A series of videos addressed to Zelenskyy have been circulating on social media for months. They allegedly show American celebrities speaking to the president of Ukraine, asking him to take steps to fight his drug addiction. In fact, this is a Russian disinformation narrative that has been circulating since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. The recordings themselves were purchased on Cameo.com, and the celebrities were not aware of what they would be used for. The original videos were edited and given a new context to manipulate the viewer into thinking they were about Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Narratives about Zelenskyy being a drug addict have been actively spread by the Russian propaganda on many occasions since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Putin himself, in his speech on February 25, 2022, addressed to Ukrainians, emphasised that Ukraine is ruled by drug addicts. Similar statements, directly concerning Volodymyr Zelenskyy, can be found in hundreds of posts on social media. We took a closer look at this topic in one of our articles.
One of the first and most popular “calls” is the one recorded by Elijah Wood. It is addressed to “Vladimir”, whom the American actor advises to find help and informs him that there are many people who care about him. He points out that addiction to alcohol and drugs seriously harms his health. The video also features the logo of TMZ, a tabloid news organisation owned by Fox Corporation. President Zelenskyy himself is also tagged (@zelenskiy_official). At some point, a website address also appears: www.hazeldenbettyford.org. The caption under the video on Russian Telegram also states that the clip has been deleted from the actor’s account. The video was shared on X (formerly Twitter), among others, by @Sprinter99800. This account enjoys enormous reach, thanks to which the recording has been viewed by over a million people.
Appeals to Zelenskyy – analysis of the video with Elijah Wood
The first thing that catches our attention when watching the video are the numerous and aggressive edits. Many times, we do not know the full context of Elijah Wood’s words because in the middle of the sentence the video fast forwards to another incomplete statement. The second is the fact that the actor calls the addressee “Vladimir”, instead of using the name of the Ukrainian president, “Volodymyr”. The words “Ukraine” or “Zelenskyy” cannot be heard in the film.
There is no mention of the film in question on the TMZ website. The entire video is made to look like an Instagram recording. However, the account with the name “elijah.wood.klgring” added in the upper left corner does not exist. The actor stated that he does not have a public profile on this medium. The film cannot be found on any of the actor’s official accounts on other social media. The address www.hazeldenbettyford.org belongs to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which helps people struggling with addiction. All the above indications allow us to conclude that the film was completely manipulated, and the addition of the above elements was intended to make it more authentic. In fact, the actor expressed his support for Ukraine.
The recording with Elijah Wood was completely taken out of context and had nothing to do with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, the video itself is not a product of artificial intelligence and appears authentic. So where does the “Vladimir” the actor addressed come from and who is he? We’ll cover this after we look at some other examples of American celebrity appeals.
Another popular alleged appeal to Zelenskyy is the one made by Mike Tyson. The American boxer’s call appeared in numerous posts on social media. We can find it on YouTube, TikTok or Reddit. In Polish, it was shared, among others, on X (formerly Twitter). It is worth noting that the people who spread it already mention an “appeal” from Elijah Wood.
When watching the video with Tyson, it is easy to notice that the recording looks like Reuters footage. The logo, font and inscription placed in the upper right corner resemble those used by the agency. What is more, we cannot hear the boxer’s voice. Only the subtitles tell us what he said in the recording.
After reviewing the agency’s social media, we can see that it has not published this type of material. The Reuters website also does not return any results related to Tyson and Zelenskyy. No other media reports the boxer making this type of appeal. The video only circulates on social media. We have not found any recording in which the boxer spoke any words consistent with what has been shared on the Internet. On the contrary, Mike Tyson has repeatedly expressed his support for Ukraine. Therefore, the video circulating online should be considered a fabrication that fits into the Russian disinformation narrative. It used an old recording of the boxer from Cameo.com. Subtitles were then added which had nothing to do with the original message of the film. We will expand on this topic in the next parts of the article.
Appeals to Zelenskyy – other celebrities
Mike Tyson and Elijah Wood were not the only ones who allegedly recorded appeals to the president of Ukraine. The recording of the boxer circulating online stands out from the rest mainly because we do not hear his voice. However, Wood’s video is remarkably similar to several other “appeals” made by American celebrities. We will look at these below.
John C. McGingley
A video with American actor John C. McGingley appeared, among others, on Russian accounts on Telegram. It was then picked up by the pro-Kremlin news website RIA Novosti. As with Wood, McGingley also calls the recipient “Vladimir” and encourages him to go to rehab and take care of himself. There are more similarities, though. RIA Novosti informs that the film appeared on the actor’s Instagram account. In fact, he does not have a profile on Instagram and has never shared such a video on any of his other social media accounts. Just like with Wood, this recording also does not mention Ukraine or Zelenskyy. McGingley has never commented online on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You can read more about this on the Ukrainian fact-checking website StopFake.
Another example of an alleged appeal to Zelenskyy is a recording of an American musician of Armenian origin, Shavo Odadjian. It also appears primarily on Russian Telegram accounts. As in the previous cases, the musician speaks to “Vladimir”, stating that his addiction harms not only him, but also his loved ones. He also encourages him to go to rehab. Here, too, the president’s name is never mentioned, nor is there any mention of Ukraine. However, it is characteristic that Odadjian mentions “Kamala” as one of the people close to “Vladimir”. There is no information of anyone bearing this name in Zelenskyy’s family. Perhaps it was supposed to be Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, but there is no information about her being friends with the Ukrainian president in any way. This name was probably a form of trolling and was mentioned by the American musician without realising it.
