Dissecting the Rumored Villa Scandal Involving Ukraine's President: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Disinformation Campaign

fake news Zelensky


On August 20th, online news stories surfaced, suggesting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's family, particularly his mother-in-law, owned an extravagant villa in El Gouna, Egypt. These stories even included purported documents, albeit without proper verification, to substantiate these claims. The apparent objective was to tarnish the reputation of the President and his family, especially by hinting at a misuse of Western humanitarian aid. To ascertain the credibility of these allegations, our team at Osavul conducted an in-depth investigation.

The Data Collection Methodology:

Using the Osavul platform, we gathered data from various platforms where this narrative was circulated, such as the Telegram channels, web news portals, and social media accounts. Using our artificial intelligence, we also evaluated the reliability of the entities disseminating this information. Our comprehensive research allowed us to trace the story's journey from its first appearance on YouTube to its amplification across different languages and countries.

Tracing the Origin

The story first popped up on a YouTube channel operated by Egyptian journalist Mohammed Al-Alawi. Intriguingly, this channel was established on the same day (August 20th) the allegations were made public and had a notably low number of subscribers. This combination of factors raises questions about the channel’s true purpose.

Content Scrutiny:

The YouTube channel posted two videos: one showcasing the villa and the other presenting supposed evidence of its ownership. Crucially, there's an absence of references to official documents or registries to substantiate these claims.

The channel was created on August 20th, and on the same day, two videos were published - a short clip and an investigation which claims that supposedly the mother-in-law of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, bought a villa in Egypt. The anomalously small number of subscribers - only 29, and the fact that the creation date of the channel and the video publication date suggest that the channel was created solely for their publication and further dissemination.

Two videos - one in the form of a reel that showcases the villa itself, and another - a short investigation with explanations and scans of alleged documents from which it is concluded that the villa was bought by the mother-in-law of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

As a usual practice at the beginning of the information war, the videos were shot from an amateur camera to raise the trust of the channel.

Zelensky information war - fake profile

How the Narrative Spread:

In the initial phase, English and French channels were utilized, primarily targeting individuals skeptical of the Western world (especially the USA), anti-globalists, anti-vaccination advocates, conspiracy theory enthusiasts, and supporters of BRICS and Russia. Following a post by Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, the Russian-speaking public also engaged in the narrative to support the Russian information war. 

The first tracked post on this topic was in a Telegram channel https://t.me/lucasleiroz/3299  - dated August 24th. The author, positioning himself as a Brazilian journalist and geopolitical observer, has a conspicuous photo in his Telegram with a portrait of Alexander Lukashenko - the unacknowledged President of Belarus. 

The channel has numerous negative posts about Zelenskyy and Ukraine, showing support for Russia and the broader concept of BRICS as an anti-USA block. There is nothing surprising about this channel, as it constantly supports Russian narratives in Russian-Ukraine information wars.

The author based his post on an article he wrote for the BRICS news site, a platform frequently cited by Russian media, including state-run outlets, as an example of an "independent foreign press". This outlet had previously been implicated in spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Notably, nearly all foreign Telegram channels promoting the narrative about the alleged villa purchase also consistently publish anti-vaccination posts and label the global COVID-19 pandemic as a hoax.

It is particularly noteworthy that the author posted and reposted this narrative 9 times on his channel, referencing both his own article and other sources.

The secondary source of information for the narrative was an article from the well-known Nigerian website "PunchNG." The article was published on August 22nd and achieved top-ranking in Google search results for the keyword "villa Zelenskyy" during the final two weeks of August. As of the publication date of our research, the article had been removed from the website. Nonetheless, an archived version can be found at the following URL: http://web.archive.org/web/20230825125130/https://punchng.com/luxurious-villa-owned-by-ukrainian-president-volodymyr-zelenskyys-family-discovered-on-egyptian-coast/
We also found this article shared on various Telegram channels. The earliest repost of the article occurred on August 25th in a channel operated by Silvano Trotta. This channel is noteworthy for promoting anti-vaccine sentiment, anti-Western views, frequent criticisms of George Soros, and the denial of global warming.

Furthermore, this narrative was reinforced by three additional channels - an Italian one with the original text in Italian, and two French-speaking channels that reposted a post by Silvano Trotta.

The Italian channel can be found at https://t.me/s/RossellaFidanza, which generally supports Russia. For instance, it reposts daily updates on the latest news regarding the Russo-Ukrainian war from a pro-Russian public page: https://t.me/RossellaFidanza/40121. This page, in turn, translates the updates from daily reports of a channel affiliated with the Russian state, Channel Rybar.

The channel also supports the possibility of an interview with Putin by Tucker Carlson, citing RT: https://t.me/RossellaFidanza/40109. It reposts messages from a page related to the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC): https://t.me/RossellaFidanza/40106.

The first French-language channel that made the re-post is called “5 minutes” -  https://t.me/s/cinqminutes. Constantly reposts news about the situation on the front from pro-Russian channels - https://t.me/boriskarpovblog/14959. Spreading the Russian narrative about Poland's desire to capture Ukrainian territory - https://t.me/cinqminutes/68849.

The second French-language channel - L'Aile à Stick. https://t.me/AileaStickConspiracy channel with a large number of anti-vaccination posts https://t.me/AileaStick/17715, denial of Global Warming (https://t.me/AileaStick/17703), a possible interview with Putin - https://t.me/AileaStick/17716, and again - support for BRICS.

The map of distribution in France looked like this:

As a result, on August 25th, Russian-language channels joined in, starting with the main propaganda channel led by Vladimir Soloviev - https://t.me/SolovievLive/205131. It was the Russian-language sources that formed the main bulk of messages.

Raw analysis of the stats produced by the posts and channels:

•339 messages on Telegram from 274 sources 5.29 million views 134k reactions
•Russian (RU) 229 messages from 195 channels 4.96 million views 126k reactions
•French (France) 28 messages from 19 sources 143k views 1.76k reactions
•English 14 messages from 12 sources 67k views 2.05k reactions

Major Propagators:

Pro-Russian and anti-Western voices have been instrumental in the widespread sharing of this narrative. Names such as Brazilian journalist Lucas Leiroz and Italian blogger Silvano Trotta crop up as prominent sharers. Various international news outlets, even those with previously questioned credibility, have also jumped on the bandwagon.

Potential Motivations and Repercussions:

The driving force behind this narrative seems to be an effort to tarnish President Zelenskyy's reputation by insinuating a link between him and misappropriated funds. The story found a keen audience among critics of Western powers and those favoring Russia's political interests to push Ukrainian and Western societies to surrender. This shows Russia losing the information war against civil societies as the narrative vanished soon enough after it was disclosed, as it didn’t have any solid ground of facts under it.

As a team, we have defined the main narratives in this particular case:
•The narrative that targeted the West and Ukrainian partners undermined the reputation of the Ukrainian leader and his team to cut the Western help to Ukraine;
•The narrative for the Russian-speaking segment in Ukraine to surrender. The narrative was spread to show that the top officials are corrupt and do not care about the soldiers - which is a blatant lie.

How can citizens fight Russia's information war:

It is imperative to approach such narratives with a dose of skepticism. Always prioritize vetting information through credible sources and cross-referencing facts before forming or reshaping opinions. In our era of rapid information exchange, a discerning mindset is our most robust defense against misinformation.


The tale of the Ukrainian President's alleged villa offers a timely reminder of the digital age's pitfalls. More than ever, critical thinking and rigorous fact-checking are essential to navigate the intricate web of global narratives. The quest for truth, as always, requires diligence and a discerning eye.

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