Bringing a brutal dictator to life to reveal a deep truth about a largely forgotten genocide

Who: The Holodomor National Awareness Tour, with Toronto’s Mixtape, Kegan Saint for production, Toronto-based deepfake expert Paul “The Fakening” Shales, and director Jesse Hunt for Sequoia Content.

What: “#Deeptruth,” a new campaign that uses deepfake technology to show how former Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin orchestrated the death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33, and then used media manipulation to all but erase it from history.

Screen Shot 2020-07-22 at 5.27.16 PM.pngWhen & Where: The campaign is built around a 75-second video and a dedicated website, There are also posters featuring “glitchy” versions of Stalin’s likeness which contend that the Holodomor was not man-made and that it never happened.

Why: Untold millions of Ukrainians (official estimates peg it around 3.9 million) died when Soviet authorities, acting under orders from Stalin, took food away from citizens by force in 1932-33.

The Soviet dictator used denial, censorship and lies to cover up the atrocity.

The goal of #Deeptruth is to raise awareness of the Holodomor (derived from Ukrainian words meaning to “inflict death by hunger”) and to encourage people to sign an online petition to get the word included in all major English dictionaries. The petition has amassed more than 3,400 of its goal of 5,000 signatories.

How: The video shows Stalin complaining that he doesn’t get enough credit for his role in the creation of “fake news,” boasting how he successfully eradicated the Holodomor from history and noting that in 2020 “nobody knows anything about it. Good luck finding anything in the dictionary.”

The video was created by filming a lookalike and Russian-sounding actor (just before the pandemic) to create a base video. Shales then took rare colour footage of Stalin and used proprietary AI technology to map the dictator’s features onto the actor’s face. The AI went through the two videos frame by frame, matching Stalin’s face with key points on the actor’s face to create the finished product.

Mixtape creative director Greg Shortall says that the final result was so uncannily realistic that the creators decided to add some obvious glitches to demonstrate that it was actually a fake.

Who is Paul Shales?: The Toronto-based Shales is a widely regarded master of “deepfake” technology who has amassed nearly 200,000 followers across his Instagram and YouTube channels and has been enlisted to create videos for musical acts including The Strokes and Diplo.

His videos, created solely for entertainment purposes he stresses, include an aged version of climate activist Greta Thunberg; Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg getting stoned together; and so many Donald Trump videos.

And we quote: Canadathe United StatesUkraine and 14 other countries recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide and honour the victims in an annual day of remembrance on the fourth Saturday in November. Yet, most people are still largely unaware of the basic facts of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th Century. Having Holodomor added to the dictionary is more than symbolic; it’s an important recognition of this deep truth.” —Bob Onyschuk, chair of Holodomor National Awareness Tour.


Chris Powell