We came across the following image post on the social media messaging app Telegram:
The post alleges that a ‘security officer’ for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, had been arrested after being involved in a drunken brawl at a bar in New York. The post includes a video that includes clips of a group of men in a scuffle outside an unidentified location, as well as police and emergency vehicles responding.
The post’s caption, as well as the text in the video, suggest that the guard was drunk and aggressive and attacked patrons at the bar after demanding that they shout ‘Glory to Ukraine’, which has becomg a popular expression to express support for Ukraine in the war with Russia.
The post states that the patrons refused, and that the guard was injured in the ensuing fight. The video also adds that the police detained all the participants involved in the fight.
The guard had supposedly been in New York as part of the Ukrainian delegation to the United States, where Zelenskyy addressed the UN General Assembly on 19 September and the US Congress on 21 September. The video’s captions specifies in one part that the incident took place on 21 September at a bar called ‘The Campbell Bar’.
The video in the post contains a logo of USA Today, a Virginia-based newspaper that is recognised as a highly credible source of information.
When we attempted to look up the original video on USA Today, we found that in fact, USA Today had not published the video in the Telegram post, despite the similarties to their content in terms of style and colour format.
USA Today published a fact check on 26 September quoting a USA Today spokesperson saying that ‘the video… using the USA Today logo and branding is fake’. It also quoted Scott Gerber, CEO of the Gerber Group that owns The Campbell bar, as saying that ‘no incident or fight took place at The Campbell’, and a New York City Police Department spokesperson who indicated that ‘there are no complaint reports on file’ that match in information in the video.
USA Today included in its report indications that the video had been published on multiple social media platforms, saying that it had been circulating on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook, to which they provided a direct and archived link.
When we conducted our own search, we found that the linked Facebook video was no longer accessible. The archived link directed to a video posted on a page called Chatterbox. The page, which was created about a month before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, posts content primarily about the war in Ukraine from the Russian perspective, with recent posts of captured Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed armoured vehicles.
A search on X/Twitter revealed another post of the video by an account called @Sprinter99800. The post was republished verbatim with the caption on Facebook, along with a mention of the X/Twitter handle, by the Facebook account ‘Quintino Ghironi’, whose posts also feature conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and migration. The video had also been posted on YouTube by a Russian-speaking user.
StopFake, a Ukrainian civil society factchecking initiative by academics, pointed out in their factcheck that the appearance of the location of the fight is different in the video as compared to that on Google Street View, with trees absent in the Google view and the surrounding buildings appearing different.
They also point out stylistic and lexical errors in the text in the video, suggesting that it was most likely a ‘low-quality translation from Russian’.
The claim that one of Zelenskyy’s guards got into a fight at a bar in New York and was subsequently arrested is therefore false, and the video has been fabricated to appear like it was produced by USA Today, a credible news source.
Given that many of the social media posts appear to be by Russian-speaking users, as well as the republishing of content between the users across platforms, it is highly likely that the video was created and distributed by a coordinated Russian disinformation network.