Spilnota Detector Media

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Arsenii Subarion

Detector Media analyst

Українською читайте тут.

Blogger Oleksandr Shavlyuk is a hairdresser and a man with a bag on his head. Detector Media has analyzed how little-known users of TikTok and Telegram channels called for protests on May 21, 2024.

In April 2024, the head of the Center for Combating Disinformation, Andriy Kovalenko, reported that the Russians were continuing their ongoing campaign of accusing the Ukrainian president of usurping power. The Russians call it "Maidan 3.0", and Ukrainian law enforcement officers were able to stop the first wave of this information operation.

"Now this campaign continues in Western media and is aimed at Western audiences, in particular on the X network, with the organization of a network of bloggers and media resources that share narratives such as "Putin held elections and is a democrat, but Ukraine does not hold elections, and its president is illegitimate", as per Andriy Kovalenko.

Similar messages are spreading in Ukrainian social networks. DM analyzed those distributed in pro-Russian Telegram channels at the beginning of April 2024. Within a month, Telegram started being flooded with groups and channels calling for protests against Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a supposedly illegitimate leader.

On May 7, Detector Media discovered a Telegram channel gathering people for protests against Volodymyr Zelenskyy on May 21 at Independence Square in Kyiv. This date will be the sixth year since Volodymyr Zelenskyy was sworn in as Ukraine's president. The organizers of the Telegram group, which had several hundred subscribers on May 9, called for a protest on May 21 to show that they no longer consider Volodymyr Zelenskyy their president. Telegram users who bring new people to the group are promised 50 hryvnias per new person.

Although the Constitution of Ukraine stipulates that the term of office of the President of Ukraine is five years, elections are prohibited during martial law. After all, ensuring campaigning, nomination, and voting voters in the occupied territories and abroad is impossible.

Message in one of the Telegram channels which organizes "Maidan 3.0"

Other Telegram channels with the words "Maidan" and "May 21" appear and disappear in Telegram and Tiktok one by one. They have gathered from several hundred to several thousand followers. Sometimes, they even publish reports on payments to those who have joined the channel.

The faces and networks of "Maidan 3.0" in Telegram and Tiktok

Telegram channels which call to protest on May 21 for money are anonymous. They have few followers. Their administrators distribute videos and photo collages of Tiktok users on these channels with calls to protest. We caught two non-anonymous video bloggers sharing posts on Telegram to incite the May 21 protests on Telegram and TikTok. The first is Oleksandr Vudz, a Ukrainian migrant to Canada who is a hairdresser and fitness trainer. According to his profile on the Russian social network OK.ru, he is 48. A 2013 article on the Russian-language site "Meeting Place Montreal" shows that Vudz came to Canada from Kyiv five years priorly. In Ukraine, Vudz "worked in well-known hairdressing salons, won competitions for stylists of various levels, up to international ones. Now he has created his own [hairdressing] salon. On January 30, 2022, the Kyiv Barracuda Barbershop advertised Oleksandr Vudz as "the winner of the competition among barbers from the CIS, the champion of Ukraine in 2014. " Most probably, Oleksandr Vudz did not fully settle down in Canada. Before the full-scale invasion of Russia, he was in Ukraine.

On his Tiktok account, he published content mainly in Ukrainian. His videos reflect his vision of politics. For example, on April 14, Vudz proposed introducing the death penalty for corruption, and on May 9, he claimed that "Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not produce weapons because he does not want to win the war."

Mutual distribution of analyzed channels in Telegram and Tiktok

Until May 9, Vudz's Tiktok account had a link to the "Maidan on May 21" Telegram channel. This channel was removed from Telegram on the morning of May 10. At that time, there were about 400 subscribers. The main topic of the posts was the announcement of a fundraiser to "promote Maidan’s ideas Maidan through various media platforms". Before this post, there was an announcement about payments of 50 hryvnias to everyone who invited their friends to the channel.

