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No truth to claims Zelenskyy, Soros are cousins

April 7, 2022 GMT
FILE - George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2019. Social media posts have falsely claimed that Soros and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are cousins. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
FILE - George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2019. Social media posts have falsely claimed that Soros and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are cousins. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
FILE - George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2019. Social media posts have falsely claimed that Soros and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are cousins. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
FILE - George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2019. Social media posts have falsely claimed that Soros and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are cousins. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
FILE - George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, on June 21, 2019. Social media posts have falsely claimed that Soros and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are cousins. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)

CLAIM: A Pentagon official has confirmed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and billionaire philanthropist George Soros are cousins.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Zelenskyy and Soros are not related. An official from the U.S. Department of Defense and representatives for Soros and his foundation confirmed to The Associated Press the claim is false. The Pentagon said the allegation that one of its officials was the source of the information is also false.

THE FACTS: As the war in Ukraine enters its sixth week, social media users are leaning on old theories about Soros and his connections to push the baseless claim that he is closely related to Ukraine’s president.

No evidence was presented in social media posts that claimed Soros, who was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1930, is related to Zelenskyy, the 44-year-old Ukrainian-born leader.

One account stated, “BIG: Zelensky is a cousin of George Soros. Pentagon official says,” receiving nearly 2,000 shares and 6,000 likes on the post. A separate account repeated the same statement, gaining nearly 1,500 shares and 4,000 likes. The claim also appeared on Facebook.

Open Society Foundations, the grantmaking organization founded by Soros, said the posts amounted to conspiracy theories, similar to ones that have spread previously.

“The allegation that George Soros is related to somebody making news, in this case Ukraine’s president, has been the basis for many conspiracy theories in the past,” according to a statement that Open Society Foundations provided to the AP. “This current one, just like those that came before it, is false.”

Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a spokesperson in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, also said the claim is false, and added that Pentagon officials were not the source of the information, as suggested online.

“There is no truth to this claim and no one at the Pentagon is making this claim,” Gorman wrote in an email.

Michael Vachon, a personal spokesperson for Soros, also denied the claim, telling the AP in an email, “They are not cousins.”

The 89-year-old financier has donated billions of dollars of his personal wealth to liberal and anti-authoritarian causes around the world, making him a favored target among many on the right, the AP reported in 2020, while documenting claims about Soros that circulated in the wake of racial justice protests worldwide.

The Hungarian-American, who is Jewish, has also been the subject of anti-Semitic attacks and conspiracy theories for decades.

In a statement posted to his website on Feb. 26, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Soros said he stood with Ukraine and called for other nations to support the country. He made no mention of any connection to Zelenskyy.

“I have witnessed Ukraine transform from a collapsing part of the Soviet Union to a liberal democracy and an open society. It has faced countless acts of Russian aggression, but has persisted,” the statement said, adding: “Russia is in clear violation of the United Nations charter and should be held accountable.”

Last month, Open Society Foundations launched the Ukraine Democracy Fund with a $25 million pledge, in hopes of raising $100 million.

Zelenskyy grew up in southeastern Ukraine in a Jewish family. He studied law in Ukraine and went on to pursue a career in acting and comedy before winning the presidency in a landslide democratic election in 2019.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.