As soon as Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Gonzalo Lira started sharing his thoughts and observations on the conflict in a run of YouTube videos and posts on Telegram and Twitter. “The commentary and analysis I post is without picking sides,” Lira, an American who’s lived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for years and was in Kyiv at the start of the offensive, wrote in a recent post, “trying to be as balanced and factually accurate as I can be.”
He began showing up on niche but notable podcasts and livestreams, where hosts introduced him as an unmediated font of on-the-ground insights, as someone willing to share truths about the complex conflict that the mainstream media either can’t or won’t. He’s also gained a slew of new followers—his Telegram has about 45,000 followers, up from 20,000 on March 1, and seems to be gaining hundreds more every day. Many people seem to view him as a valuable source, and have taken to signal-boosting his content.
But his “fair-and-balanced” accounts often involve wild claims about the supposedly obvious “evil” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The comedian-turned-politician is a known “cokehead,” Lira has claimed—a man who uses his people as shields, has provided arms to criminals who have terrorized the streets of Kyiv, and has possibly “deliberately tried to have a nuclear accident” to pin it on Russia and possibly drag America into his war. Meanwhile, Lira has portrayed the Russian assault as provoked—and as “one of the most brilliant invasions in military history.” He hasinsisted that the invaders don’t want to harm civilians or civilian infrastructure and are in facttaking pains not to, that the Russian advance has not stalled but is in fact right on course, and that Russian domination will likely be good for Ukraine in the end.
He has also shared widely debunked conspiracy theories to support or build out his narratives, many of them revolving around Russian claims that they’ve found evidence of American bioweapons labs and research in Ukraine. He has decried stories about Ukrainian resistance as obvious Western propaganda. And he has accused people who contradict his assessments of being idiots or paid shills.