Purported Deepfake of Ukrainian President Zelensky Aired on Television Station Website

Justin Hendrix / Mar 16, 2022

In early March, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security posted a warning on Facebook to soldiers and civilians not to believe any video they see showing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky purportedly announcing a surrender to invading Russian forces. The notice was intended to inoculate the publication against possible 'deepfake' media manipulations that might be deployed by Russian agents as part of a war propaganda campaign.

Today, alleged hackers distributed a crude manipulated video of Zelensky appearing to call on Ukrainians to lay down their arms. The video depicts Zelensky at a lectern, and the audio is noticeably inconsistent with other recordings of Zelensky's voice.

It's day 21 of Russia-Ukraine war.

A terrible deepfake of President Zelensky calling on Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms has been uploaded to the hacked website of Ukraine's 24 TV channel.

Not only is it so cheaply made, but Mr Zelensky sounds Russian in it! pic.twitter.com/sZCWzlYAQm

— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) March 16, 2022

The television channel, Ukraine 24, announced the hack on Telegram, and noted a false chyron had also aired on the station's on-air broadcast.

Belarusian journalist and Atlantic Council non-resident fellow Hanna Liubakova noted that Zelensky had issued a short video dismissing the false claims in the manipulated video. This video was released on Zelensky's Telegram channel.

#Ukraine Hackers published a deep fake of @ZelenskyyUa urging citizens to lay down their arms. He responded immediately:
"If I can offer someone to lay down their arms, it's the Russian military.Go home.Because we're home. We are defending our land, our children & our families." pic.twitter.com/TiICf3Z5Te

— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) March 16, 2022

Later in the day, Meta Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher announced that Meta had removed the video as it propagated, presumably across Facebook and Instagram. He noted that Meta executives had "notified our peers at other platforms."

1/ Earlier today, our teams identified and removed a deepfake video claiming to show President Zelensky issuing a statement he never did. It appeared on a reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet.

— Nathaniel Gleicher (@ngleicher) March 16, 2022

"Ukrainians have done excellent work pre-bunking potential Zelensky deepfakes though looming gaps globally on deepfake detection," said Sam Gregory, Program Director at WITNESS and an expert on ethical issues and human rights issues related to synthetic media.

This piece will be updated.


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...