Fact Check: Ukraine’s First Lady Goes on $1.1M Cartier Spending Spree During September 2023 NYC Trip?

Claim:

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska spent $1,100,000 on Cartier jewelry and got a salesperson fired in the process during a visit to the U.S. with her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in September 2023.

Rating:

Rating: False

On Oct 4, 2023, a claim went viral that said Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, had spent $1.1 million in New York City during a September 2023 trip to the U.S. to garner more military aid.

The claim in all cases cited is based on a Sept. 30 YouTube video uploaded by user “Marshall Leonard” purporting to show a screen recording of another video from Instagram. That Instagram video came from a user named gorgeous.bb.jeanette, whose account is now private and devoid of public content. The individual in the video describes herself as a recent immigrant from Benin who had weeks earlier landed a job as a sales intern at Cartier’s Fifth Avenue Mansion.

As described in myriad copy-and-pasted versions of this same story and in that YouTube video, this employee allegedly witnessed a rude Zelenska spending a large sum of money on jewelry and ultimately getting the employee fired from her dream job:

According to information collected by Boukari Ouédraogo from the Cartier store ex-employee, Olena Zelenska visited the boutique during her and her husband’s visit to New York. “I tried to take her on a quick tour, but she wasn’t interested,” the ex-employee further recalls.

Zelenska’s visit to the luxury boutique ended up in a very unexpected manner as she snapped at the employee who was trying to assist her with a “Who said I need your opinion?” rant. After that, according to the boutique ex-worker, Zelenska had a talk with the manager. The ex-worker has no idea what the discussion was about but the next day she got fired from the boutique.

After receiving a “you’re fired” call the next day after Zelenska’s visit, the ex-employee decided to share her story about the bizarre encounter on the Instagram. She has managed to sneak away a copy of a receipt containing Zelenska’s purchases while packing her personal belongings at the boutique.

According to the receipt, Zelenska has purchased a white gold bracelet with diamonds, a white gold necklace with diamonds and emeralds, and white gold earrings with diamonds, totaling $1,100,000.

The girl says she wouldn’t have gone public if Zelenska “had just spent all those stolen money [sic] and moved forward to the next luxury brand store.” However, the decision of the Ukrainian president’s wife to ruin the girl’s career for no reason has really pissed her off.

Questionable Sources

This same copied text went viral on pro-Kremlin accounts on Telegram — a social media/messaging app popular in Russia and Ukraine — leading some groups like The Centre for Countering Disinformation to label the effort pro-Russian propaganda.

The two earliest outlets Snopes can identify that shared the claim were the Nigerian website The Nation and the Zimbabweian website iHarare on Oct. 2, 2023. Both attributed their reporting to an individual named Boukari Ouédraogo, whose connection to either Cartier in New York City, the alleged fired intern, or either of these purported news outlets was never explained.

Regardless, the claim that Zelenska was able to shop at Cartier on Fifth Avenue during a trip to New York in October 2023 is suspect because it is nearly identical to a claim made about her on a trip to France in December 2022. In that instance, the claim originated from a junk news website with a satire label and was spread heavily by anti-Ukraine accounts worldwide.

Just as the current news story about the New York trip has been used, that Paris story was also presented as an alleged juxtaposition to the aid that Ukraine was requesting from Western nations. As Ukrainska Pravda observed, the most recent iteration lays it on a bit thick.

Impossible Timeline

Regardless of the ambiguous sourcing and suspect messaging, there is no plausible scenario that places Zelenska anywhere near Cartier on Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sept. 22, 2023, the date shown on the invoice in the viral video. That’s because she and her husband left New York City on the evening of Sept. 20, and left the United States entirely on the evening of the Sept. 21.

Some defending the claim have argued that the date on the invoice does not necessarily reflect the purchase date. Without interrogating the merits of that claim, there is no conceivable time in which Zelenska could have traveled — undetected — to the Fifth Avenue Cartier Mansion for a shopping spree during this trip to North America.

The trip took place between September 18, when the couple arrived in New York City, and Sept. 22, when the couple left Canada. The trip involved not only those two cities, but also a visit to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional and other leaders, and U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, as described by pool reporter Marek Walkuski of Polskie Radio:

Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in New York on Monday September 18. He began his visit to the U.S. by visiting the Staten Island University Hospital where seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers undergo treatment and rehabilitation.

On Tuesday [Sept. 19] he gave a speech at the UN General Assembly and on Wednesday addressed [Sept. 20] the UN Security Council. In New York Zelenskyy held [a] series of meetings with leaders [and] also met with the President of the European Council, President of the European Commission and the UN Secretary General. Zelenskyy held a separate meeting with the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery Penny Pritzker.

In New York Volodymyr Zelenskyy also met with business leaders, Wall Street CEO’s and diplomats, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Before visiting the White House [on Sept 21] Zelenskyy met with leaders of Congress and visited [the] Pentagon where he met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

For many of these events, including the U.N. General Assembly speech and the meetings at the White House, Zelenska was photographed accompanying her husband. At times when the two were separated, Zelenska had her own, well-documented public events.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife, Olena Zelenska, attends the speech of her husband during the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023, in New York City.

