In September 2023, while the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was underway in New York, a video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking at the forum began circulating on X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube.
The video purportedly shows Zelenskyy both on the speaker stand and in the audience. A user claimed the Ukrainian media manipulated the video to give a false appearance of a larger audience during Zelenskyy’s UN speech to imply his popularity.
The post has over 3,000 comments, 17,800 shares and 50,700 likes at the time of writing.
A comment on the post by another X user read, “The actual audience while Zelenskyy was speaking was half empty, but he didn’t want his home audience to know that in Ukraine, so they felt the need to do this…”
The video in question bears the logo of the Ukrainian TV channel “1+1 МАРАФОН,” or “1+1 Marathon” in English, making it appear that the edit was done by the news outlet.
Some YouTube videos (here, here and here) and a news article also claimed it was broadcasted by a Ukrainian media organization, noting the supposed editing errors about Zelenskyy’s presence in the audience.
A news program known as TCH, or TSN (Television Service of News) in English, on the 1+1 Marathon channel made a statement denying the allegation, calling it “pro-Russian” propaganda.
Annie Lab looked into the clip in question and found stark discrepancies between the video circulating on X and the actual footage aired on 1+1 Marathon.
Finding and comparing with the original livestream video
The doctored video has two key visual elements that made it easy for us to trace the original video of Zelenskyy’s speech on TCH.
The X video contains a logo featuring the Ukrainian flag with the text “ЄДИНІ новиНи,” or “the only news” in English, in the top left corner, which turns into a QR code periodically.
The QR code is directed to a donation link for the State Border Service of Ukraine — a service composed of troops tasked with protecting borders.
With this logo and the channel name 1+1 Marathon in the top right corner, we located 1+1 Marathon’s livestream of the UN speech on TCH’s YouTube channel.
We immediately observed that the logo and the QR code are present in many livestreams offered by 1+1 Marathon but not in their news shows with edited footage (examples can be viewed here, here and here), suggesting that the logo and the QR code appears mostly in livestreaming content.
We then compared the video on X with TCH’s livestream of Zelenskyy’s speech.
The first thing we noticed is that the time intervals between the Ukrainian flag and the QR code in the doctored video are different from the streaming footage of 1+1 Marathon.
The interval between shots in the X video is inconsistent.
For example, the manipulated video displays the Ukrainian flag for 11 seconds and then the QR code for less than eight seconds before changing back to the flag.
The original livestream consistently shows the logo and QR code for about 15 seconds each and repeats it. It does not feature the audience shot in the X video.
A video comparing the logo transition (from QR code to Ukrainian flag) in the doctored video (00:11:03—00:20:03) and the TCH livestream (2:56:50:03-2:57:05:28).
Annie Lab also found two more videos (here and here) showing the same Zelenskyy’s UN speech uploaded by TCH on YouTube and found that neither of them includes the audience shot that appears in the doctored version.
The voiceover in the original clip and the one on X also appear to be inconsistent, too.
Interestingly, although the Ukrainian interpreter’s voice in the doctored version does not match the original livestreaming, it is identical to the news videos uploaded by TCH at least one hour after the livestreaming (here and here).
Presumably, 1+1 Marathon added a clearer translation voiceover after the speech, which is different from the original livestreaming. It further indicates that the doctored video on X is not the same as the video aired live on 1+1 Marathon, and the manipulation was done after the speech was long over.
A video comparing the audio in the doctored video, TCH livestream (not a match), and another TCH broadcast video (a match).
Furthermore, we also compared Zelenskyy’s speech in the TCH livestream with the official UN livestream, where his speech runs from 5:12:46 to 5:28:26.
Both videos have identical shot sequences, implying that the live broadcast on 1+1 Marathon was a feed from the UN, which was also used by many media organizations around the world.
Where did the ‘Zelenskyy in the audience’ clip come from?
We located the shot of Zelenskyy listening to a speech in the audience in the UN video at 00:29:46, which was during Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s speech.
Visual comparisons of the subsequent sequence confirm that this is the footage used in the doctored video on X.
This is not the first time the Ukrainian president has been the target of such a manipulated video.
As the Russia-Ukraine war drags towards a second winter, the information warfare continues on social media.
Some media organizations, such as this Forbes magazine article, repeated the unsubstantiated claim on X above without verifying its validity and described it as “controversy.”