Did Leonel Messi, an Argentinian football star who led his national team to the 2022 World Cup, swear at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Instagram, demanding that the Ukrainian leader "take [his] people and get out of Europe" and displaying a sign with profanity directed at Zelenskyy? No, that's not true. The image was digitally altered, and Messi did not post the words attributed to him.
The claim appeared in a tweet (archived here) posted on November 20, 2022. The sign Messi appeared to hold in the shared picture said, as translated from Russian (with the original punctuation),
Zelenski go fuck yourself
The caption, in English, continued:
Yesterday, at the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, Messi expressed his thoughts about refugees from Ukraine and directly about Zelensky's actions: "I'm tired of looking at this senseless war! Zelensky, take your people and get out of Europe, we know the truth!"
Although Leonel Messi was born and raised in Argentina and played for this country at the World Cup in Qatar, the entry ended with words in Russian that said:
This is what the tweet looked like at the time of the writing of this fact check:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 14:23:47 2022 UTC)
But the star football player, whose Instagram posts drew worldwide attention in light of Argentina's World Cup victory in December 2022, did not post anything similar either in November or December 2022. Here is what the content of his verified Instagram account looked like as of this writing:
(Sources: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 14:38:09 2022 UTC; Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 14:38:31 2022 UTC; Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 14:39:12 2022 UTC; Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 14:39:36 2022 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)
A further inquiry shows that the photo with a poster was posted on Instagram in May 2014. However, the inscription did not mention Ukraine or Zelenskyy. As translated by Google, the Spanish-language poster read:
Here is what the original, unaltered post looked like:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Dec 21 15:04:12 2022 UTC)
Other Lead Stories fact checks about the war in Ukraine can be found here.