Photo of this Telegram channel, which, until May 9, lured people to protest on May 21

The link to this Telegram channel was shared by two other Tiktok users who had the same name – "Maidan on May 21" (Майдан 21 травня). However, on May 10, one of these accounts, which drew parallels between the 2004 and 2014 revolutions and predicted a new wave of protests in 2024, was removed entirely from the platform. Another network element was a Tiktok user named "21.05.24 zasvoboduslova". His profile’s description shared a link to the Telegram channel "Maidan | May 21 | Fundraiser" (Майдан | 21 травня | Збір) with reports on allegedly sent funds, the transfer of which was made after 22:00 on May 9. The next day, all publications on the channel were deleted, and the name was changed to "NEWS | PRIME | UKRAINE" (НОВИНИ | ГОЛОВНЕ | УКРАЇНА). The owners of the Telegram channel probably tried to hide the fact of “buying” subscribers for money in this way.

TikTok channel "maidan21travnia" (17.3 thousand subscribers) is another possible element of this network. The header of the profile shares a link to the private Telegram channel named "Maidan | Organizers | May 21" (Майдан | Організатори | 21 травня), whose audience reaches 2.1 thousand subscribers. The content of the channel's publications is almost identical to the previous ones: a survey about the readiness to participate in the protests on May 21, the opening of the fundraiser for the channel's operations, and payments to invited friends.

The public Telegram channel "Maidan May 21" has the same logos as the Telegram channel "Maidan | Organizers May 21" and the Tiktok account "maidan21travnia". Its authors published several articles, in particular about a 1,000 hryvnia reward for an hour of participation in protests, a step-by-step plan for the implementation of the "revolution", and a photo report of the first manifestations of acts of "disobedience" — the "evader from the authorities" and "children of officials should be in the trenches" inscriptions on the walls of buildings, probably in Kyiv.

Examples of inscriptions on the walls of buildings in Kyiv, distributed by the administrators of the "Maidan May 21" channel

Another person who appeared in publications about the preparation of protests on May 21 is Oleksandr Shavlyuk. He made two YouTube videos about Maidan 3.0. Only the first one was distributed in the Telegram channels mentioned above. It gives the impression that Shavlyuk supports the May 21 protests. Here are the following words:

"Maidan is being prepared for May 21, 2024." Moreover, it will be extremely violent. This "Maidan" foresees the overthrow of Ukraine’s government."

However, from the following sentence, it becomes clear that this video is an announcement of Shavlyuk's stream on YouTube. In a stream the next day, Shavlyuk urged not to join the protests on May 21:

"No government in Ukraine, no matter what it is, is not able to destroy our people, as the Russian Federation is doing. Which, in violation of international law, committed international aggression against Ukraine... I urge everyone to share this video so that people do not think about going to this "Maidan" on May 21."

Shavlyuk has 333,000 subscribers on YouTube. In February 2024, the Babel publication reported that Shavlyuk from Vinnytsia first appeared as a blogger in light of protests against the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He gained the most of his viewers after February 24, 2022. In his videos, as reported by Babel, Shavlyuk sometimes lied, for example, about the mandatory mobilization of women in Ukraine. However, his involvement in promoting the idea of protests on May 21 currently looks like the use of "third person" propaganda tactics, when the position of another speaker is adapted to confirm the propagandists’ positions.

Format and messages about "Maidan 3.0" on Tiktok

A characteristic feature of Tiktok users who share videos about Maidan 3.0 is the use of state symbols: a trident and one of the versions of the great national coat of arms of Ukraine, a blue and yellow flag, and even the symbol of the nationalist movements "Idea of the Nation" (Ідея нації). In this way, the authors try to imitate the pro-Ukrainian movement to divert attention from intentionally or accidentally playing with hostile narratives.

Bright pictures and emotional inscriptions are more common on TikTok than conversational videos with real people and comprehensive arguments on why one should attend a protest. An attempt to promote rallies through a speaker was made by Tiktok user FORTETZA LVIV (40,500 subscribers). With a paper bag on his head or a video filter of the bag, the author records short monologues in which he discredits the Ukrainian military-political leadership and the army. The author uses such rhetoric: "Dictatorial laws on mobilization were imposed on us by the West", "why are Ukrainian soldiers dying if the land they are fighting for is no longer Ukrainian", and "There are already too many cemeteries and burials of soldiers, and therefore the war must be ended". In the video about "Maidan 3.0", the author says that in Ukraine, where "the people do not decide anything", there is no need to carry out "coup d'etat", which took place in 2004 and 2014, but "Ukraine needs a general country-wide revolt where people all over the state will not come out for work, will block the highways, and demand the adoption of adequate laws.