When Zelenskyy was visiting Ukrainian troops at Staten Island University Hospital after their arrival on Sept. 18, Zelenska appeared at the U.N. event celebrating International Equal Pay Day 2023, “where she spoke about the situation with pay for Ukrainian women,” according to the official website of the president of Ukraine.

On Sept. 19, Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. General Assembly with Zelenska in attendance. The president also met with several other world leaders that day. During those meetings, Zelenska met with the director of the World Health Organization (WHO) and spoke at the U.N. event, “Fighting for the Future: Ukrainian Children in War,” in part to “draw attention to the horrific crimes against children committed daily by the Russian occupiers in Ukraine, and to the problem of returning deported children,” according to the president’s website.

On Sept. 20, Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. Security Council. At the same time, Zelenska attended a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which is part of the Clinton Foundation, to receive the “Clinton Global Citizen Award for her extraordinary leadership amid unimaginably difficult circumstances and for being a forceful advocate for peace and a relentless champion of her determined people,” according to the Clinton Foundation.

On Sept. 21, the couple traveled early in the morning to Washington, D.C. There, Zelenskyy met with congressional and Pentagon leaders while Zelenska gave remarks at Georgetown University. The couple reunited for their appearance with the Bidens at the White House. That night, they left Washington for Toronto, Canada, arriving at the coincidentally named Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport that evening.

On Sept. 22 — the day of the purported Cartier spending spree in New York — Zelenskyy addressed the Canadian Parliament alongside Zelenska and participated in a rally with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later that night. The couple returned to Ukraine following that event.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, right, and Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, at the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

For these reasons, the Cartier trip could not have occurred on Sept. 22, as indicated in the viral video, and almost certainly, based on how packed both of their schedules were, could not have occurred on any of the days prior to that — at least not without media attention.

Because of these facts, combined with the questionable sourcing of the story and its similarity to other, recent false claims about Zelenska, Snopes rates the claim as “False.”

Sources:

Cole, Brendan. “Fact Check: Did Zelensky’s Wife Go on $40K Shopping Spree in Paris?” Newsweek, 21 Dec. 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/zelenska-zelensky-ukraine-russia-paris-france-shopping-spree-1768736.

Fighting for the Future: Ukrainian Children in War | UN Web TV. 19 Sept. 2023, https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1f/k1fejd3g14.

Masikati, Vincent. “Olena Zelenska Allegedly Spends $1,100,000 on Cartier Jewelry, Gets Sales Employee Fired?” iHarare News, 25 Sept. 2023, https://iharare.com/olena-zelenska-allegedly-spends-1100000-on-cartier-jewelry-gets-sales-employee-fired/.

Norton, Tom. “Fact Check: Did Zelensky’s Wife Spend $1.1 Million at Cartier in New York?” Newsweek, 5 Oct. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/olena-zelenska-first-lady-ukraine-million-dollar-shopping-trip-new-york-cartier-1832373.

“Olena Zelenska in New York: If Childhood Is under Threat in One Country, It Is under Threat Everywhere.” President of Ukraine, 20 Sept. 2023, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/olena-zelenska-u-nyu-jorku-yaksho-ditinstvo-pid-zagrozoyu-v-85729.

“Olena Zelenska on the Sidelines of the UN General Assembly: Solidarity Remains the Only Remedy against Barbarism and Aggression.” President of Ukraine, 19 Sept. 2023, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/olena-zelenska-na-polyah-ga-oon-solidarnist-zalishayetsya-ye-85689.

“OLENA ZELENSKA, POPE FRANCIS, MICHAEL J. FOX, AI WEI WEI, EDDIE NDOPU, PADMA LAKSHMI, AND MORE: 14 VOICES THAT INSPIRED US TO ‘KEEP GOING’ AT #CGI2023.” Clinton Foundation, 27 Sept. 2023, https://www.clintonfoundation.org/stories/olena-zelenska-pope-francis-michael-j-fox-ai-wei-wei-eddie-ndopu-and-padma-lakshmi-x-voices-that-inspire-us-to-keep-going-from-cgi2023/.

“Olena Zelenska Spends $1,100,000 on Cartier Jewelry, Gets Sales Employee Fired.” The Nation, 2 Oct. 2023, https://thenationonlineng.net/olena-zelenska-spends-1100000-on-cartier-jewelry-gets-sales-employee-fired/.

Olena Zelenska Spent $1100000 on Cartier Jewelry in NYC. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsKwuE4LlHk. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.

Pool Reports of September 21, 2023 | The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/pool-reports-september-21-2023. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.

“Russians Spread Fake about Zelenska Buying US$1 Worth of Jewellery in US.” Ukrainska Pravda, https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/10/5/7422752/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.

“Ukraine’s Zelensky Wraps Day’s Itinerary in Canada with Appearance in Front of Supporters in Toronto.” The Globe and Mail, 22 Sept. 2023. www.theglobeandmail.com, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-volodymyr-zelenskyy-canada-trudeau-visit/.

“We Need to Save Not Only Lives, but Also Their Quality – Olena Zelenska during a Meeting with WHO Director-General.” President of Ukraine, 19 Sept. 2023, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/treba-ryatuvati-ne-lishe-zhittya-i-jogo-yakist-olena-zelensk-85701.