Russia ramped up its anti-Ukraine disinformation after President Vladimir Putin ordered his armed forces to attack. One triumphal piece by state-owned RIA Novosti news, two days into the invasion, even proclaimed Ukraine’s unconditional surrender. “Ukraine has returned to Russia,” it said.
The piece was later deleted.
In the fusillade of falsehoods from the Kremlin, one target stands out – Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukraine president whose charismatic effort to rally his country has won global renown. A far different Zelenskyy is portrayed in the Russian media.
The Kremlin's Zelenskyy is weak, a coward and untrustworthy, a mentally unstable leader who has betrayed the Ukrainian people.
According to the Russian state media, the West is disappointed in Zelenskyy and wants to replace him. At the same time, various Russian state media report that the West won’t let Zelenskyy flee, that the West has abandoned him, and that he has abandoned Ukraine and fled to Poland or elsewhere.
The reports are all false, as anyone following independent media reports of the war and Zelenskyy’s actions have seen. In fact, Zelenskyy famously declined a U.S. offer to provide a safe exit, saying: “I don’t need a ride; I need ammunition.”
In Russian media, the stream of falsehoods never ends.
In one of the most outrageous, Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Russian state Duma (lower House) said on February 26: “All videos Zelenskyy has been posting on social media from Kyiv have been pre-recorded,” and that Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, “is actually hiding under the protection of Nazi guards.”
Since the attack began, Zelenskyy has posted regular video updates on his Telegram channel. On February 26, he appeared in front of a building in Kyiv that has been identified as next to the presidential office.
"There's a lot of fake information online that I call on our army to lay down arms, and that there's evacuation," Zelenskyy said. "I'm here. We won't lay down our arms. We will defend our country."
Polygraph.info extracted the metadata from the February 26 video, and the creation date showed December 31, 1903, likely for security reasons. Zelenskyy has said he is the No. 1 target of the Russian forces. Western officials say Putin’s plan is to remove him and insert a puppet government. Zelenskyy has acknowledged danger but insisted he has no plans to leave.
Citing intelligence sources, the U.K. newspaper The Times reported February 28 that 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders to assassinate Zelenskyy.
The Russian tanks and missile launchers that rolled into Ukraine are marked with a large, white letter “Z” inside a square box. The mysterious sign has prompted fervid speculation on social media that it stood for Zelenskyy and signified his doom.
But writing in Tablet Magazine on February 28, author and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy recounted Zelenskyy’s transformation from a stand-up comic to political novice, to president to a historic figure who may reshape Europe. In “Ukraine’s Hero President Z.”, Lévy offers this explanation:
“This man who prefers to die fighting than to suffer the dishonor of forced surrender, this comedian who yesterday seemed to say, ‘all is lost except honor,’ but who, this morning, after another night of bombings, finds the inner strength to inspire his people, and to tell them they are still free, is Putin’s nightmare.”