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The Burning Road to Mariupol: Attacks from Russia during the Novoazovs’k Offensive of August 2014

December 3, 2015

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

Download the full report here.

Данный отчет также доступен на русском языке.


 

Summary

This report investigates the claims of Russian involvement in the attacks leading up to and during the assault on Novoazovs’k between 23 and 27 August 2014. The report analyzes open source evidence to determine the source of artillery fire on Ukrainian units, as well as the origin of armored vehicles sighted inside Ukraine in the Novoazovs’k area.

Evidence from social media and satellite imagery shows that artillery attacks and armored vehicles sighted in the area of Novoazovs’k in July / August 2014 came from Russia (summarized in Figure 1 and Table 1). Two artillery attacks on 23 August 2014 came from Russian territory, and two T-72Bs and one 2s19 Msta-S sighted in Novoazovs’k after its capture were transported from Russia. The report also provides analysis of other attacks in the Novoazovs’k area during July / August 2014, several with some (but not conclusive) evidence suggesting attacks from Russian territory.

Figure 1. Summary of artillery attacks in the Novoazovs’k region, from 21 July to 26 August 2014. Red solid lines indicate the trajectory of artillery fire that has been matched to a firing point found from satellite or social media evidence. Orange lines indicate a trajectory estimated from photo or video at the attack site – the firing point is unknown. The green line indicates the movement of attacking forces after advancing across the border on 25 August 2014.

Figure 1. Summary of artillery attacks in the Novoazovs’k region, from 21 July to 26 August 2014. Red solid lines indicate the trajectory of artillery fire that has been matched to a firing point found from satellite or social media evidence. Orange lines indicate a trajectory estimated from photo or video at the attack site – the firing point is unknown. The green line indicates the movement of attacking forces after advancing across the border on 25 August 2014.

In mid-August 2014, Ukrainian armed forces had pushed back the Russian-armed separatist forces to the areas close to the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Until this time, the area of the Donetsk region close to Novoazovs’k and Mariupol, overlooking the Sea of Azov, had been spared the worst of the fighting. Before 23 August 2014, Ukrainian forces had sporadically come under artillery fire (on 21 July, 25 July, 21 August); however, there were no clear signs of forces massing in the area at the time to threaten a large-scale attack. This changed on the morning of 23 August 2014, with large-scale and frequent artillery attacks on Ukrainian positions close to Novoazovs’k border crossing point (BCP), which continued over the next few days. By the morning of 25 August 2014, it was clear that towns along the Azov coast were now targets of the Russian-armed separatist forces.

Using evidence from social media and satellite imagery, primarily from Yandex maps images from 31 August 2014, Google Earth images from October 2014 and TerraServer images from 2014 – 2015, we show that artillery attacks and armored vehicles sighted in the area of Novoazovs’k in July / August 2014 came from Russia. On 23 August 2014, Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) fired from Russian territory struck a Ukrainian military base close to the town of Kholodne; more than 30 kilometers from the nearest position of the Russian-armed separatist forces within Ukraine. Soon after, another artillery system within Russia struck the same position. Later, two Ukrainian checkpoints on the road from Novoazovs’k border crossing point (BCP) to Novoazovs’k town were attacked by MLRS fire from a firing position less than one kilometer from the Russian border, with visible tracks leading back to a crossing point into Russian territory, and/or from a position within Russia.

On 25 August 2014, satellite imagery evidence supports media reports and witness testimony that Russian-armed separatist forces crossed into Ukraine through a crossing point (visible on satellite imagery) north of Novoazovs’k BCP, and attacked Ukrainian forces to the east of the town of Novoazovs’k. On 25-26 August 2014, videos and photos show the aftermath of MLRS and artillery shelling of roads, houses, a cemetery, a bread factory and a hospital as Russian-armed separatist forces fought to take control of the town of Novoazovs’k.