Examples of FORTETZA LVIV messages on Tiktok

Photo or video collages, which are easy to produce, are more common posts. These collages often use photos of the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity. Often, such Tiktok collages accompany an audio recording of the slogan "Zelenskyy out!" (Зелю геть!) or the same hashtag. The main idea of these publications is to promote the idea that a new "Maidan" should occur in Ukraine every ten years. There were ones in 2004 and 2013–2014. Therefore, the next one should take place in 2024.

Examples of photo collages with the hashtag "#зелюгеть" in Tiktok

In addition to the central theme of the Maidan on May 21, there is a connection with propaganda topics aimed at deepening anxiety among Ukrainians through the use of painful themes. The most frequent ones were targetting legislative changes regarding mobilization in Ukraine. TikTok videos presented legislative innovations as a "dictator's law". On this basis, a trend emerged, where a phrase in Russian from the movie "Hunger Games" was superimposed on the images of Zelenskyy, the territorial centers for social servicing of the population, and news screens regarding the draft law on mobilization: "Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor."

An example of a video discrediting mobilization in Ukraine

"If not Zaluzhnyy, artificial intelligence will lead Ukraine on May 21." How Telegram channels have been stirring up interest to "Maidan 3.0" for several months

Pro-Russian media and social network users prematurely promoted the idea that Volodymyr Zelenskyy would lose the right to hold the post of President of Ukraine after May 21. DM discussed this in the "Legitimacy Vacuum. Propaganda Telegram Channels Discuss Absence of Presidential Elections in Ukraine in 2024 article". Detector Media’s team analyzed 340 publications in 90 pro-Russian Telegram channels with the words "May 21" in Russian for this article. The search query focused on pro-Russian Telegram channels, which Detector Media discussed in the "Kremlin Hydra" study in early January 2023, with data provided by TeleZip / Mantis Analytics and publication dates from January 1 to May 5, 2024. Previous and more recent data confirm that the authors of the Maidan-3 Telegram posts use several themes and biases that can cause protests in peacetime but do not succeed during the hostilities in Ukraine.

First, they refer to the terminology about the collapse of democracy in Ukraine. For example, on March 19, pro-Russian Telegram channels with 1,416,000 subscribers wrote that "the Kyiv junta is preparing to introduce a dictatorship." On March 31, another Telegram channel with 11,000 subscribers reported, "Zelenskyy formally ceases to be the acting president, and from May 21, after the inauguration day, he becomes the usurper of power." On March 31, if it were not for martial law, the presidential elections of Ukraine would have been held. However, the propagandists do not consider martial law, which makes it impossible to hold elections in which many Ukrainians could take part and safely vote.

The authors of Telegram posts do not take public opinion into account. According to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and published on February 20, 2024, 70% of respondents believe that Volodymyr Zelenskyy should remain president until the end of martial law. 10% of respondents believe that he should resign. Approximately the same number of respondents favor making changes to the legislation that would allow elections for the President of Ukraine during martial law. Thus, more than two-thirds of Ukrainians consider Volodymyr Zelenskyy the legitimate state leader, even though his term in office is ending. According to public opinion, Zelenskyy has no issue with [his] legitimacy, and people continue to hold him responsible for the situation in the country.

Secondly, propaganda Telegram channels discussed that after May 21, Volodymyr Zelenskyy should hand over his powers to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (VRU) chairman. According to Article 112 of the Constitution of Ukraine, this should happen when the President of Ukraine cannot fulfill his duties.

In March 2024, Telegram channels, particularly a pro-Russian Telegram channel with 168,000 subscribers, with reference to former deputy Ihor Mosiychuk, presented the transfer of the president's powers to the head of the VRU as inevitable. However, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said as early as August 2023 that holding the presidential election would not be possible due to the provisions of Ukraine's law on martial law and the impossibility of ensuring the security of voting in Ukraine and the logistics of voting for millions of Ukrainians abroad.

