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Meet the Detroit-born Ukrainian scientist in the crosshairs of Russia's biological "military labs" disinformation campaign

Biolabs conspiracy theory repercussions
Meet the Ukrainian-American in the crosshairs of Russia's biolabs conspiracy theory 04:02

Kyiv — Black tea in a blacked-out kitchen. It's not normal, but it's another little sacrifice Ulana and Marko Suprun can make to protect themselves from Russian shelling in their Kyiv home. 

The target on their heads is bigger than most, but as Marko told CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay, if "you're going to die for something, might as well do it standing up."

Ulana and Marko Suprun speak with CBS News at their home in Kyiv, Ukraine. CBS News

A doctor born in Detroit to Ukrainian parents, Ulana was once Ukraine's Minister of Health. She's been credited with modernizing the former Soviet republic's medical laboratories to help the country prevent deadly outbreaks.

According to Russia's disinformation, however, Ulana hatched an evil plot to cause one instead.

Russia, Ulana told CBS News, wanted the world to believe "that I was a CIA agent that came here specifically to design biolabs, to create biological weapons and to experiment on Ukrainians."

Vladimir Putin's regime has wielded the conspiracy theory as a deadly weapon. Putin and his top aides have claimed for weeks that U.S. "military labs" just across Russia's border in Ukraine were one reason they needed to invade.

Inside the Russian biological weapons conspiracy theory 03:20

CBS News was granted exclusive access to one of the labs in the crosshairs of Russia's lie. It was built to detect and diagnose some of the world's most infectious diseases, like cholera and anthrax. 

The government reference laboratory in Kyiv was not, however, built for work on biological or any other weapons, its research chief Natalia Vidayko told Livesay. 

CBS News' Chris Livesay is led into Ukraine's reference laboratory in Kyiv by Dr. Natalia Vidayko, the lab's chief researcher. CBS News

They were testing patients for diseases, and all the pathogen samples from her lab and all of Ukraine's others were destroyed soon after Russia invaded — precisely to prevent any possible outbreaks. 

But that hasn't stopped Moscow from waging a full attack on Ulana and Marko, with social media posts accusing them of having Nazi links. 

Russian offensive leaves eastern Ukraine in ruins 02:22

"My initial reaction was, 'Holy crap, like, they're coming after us,'" Marko told CBS News. 

And not only on social media. The attacks were hurled from the podium at Russian Defense Ministry briefings, too.

The Pentagon has warned that Russian forces could be laying the ground for a "false flag" attack, which would see them use biological weapons of their own but blame it on Ukraine. 

Austin vows "significant reaction" if Russia uses chemical or biological in Ukraine 08:52

"The disinformation is causing people to die. It's not just disinformation," Ulana told Livesay. "It actually has real-life consequences."

"You're aware of the fear," said Marko, choking back tears as he described the anxiety the couple now live in. "You hold hugs a little longer."

"You don't want to lose each other," added Ulana.

But the stress and worry is a price the couple said they're willing to pay, like so many other Ukrainian victims of Russia's information war. 

The Kremlin now claims that it has found American training materials in Ukrainian labs on how to weaponize smallpox. It's yet another claim, offered without any evidence at all, that Russia is using to justify its bloody war on its neighbor.

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