After House Democrats moved forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over a phone call with Ukraine’s president, a photo of a woman shaking hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi circulated as supposed evidence of Pelosi’s own connections with Ukraine elite.
In reality, the rumor is an attempt to smear Pelosi using an American college student only because she was an intern of Pelosi's for a semester and is of Ukrainian descent.
The photo, shared here Oct. 1, has appeared all over social media with text around it that says:
"Nancy Pelosi’s legislative aide, Ivanna Voronovych, is from the Ukraine and is connected to the Ukrainian Embassy, the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian party life … How did this Ukrainian get cleared to work in the office of the person third in line to the U.S. presidency?"
Another image laid over the photo in the upper left hand corner shows a man and a woman along with more text that says, "Patriarch Filaret Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church" and "Mom’s Ukraine Order of Merit for Military & Political Activity."
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This claim is inaccurate.
PolitiFact found that Ivanna Voronovych did serve as an intern in Pelosi’s district-focused office in Washington, D.C., for a college semester, but did not (and does not currently) work for Pelosi as an aide, nor does she hold any other position in Pelosi’s office. (Also, the Speaker of the House is second in line to the presidency not the third, as the post states.)
The rumor appears to have originated with a Sept. 30, 2019, story by right-leaning website the Gateway Pundit.
That story says Voronovych "started her career working at the US Embassy in the Ukraine in Kiev" and that "she worked for Roman Woronowycz, the Kiev Bureau Chief, who is connected to Nancy Pelosi." It goes on to claim that, "Voronovych’s parents are well connected. Her mom worked with the Ukrainian Army, and even received the Ukraine Order of Merit for military and political activity. Yoronovych’s [sic] father worked in the Ukrainian Foreign Service and he’s also connected to the Ukrainian government."
Something to note: Roman Woronowycz is Voronovych’s father and is not listed as the bureau chief for the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, though he does work at the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kiev, according to an agency spokesperson.
PolitiFact reached out to Voronovych about the rumors. She responded by email, explaining that she is a U.S. citizen and has lived in Ukraine as well as other countries due to her father’s employment with USAID. She said that she interned for Pelosi in the spring of 2018 while a sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston and when Pelosi was the House minority leader.
Voronovych said her father is a Michigan native and is not chief of the Kiev bureau of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, as the post states. Voronovych is now a senior at the University of Michigan, where, as a transfer student, she is studying political science and philosophy.
"Since finishing my internship I have not had any contact with the Speaker, as I imagine she is occupied with more important things than keeping tabs on her previous interns," Voronovych said. She said she has spent the last five years working as a summer hire at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine but never worked with the Ukraininan Embassy in the United States or elsewhere. "I have no ties to the Ukrainian government or military outside of the work that I did while employed with the State Department."
Ivanna Voronovych’s mother, Viktoria Voronovych, is a Ukrainian-born American citizen and co-founder of the nonprofit International Alliance for Fraternal Assistance, which has helped raise money to deliver medical supplies, gear, equipment and other items to Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting against Russia-backed rebels, according to an interview she gave in 2015 to the Macomb Daily, a newspaper in Detroit. The photo in the upper-left corner of the viral Facebook post shows Viktoria Voronovych receiving a medal from the patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for her conflict zone volunteer work, according to Ivanna Voronovych, who also sent PolitiFact an image of the medal, which indicates it was presented in 2015.
Ivanna Voronovych said that the organization, which appears to be based in Kiev, raised money from other Ukrainians now living in the United States, most notably Michigan, Illinois and North Carolina. These days, Ivanna Voronovych said, her mother’s work involves supporting people with disabilities sustained either at birth or by way of involvement in the conflict.
"This story is a hoax and an outlandish compilation of twisted lies," Voronovych said. "I have received disturbing messages from people that choose to believe this disinformation, making me feel unsafe and as a possible target. The comments under some of the Facebook posts alone are enough to make one worry. I am a private citizen and should not be subject to such an invasion of privacy, libel and defamation of my character."
On Oct. 3, Woronowycz also posted a response to the rumors surrounding his daughter on his Facebook page, saying she is an American citizen who interned with Pelosi while also working at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine during summers. He wrote that the rumors have even resulted in death threats:
"My daughter, Ivanna Voronovych, was hit hard two days ago by bots with stories that contain outright lies and twisted facts. She is an American citizen, an honors student and a social activist who also interned with Speaker Pelosi, while also working at the US Embassy in Ukraine during summers. She has no connections to the Ukrainian military or the Ukrainian Embassy. Dozens of pieces by fly-by-night sites are sharing these gross and dangerous lies. The results have been death threats and lurid comments made by obviously deranged, heartless, soul less, and morally empty a*******. No one deserves this."
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, confirmed to PolitiFact that Voronovych was an intern in Pelosi’s personal office in Washington, which works solely on representational issues for Pelosi’s congressional district, the 12th District of California.
"This individual was an intern in our personal office (meaning CA-12 not leadership office). She was an unpaid intern in the spring of 2018 who answered phones and performed other administrative duties," Hammill wrote in an email. "The Speaker takes a photo with every intern during their time in Washington."
On May 31, 2018, in that same time period, Voronovych posted the photo of herself shaking hands with with Pelosi on her own Facebook page.
A Facebook post displays an image of a woman shaking hands with Nancy Pelosi and claims that the woman, Ivanna Voronovych, is "Pelosi’s legislative aide" from the Ukraine who is connected to "the Ukrainian Embassy, the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian party life."
Ivanna Voronovych has lived in Ukraine and once served as an unpaid intern for Pelosi for a semester in 2018. But she is also a U.S. citizen and is not employed by Pelosi. Her mother, an American citizen, has also been an activist in Ukraine and previously helped deliver food and supplies to army members.
This rumor wrongly suggests Voronovych, an American, is a significant influence on Pelosi, based only on Voronovych’s Ukrainian heritage and because she once held an internship in Pelosi’s office.
We rate it False.
Update, Oct. 10, 2019: This story has been updated to reflect that a spokesperson with the U.S. Agency for International Development confirmed that Roman Woronowycz is employed there. This addition does not affect the ruling.