Zelensky: A Ukrainian Hero Under Russian Attack
It is not often we see the world fall in love with a politician. The case of President Volodymyr Zelensky is therefore extraordinary, as his daily addresses to the Ukrainian people inspire all citizens to stand behind Ukraine during Russia’s invasion. Zelensky’s resilience to remain in Ukraine, despite Russia openly saying they would kill him, shows his commitment to the Ukrainian people. It also shows his commitment to making Ukraine a less corrupt, more free, and more democratic society, free from Russian tyranny. This is precisely why there is such a target on his back. Hundreds of pieces of disinformation have been released from a multitude of pro-Kremlin actors, accusing President Zelensky of anything from being a drug addict and a pervert to that he is purposely halting the flow of oil to Slovakia from Russia. Attacks on President Zelensky are dominating the disinformation narratives in Slovakia. These baseless attacks again show the Kremlin’s attempt to legitimize their invasion by accusing Zelensky of being a rogue individual.
It is known that before his career in politics, President Zelensky was a comedian and actor who played the President of Ukraine in a TV show called Servant of the People. Due to his “lack of political experience,” the Kremlin has accused Zelensky of being a “perverted former TV star” along with other ad hominem attacks, including that he is a drug addict using the President’s office to further his vices. Although these allegations are entirely baseless, photoshopped and doctored photos and videos have been released that show Zelensky participating in such actions. Attacks on President Zelensky are dominating the disinformation narratives in Slovakia.
Russia has also accused President Zelensky of being a Neo-Nazi. Zelensky, who is Jewish, according to Russian propaganda, wore pro-Nazi paraphernalia and appeared in several photos holding swastikas. According to the European Digital Media Observatory, “several fact-checking outlets debunked the news according to which Zelensky wore a t-shirt with the Nazi iron cross during a press conference: it was actually the symbol of the Ukrainian land forces. Another version of this hoax uses a picture taken before the conflict and showing Zelensky holding a football t-shirt with the President’s name and a swastika on the back. However, the image was altered, and the swastika has been digitally added to replace the number “95”. The five disinformation narratives about the war in Ukraine – EDMO This disinformation is overly concerning, as pro-Kremlin sources are now not only spreading disinformation vis-a-vis Ukrainian half-truths, such as the Azov Battalion disinformation campaign but are now altering photos and distorting reality through the use of photoshop.
One of the major selling points behind the heroism of President Zelensky is his will to stay in Ukraine–––even as the Russians were closing on Kyiv, notifying the world that Zelensky would be captured and killed if they took Kyiv. Zelensky’s heroism bothered Russia, as they subsequently spread disinformation labelling Zelensky as a coward who “fled Ukraine.” Zelensky has not left Ukraine and has been courageous in travelling around the country, meeting with individuals, and marching in the streets even as Russian bombs are dropping. Zelensky’s continuous call for Ukrainians to fight with everything they have and not to give up has also led to a critical piece of Russian disinformation––––an altered video supposedly showing Zelensky telling his soldiers to surrender to Russia. Opinion: The Zelensky deepfake is a warning for Corporate America – CNN. Although the video did not gain the traction Russia probably hoped, it likely convinced some that Zelensky was a coward and undermined his determination and will to fight for Ukraine. The attempt to label Zelensky as a coward even went as far as pro-Kremlin cyber bots claiming Zelensky had committed suicide. Pro-Russia online operatives falsely claimed Zelensky committed suicide in an effort to sway public opinion, cybersecurity firm says. This is the most asinine of claims, as it goes to levels of conspiracy in which truth and facts are no longer even considered in convincing some of the disinformation.
Volodymyr Zelensky is an international hero. He is defying Russian disinformation by remaining dedicated to his country, remaining committed to fighting Russian aggression, and keeping his country free from Putin’s tyranny. However, he has to overcome many attempts by the Kremlin, to undermine and de-legitimize his rule. Labels such as drug addict and pervert sway are meant to sway public opinion against Zelensky and undermine much of the Ukrainian resilience. The further troubling use of photoshop proves Russia does not care much about how believable their disinformation is. As long as it gets out there, they will do anything to frame Zelensky as a coward and a fraud. The world is on Ukraine’s side, and Zelensky is the personification of Ukraine’s incredible resilience. However, baseless attempts to smear his likeness stand in the way of Zelensky’s ability to remain an admirable public figure.

Works Cited
European Digital Media Observatory. “The five disinformation narratives about the war in Ukraine.” EDMO, 11 March 2022, https://edmo.eu/2022/03/11/the-five-disinformation-narratives-about-the-war-in-ukraine/. Accessed 28 June 2022.
Ferraro, Matthew F. “Opinion: The Zelensky deepfake is a warning for Corporate America.” CNN, 1 April 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/01/perspectives/zelensky-deepfake-disinformation-businesses/index.html. Accessed 28 June 2022.
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. “DISINFORMATION: Attacks on President Zelensky are dominating the disinformation narratives in Slovakia.” Friedrich Naumann Foundation, 16 May 2022, https://www.freiheit.org/central-europe-and-baltic-states/attacks-president-zelensky-are-dominating-disinformation. Accessed 28 June 2022.
Lyngaas, Sean. “Pro-Russia online operatives falsely claimed Zelensky committed suicide in an effort to sway public opinion, cybersecurity firm says.” CNN, 19 May 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/19/politics/pro-russia-disinformation-report/index.html. Accessed 28 June 2022.