Pro-Kremlin influencers reignite Zelenskyy “green screen” theory
Narrative recycles old footage of the Ukrainian president recording a hologram to allege he fled the country
BANNER: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy speaks at a conference via a hologram. A behind-the-scenes video documenting the recording of the hologram was used in false narratives claiming the president had fled the country. (Source: Founders Forum/archive)
Pro-Kremlin actors are re-circulating the false narrative that claims Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fled Ukraine at the beginning of war last February. This narrative has been repeatedly debunked by fact-checking organizations. In addition, Zelenskyy has met with several foreign officials in Kyiv since the war began. However, these facts have not stopped the conspiracy from spreading to YouTube and flowing across the fringes of the internet. The latest iteration of the theory claims Ukraine employed a green screen in recent videos posted by Zelenskyy to create the impression he is still in the country. The footage used to prove this narrative, however, came from a production shoot earlier this year in which Zelenskyy was filmed using hologram technology for a series of speaking engagements.
The latest iteration of the conspiracy emerged amid the massive shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure on October 10. Pro-Kremlin assets promoted a story that claimed Zelenskyy was not in Ukraine and was using a green screen to post videos from Kyiv. In one example, a user asked whether the green screen survived after a false report claimed the president’s office had been destroyed. Pro-Kremlin accounts, and at least one RT employee, amplified the claim, suggesting that because the skies are not filled with smoke, Zelenskyy cannot be in Kyiv. Despite extensive strikes on Kyiv, the camera could easily have been turned in a direction with no smoke, as the strikes occurred in a different part of the downtown region.
While the theory did not initially attract tremendous attention, it gained traction after pro-Kremlin accounts claimed they found evidence of a green screen. The accounts misrepresented a real video from June 2022 showing Zelenskyy working with a production crew to create a hologram for speaking engagements at a series of tech conferences. Screenshots from a behind-the-scenes video showing how the hologram was created were repurposed by pro-Kremlin conspiracy theorists to spread the narrative.
First, the anonymous account @DoctorGerhard published a photo of Zelenskyy from the behind-the-scenes video and claimed the Ukrainian president was standing in front of a green screen in Hollywood. Later, the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian blogger Anatolii Sharii published a portion of the behind-the-scenes hologram video to insinuate that Zelenskyy was no longer in Ukraine. Sharii’s post was retweeted by Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy permanent representative of Russia to the United Nations. From there, the claim was amplified by a pro-Kremlin account that covers the war in English, with the question, “Where is Zelenskyy hiding?” The conspiracy was also amplified by Wyatt Reed, a Latin America correspondent for Kremlin-owned media outlet Sputnik.
The Ukrainian pro–Kremlin Telegram channel Kartel questioned “[w]hether Zelensky lied and always filmed videos from Poland.” Another pro–Kremlin channel said it had “confirmed” the arguments, claiming that “Western lobbyists are sacking Zelenskyy.” The prominent pro-Kremlin news anchor Olga Skabeeva also amplified the claim on her Telegram.
While the video and photo are authentic, they are from a production that occurred earlier this year. ARHT Media worked with Zelenskyy to create a hologram that was presented at four large tech conferences in Europe. The hologram allowed Zelenskyy to attend the conferences virtually, where he urged tech companies to support Ukraine’s IT industry. The original footage was sliced up for the sake of spreading the conspiracy. The full video shows that the production of the hologram occurred in Kyiv.
Cite this case study:
Roman Osadchuk, “Pro-Kremlin influencers reignite Zelenskyy “green screen” theory,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), October 14, 2022, https://medium.com/dfrlab/pro-kremlin-influencers-reignite-zelenskyy-green-screen-theory-d827f761d17d.