater attack as intel suggests Russia's ground war is stalled," March 17, 2022

NPR, "130 people rescued from bombed Mariupol theater as crews search for hundreds more," March 18, 2022

CBS News, "At least 4 killed as Russian artillery hits apartment buildings in Kyiv," March 15, 2022

Fox News, "PHOTOS: Russian shelling intensifies as apartment building in Kharkiv is left looking apocalyptic," March 15, 2022

The Guardian, "Mariupol bombing: before and after satellite images show destruction in Ukraine city," March 9, 2022

The Washington Post, "Russian attacks hit at least 9 Ukrainian medical facilities, visual evidence shows," March 12, 2022, "Readout of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Call with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China," March 18, 2022

NBC News, "Live Updates / Ukraine-Russia war live updates: Kyiv refuses demands to surrender Mariupol," March 21, 2022

BBC, "Ukraine conflict: Russia trying to starve Mariupol into surrender - MP," March 21, 2022

Reuters, "Mariupol, under heavy bombardment, buries its dead by roadside," March 20, 2022

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