The Kremlin, supported by Russian state media and propagandists, have been making a big deal recently about the whereabouts and health of Ukrainian Army Commander-in-Chief, Valery Zaluzhny, and chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov.
Various rumors and news reports have suggested they are either dead, severely injured, or even AI generated, with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself adding fuel to the conspiracy theory dumpster fire over the weekend.
Where did these rumors start?
Zaluzhny was forced to skip a NATO meeting at the beginning of May due to “the difficult operational situation in defense against Russian aggression.”
A couple of weeks later, Russian state media reported Zaluzhny suffered head trauma and numerous shrapnel wounds in a missile attack, with a source telling Sputnik News: “First aid was provided to Zaluzhny in Mykolaiv in order to stop the bleeding. He had a cranial trepanation done in the Kyiv military hospital.”
Various photographs of Zaluzhny alive and well failed to quell the rumors, and over the weekend Putin himself got in on the action, suggesting he may no longer even be in Ukraine.
When asked about the general’s whereabouts, he said: “I know. I think I know. I think he is abroad. But I could be wrong.”
As for the rumors that Budanov was killed or seriously injured, they have been circulating for weeks on social media, ever since a Russian missile strike on Kyiv on May 29.
Russian state media quickly picked up the conspiracy theory, claiming that Ukrainian media was reporting Budanov’s death.
And last week, chief Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, claimed he was in a coma in Germany.
So both men are seriously ill in hospital?
Absolutely not, they’re both alive and well, with both of them confirming so on Monday.
Zaluzhny appeared looking fit and healthy with absolutely no signs of having undergone head surgery in a video showing him overseeing summer offensive operations in an undisclosed location.
The date the video was recorded – June 17 – is clearly visible next to the clock on the wall behind him.
After weeks of Russian officials, including Putin last week, speculating that Ukraine’s top military commander Zaluzhny is wounded or dead, Kyiv releases a video of Zaluzhny overseeing the offensive, with the clock saying June 17 on the wall. Also, the patch 👀 This is the way. pic.twitter.com/s2qFenMw5h— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) June 19, 2023
Also of note, Zaluzhny’s very cute Baby Yoda patch on his body armor.
What about Budanov?
This is a good question, so Kyiv Post decided to ask him. Specifically, what he thought about the bizarre conspiracy theory that he was dead and a recent video of him was actually AI generated.
This was his response: “Now in Ukraine, a special squad of immortal commanders is being created – Valery Zaluzhny, myself, Stepan Bandera, Symon Petliura, Ivan Mazepa. That’s why the Russians and their propagandists will be doing a lot of work in a nervous, hysterical environment.
"The squad of immortals will come in the middle of the night and enter the dreams of average Russians who wanted to take over Ukraine and will give them nightmares.”
On Tuesday, Budanov also appeared in a joint photo with Japan's ambassador to Ukraine, Matsuda Kuninori.
⚡️Ukraine's Intelligence Chief Kyrylo #Budanov, for the first time since numerous Russian fakes about his injury or death appeared in a joint photo with Japan's ambassador to #Ukraine Matsuda Kuninori pic.twitter.com/iCkko7nr6D— KyivPost (@KyivPost) June 20, 2023
Has Russia responded?
At the time of writing, no.
What have Zaluzhny and Budanov been up to all this time?
Both men are quite busy with Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive, particularly Zaluzhny.
“The operation continues according to the plan,” he said in the video released on Monday.
Zaluzhny noted that Russian forces had deployed a system of fortifications with dense minefields and a large number of reserves.
In the latest developments, there were ongoing offensive actions by Ukraine in all three of its chosen theaters of operation, as well as mine-clearing activity, but no substantive territorial gains reported in the last 24 hours..
Eight villages and an additional 113 square kilometers are now under Ukrainian control since the start of summer offensive actions, while Russia increased its own offensive activity in the northern part of the Donetsk region, according to Ukrainian spokespersons.
UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that Russia has likely deployed large portions of it forces from the east (left) bank of the Kherson Region to the Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut sectors to respond to Ukrainian counteroffensive actions over the past 10 days.
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