The entire recording is intended to resemble an Instagram video, and Zelenskyy’s official account is also mentioned here. However, there is no evidence that Shavo Odadjian has ever shared such a video on his social media. You can read more about this issue on Vox Ukraine.
There is also an alleged appeal to Zelenskyy made on social media by American actress and model Priscilla Presley. It can be found online with a Russian narrator, and the film also circulated on Russian Telegram accounts. Elvis Presley’s ex-wife also speaks to “Vladimir”, although she makes a mistake in this name by saying “Valdimir”. At the same time, she expresses hope that “I pronounced your name correctly.” This video is also intended to resemble an Instagram video. However, it cannot be found on the model and actress’s social media accounts. The words of Priscilla Presley are very similar to the previously discussed appeals, although she refers only to alcohol addiction. As in the previous cases, neither Ukraine nor its president are mentioned by the person speaking. The official accounts of Zelenskyy and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation have also been referenced. Again, to give it some authenticity. The whole matter was described in detail by the Ukrinform portal.
The latest widely reproduced example is a recording of an American actor Dean Norris. It first appeared on Russian social media and on pro-Kremlin websites such as news-kiev.ru. It is a copy of previous videos. It also pretends to be an Instagram recording, the addressee is again called “Vladimir”, it redirects to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and the actor encourages him to go to rehab. As in previous cases, we won’t find it on Dean Norris’ social media. The actor himself, in fact, expressed admiration for President Zelenskyy. This case was described in more detail by the Myth Detector.
What draws attention when analysing all the above videos is a certain modus operandi, to which the recording featuring Mike Tyson is a partial exception. All of the discussed films first appeared on Russian social media. They are all addressed to a person named “Vladimir”, and their message is almost identical. There are many indications that they come from the Cameo.com service. This service allows people to order recordings from famous people on topics of their choice, such as birthday or wedding wishes. The vast majority of videos are private and only available to people who ordered them. However, a few of them are publicly available.
Recordings from celebrities
All the people whose recordings we discussed in this article have accounts on Cameo.com. Most likely, someone ordered the above recordings from many celebrities, then edited them and set in the false context. A first name similar to Zelenskyy’s was deliberately used, and that’s why there was no mention of Ukraine. This was intended to mislead the celebrities, who had no idea what their words would be used for. Most probably, informing Shavo Odadjian that a certain Kamala is one of “Vladimir’s” close people, whom he should mention in his appeal, was a kind of trolling by Russian propagandists. As we suspect, it referred to Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, whom the musician probably did not know about.
Mike Tyson video – the final proof?
Interestingly, the strongest confirmation of the above deduction is the video with Mike Tyson. In fact, the recording was indeed a public video posted on Cameo.com. The frame has been cropped significantly, but the background and the boxer’s clothing are identical. However, no audio was used because the original Tyson video has nothing to do with encouraging a person named Vladimir to go to rehab. In fact, it comes from the first months of the pandemic and is an appreciation message to teachers for their hard work during this difficult time. Why wasn’t Mike Tyson commissioned like the others? The answer to this is very simple. The American boxer is currently not available on the website, so he cannot be asked to record a video. Instead, it was decided to fabricate his statement in a different way.
Appeals to Zelenskyy – Russian trace
However, this is not the only evidence that Russian propaganda is responsible for the entire campaign. At the end of most of the videos discussed, there is a mysterious poster and a QR code. You can see it below.
The graphic refers to the film Olympics Has Fallen, reportedly produced by Tom Cruise for Netflix. The QR code, however, redirects to a Telegram post concerning this particular film. According to the description, it is supposed to be about corruption in the International Olympic Committee and, above all, its chairman, Thomas Bach.
In reality, such a film does not exist. It is part of the Russian disinformation campaign. Russia has repeatedly criticised the decisions of the International Olympic Committee. This included, among others, the IOC’s recommendations regarding the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in international competitions. What is more, neither of the countries was invited to the next Olympic Games. In October 2023, the IOC decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee for incorporating sports organisations from the occupied territories of Ukraine in its structures, which is a violation of the provisions of the Olympic Charter. This was met with a sharp reaction from Vladimir Putin, who described the decision as “racist” and “ethnic discrimination”. It is not yet known whether Belarusian and Russian athletes will be able to take part in the Olympic Games in Paris as part of neutral committees, or whether they will be excluded altogether.
Due to the above, Russia treats the IOC as an enemy, so it creates disinformation campaigns against it. The main decision-maker and face of the IOC remains Thomas Bach, who, as a result, has become one of the primary targets of Kremlin propaganda. Hence, an aggressive campaign against him was organised. To promote it, an operation aimed at President Zelenskyy, which had been ongoing for many months, was used, consisting in fabricating “appeals” from American celebrities. Thanks to this, both campaigns fuel each other.
The alleged appeals to President Zelenskyy are part of a Russian disinformation operation. The use of American celebrities who are unaware of this fact is intended to give it additional credibility and publicity. Narratives that the Ukrainian president is a drug addict have been circulating since the beginning of the Russian invasion. They are part of the attempts to vilify the state authorities in Kyiv. Using this campaign to further promote a disinformation attack against the IOC and Thomas Bach shows how determined Russia is in its propaganda goals.