Thirdly, pro-Russian Telegram channels also predicted the transfer of state power from Volodymyr Zelenskyy to those not mentioned in the Constitution. For example, to the head of the President's Office, Andriy Yermak. On April 24, the Telegram channel to 39,000 subscribers provided a conspiracy quote by Ihor Mosiychuk, according to which Volodymyr Zelenskyy will remain in office but will have ceremonial functions, with further disturbances in power:

"Yermak is going to [hold] the post of Prime Minister, Oksana Markarova (Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA) should become the first Deputy Prime Minister, and her place in the USA will be taken by Mr. Kuleba (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine). Kuleba will be replaced by (deputy head of the President's Office) Andriy Sybiga, who will be appointed Deputy. The current head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Vasyl Malyuk, will become the Minister of Internal Affairs. His Deputy Oleksandr Poklad will replace Malyuk. In the place of Kubrakov (Deputy Prime Minister for the Reconstruction of Ukraine — Minister of Development of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure) Kamishyn — (Minister of Strategic Industries of Ukraine)," Mosiychuk said.

The scheme presented by the ex-People’s Deputy did not come true. On May 9, Kubrakov was dismissed from his post. According to Kubrakov, the dismissal happened without any further discussions.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels circulated another thesis in April. According to them, after Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s "vacuum of legitimacy" comes to an end, the military will come to power "with the support of the West", and they will be led by:

"Ex-Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyy is a man who conquered the hearts of millions of Ukrainians, a sacred victim of the Zelenskyy regime, thrown from Olympus for no reason," stated the pro-Russian Crimean Telegram channel with almost 79,000 subscribers on April 10.

As proof of this thesis, pro-Russian Telegram channels cited the "delay" with Zaluzhnyy's mission as Ukraine's ambassador to the United Kingdom. But on May 9, Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree appointing Zaluzhnyy as ambassador. On the same day, the British Ambassador to Ukraine, Martin Harris, met with Zaluzhnyy and congratulated him on his appointment. After this, Zaluzhnyy must present his credentials to the British monarch, and after that, he can become the ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom. But King Charles III can refuse Zaluzhnyy. Then Ukraine will have to propose someone else as ambassador.

The freshest idea from pro-Russian Telegram channels about who should lead Ukraine after May 21 is artificial intelligence. Victoria Shea, the virtual spokesperson for consular affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, inspired the propagandists. She began work on May 1, 2024.

"If there is a real person in Ukrainian politics, as a rule, they have their own "skeletons", which then hit the ratings. By definition, artificial intelligence does not have skeletons in the closet. Therefore, it should be the artificial intelligence [leading Ukraine]." However, there might be issues with its legitimacy, but only until May 21. Afterward, it won't matter," — reported a pro-Russian Telegram channel with 40,600 subscribers on the day of the "appointment" of Victoria Shea as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs speaker.


When discussing Volodymyr Zelenskyy's "loss of legitimacy", authors of publications in pro-Russian Telegram channels and Tiktok, continue using repeatedly refuted theses that do not correspond with the views of Ukrainian society.

Attempts to organize a protest with promises of money for participation or subscription to Telegram channels add additional negativity to this initiative. Although propagandists sometimes try to create the impression that civil society representatives organize them, the protest seems to appear virtual. Its organizers are anonymous individuals and uninfluential people from social networks. To make this initiative even more powerful, they must involve random "third parties", such as Oleksandr Shavlyuk, the author of YouTube videos with clickbait headlines, which later opposed "Maidan 3.0".

Russians have learned to use protests in other countries to their advantage. They present protests abroad as evidence of "issues" in other states building democracy. Successful protests, followed by democratic state changes, are called "coups". According to them, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution, and the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine were the exact examples. On the contrary, discussions of the threat of protests in Russia are used to control society. Accordingly, "the old government is better than any future "troubles".

Russian propaganda also discusses the so-called "good" protests. According to them, these protests change the state of affairs in the states where they take place in a way to benefit Russia or to justify Russian aggression. The examples are the rallies in Crimea and eastern Ukraine against the "coup d'état in Kyiv," which were used as a pretext for the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Therefore, the May 21 protests should have become another example of a protest convenient for Russia. However, it is doubtful that this protest will even occur.

Gratitude. Detector Media expresses its appreciation to Vladyslav Maksymenkov for his help in de-anonymizing Oleksandr Vudz.

Main page illustration credits: Natalia Lobach

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