- It is not true that the “Olena Zelenska Foundation” is supplying Ukrainian children to paedophiles in Western Europe. Claims that the organisation is involved in child trafficking are referring to a non-existent journalistic investigation.
- The only “evidence” is a video on YouTube. In the video no facts are presented, but rather an anonymous masked man makes unproven accusations, that the foundation run by the Ukrainian president’s wife is sending children to paedophile rings in Western Europe;
- The narrative is reminiscent of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, whose followers believe that politicians from the Democratic Party in the USA drink the blood of children and/or sexually exploit children in the basement of a pizzeria. The conspiracy theory is at the foundation of QAnon’s beliefs, a popular cult.
The completely fabricated story of how the “Olena Zelenska” Foundation transports Ukrainian children to paedophile rings in Western Europe is being disseminated online. The claims appeared on social networks and websites in multiple languages and referred to a non-existent journalistic investigation. In Bulgarian, the fabricated story has been published in a Kremlin-linked online publication “News Front”, on the website “Kritichno”. It was also shared by users on social networks.
There is no existing journalistic investigation that proves that Zelenska supplies Ukrainian children to paedophiles
Publications cite as their source an “investigation” by a French reporter named Robert Schmidt. According to them, the investigation “proved” that the foundation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena, supplied Ukrainian children to paedophiles in Western Europe. A fact-check by Factcheck.bg found no such investigation. A journalist with this name exists and he was born in Leipzig, Germany, but he has done no publications on the topic of the Olena Zelenska Foundation. He’s published in Die Zeit (Germany), Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ (Switzerland), Der Standard (Austria), Mediapart (France). The topics he works on are related to France, the European Union, right-wing extremism and youth issues.
Publications present as evidence a video uploaded on YouTube on 3 November 2023. It was published on a channel carrying the name Robert Schmidt, identical to the name of the journalist to whom the non-existent investigation is attributed. However the actual Robert Schmidt is not behind this YouTube channel.
The only uploaded video on the channel is of a man in a face mask and a hoodie, who is claiming that he is a former employee of the “Olena Zelenska” Foundation.
As evidence that he was part of the non-governmental organisation, the masked man presents photographs of children, which he claims he has transported. Along with the photos in some of the publications, there is also an identification badge that is said to have belonged to the masked man while he was working at the foundation.
The ID badge of the masked man according to different online publications:
The identification badges of employees of the “Olena Zelenska” Foundation in a publication in the official profile of the foundation on the social platform X:
Команда Фундації відвідала Харківщину. Побачили як проживають у двох гуртожитках люди з деокупованих територій та забезпечили обігрівачами, бойлерами, холодильниками, пральними машинами та посудом pic.twitter.com/yH9gjaYfEa
— Olena Zelenska Foundation (@Zelenska_FND) April 28, 2023
The anonymous masked man speaks French. There is no description alongside the video. The YouTube channel was created on 1 October 2022. In the beginning and in the end of the video, the masked man thanks those who have given him the opportunity to share “his story,” without mentioning who the people in question are. According to the man’s claims as a former employee, he has transported children from cities in Western Ukraine to orphanages in France, Germany and England. He also claims that one of the children was greeted by a half-naked man. According to the masked man, he took the same child to another location a few days later. Supposedly the child was very upset and tried to share that it had been touched inappropriately during its stay in the foster family.
How the disinformation spread
According to Factcheck.bg’s fact-check, the claims first began spreading in French from the website Netafrique.net, which published the fabricated story as early as November 3, 2023 – the day of the publication of the video. Netafrique presents itself as “an information portal that offers information on African topics and world wide news”. The web hosting of the website is in Paris, France. On November 3, 2023, the website Senenews.com, hosted in Senegal, republished Netafrique’s text. This has made the claims even more popular and Senenews has become the most frequently cited source by French-language publications on the subject.
In the following days the publications started to spread in even more languages, both on social media and other websites. The claims gained even bigger popularity after being published on the website The Intel Drop.
The Intel Drop is publishing content in English and spreading disinformation, part of which is connected to the war in Ukraine. The website shares popular unproven claims of the existence of the so-called “biological laboratories”. The Intel Drop describes itself as “an independent source of news for the intelligence and finance communities” behind which is a team of “active and retired intelligence professionals appalled by the levels of censorship, control and outright “black propaganda” that is being fed to the general public.” However, the names of the professionals in question are not published on the site. According to the Ukrainian website Obozrevatel, The Intel Drop states that it operates from Reykjavik, Iceland, but was actually registered in September 2022 in Amsterdam.
Claims that border on conspiracy theories
The anonymous “witness” in the video mentions places related to famous cases and personalities. He claims, for example, that he “delivered” children to Dolphin Square in London. In 2014, this location became the target of false claims of child molestation. Those claims were investigated by London’s Metropolitan Police for 18 months. No evidence was found to support the allegations and the investigation was eventually suspended. The false claims can be traced back to an online blog. The person behind the blog accuses several high-ranking British citizens – politicians, military officers and heads of security services – of decades of child molestation and murder. The false claims have been made by Carl Beach, in whose home more than 350 inapropriate images of children have been found.
The masked man also claims he has visited the home of the French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy. Lévy is famous for his controversial opinions and is being critiqued for his public support of the director Roman Polanski and the French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Both Lévy and Strauss-Kahn have been accused of sexual violence against women.
The fabricated story of the “Olena Zelenska” Foundation strongly resembles the famous Pizzagate conspiracy.
Inspiration from the Kremlin
Another narrative that appears to have inspired the fabricated story about the Olena Zelenska Foundation is the one of children being taken from their parents to be sexually abused. This is a narrative the Kremlin propaganda machine actively develops in order to demonstrate “the vices of morally degrading Western societies”. A protagonist of this narrative is Irina Bergset, a leader of an NGO called “Russian Mothers”. Back in 2013 Bergset started a campaign against the Norwegian social services, which according to her account, take children away from families and give them to paedophiles.
According to Begset, sexual violence is a “Norwegian tradition” and a “Viking ritual”. In a series of interviews for popular Russian media outlets, Irina tells the story of how ten years earlier a Norwegian court took her son away and ruled in favour of his Norwegian father obtaining custody over him. She claims she saw how people queued up to rape her 4-year-old son, who was dressed “in a Putin suit”. The fabricated story has gained enormous popularity and in Bulgaria it was used for a campaign against the Strategy for Rights of the Child in 2019.
It is not true that the Olena Zelenska Foundation delivers Ukrainian children to paedophile rings in Western Europe. Publications containing the fabricated story refer to a non-existent investigation falsely attributed to a French journalist. The only “evidence” for the investigation is a YouTube video of unknown origin, in which a masked man talks about transporting children without providing any evidence neither for his claims, nor for his identity and supposed affiliation with the Foundation.