Figure 2. Sightings of tank number 127 / 005 in Russia and Ukraine during the summer of 2014. a), c) in a truck convoy 30 July 2014 close to Kamensk-Shakhtinsky . b) Another convoy carrying tank 127, photo uploaded on 21 August 2014 and taken in the area of Rostov-on-Don . d) A photo of tank 127 in Novoazovs’k taken by journalist Petr Shelomovskiy on 31 August 2014 . e) A photo of tank 127 in video CONVOY-2 uploaded 10 September 2014, filmed at 47.126085, 38.084023 .

Figure 2. Sightings of tank number 127 / 005 in Russia and Ukraine during the summer of 2014. a), c) in a truck convoy 30 July 2014 close to Kamensk-Shakhtinsky [1] [1-archive] [2] [2-archive] [2-geolocation] [2-geolocation-archive] . b) Another convoy carrying tank 127, photo uploaded on 21 August 2014 and taken in the area of Rostov-on-Don [3] . d) A photo of tank 127 in Novoazovs’k taken by journalist Petr Shelomovskiy on 31 August 2014 [4] [4-archive] . e) A photo of tank 127 in video CONVOY-2 uploaded 10 September 2014, filmed at 47.126085, 38.084023 [5] [5-archive].

The report also investigates the origin of T-72B armored main battle tanks (MBTs) and howitzers that were filmed or photographed close to Novoazovs’k after the town was taken. Building on previous work, we show that two T-72B tanks and one 2s19 Msta-S 152-mm self-propelled howitzer were transferred from Russia to Ukraine in late summer 2014. These two specific T-72Bs and the 2s19 Msta-S were sighted earlier inside Russia, demonstrating that these vehicles were of Russian origin.

In summary, open source evidence shows that attacks on Ukrainian forces around Novoazovs’k came from Russia, and vehicles used in the conflict in the area were transported from Russia. This report adds to the growing body of evidence showing that Russia was directly involved in the Ukrainian conflict of 2014-2015.

Table 1. A summary of the incidents and evidence investigated in this report. [6] [6-archive] [7] [7-archive] [8] [8-archive] [9]

Attack name Date Source of fire Evidence
A. MLRS attack on Kholodne 23 August 2014 Russia Video of rocket launch. Video of Kholodne under attack. Firing point and attack craters located on satellite images.
B. Self-propelled artillery shelling of Kholodne 23 August 2014 Russia Video of artillery firing site. Video of Kholodne under attack. Firing point located on satellite images. Trajectory analysis of artillery fire.
C. Mortar shelling of Novoazovs’k border crossing point 25 July – 24 August 2014 Russia (unconfirmed) Potential firing site located on satellite images. Witness reports.
D. MLRS and artillery shelling of checkpoints on road to Novoazovs’k 21 July, 23 – 27 August Inside Ukraine, Within 1 kilometer of Russian border Firing site located, and vehicle tracks leading back to Russia. A second potential firing position identified in Russia. Artillery trajectories determined from photos taken at attack sites. Crater trajectory analysis of satellite imagery at attack site.
E. Armored assault from Russia on Novoazovs’k area 25 August 2014 Crossed border from Russia between Markyne and Shcherbak, advanced on Novoazovs’k Witness reports. Border crossing point, route of vehicle convoy and subsequent battle identified on satellite images.
F. MLRS attack on Sedovo – Novoazovs’k road 26 August 2014 morning Ukraine or Russia northeast of Novoazovs’k – unknown Videos / photos of the attack site shortly after the attack. Crater trajectories analyzed from photos / video.
G. Bread factory northeast Novoazovs’k artillery strike 26 August 2014 morning Ukraine or Russia northeast of Novoazovs’k – unknown Videos / photos of the attack site during and shortly after the attack. Crater trajectories analyzed from photos / video.
H. Northwest Novoazovs’k artillery strike 26 August 2014 afternoon Ukraine – northeast of Novoazovs’k in are southeast of Rozy Lyuksemburh Videos / photos of the attack site during and shortly after the attack. Crater trajectories analyzed from satellite images. Potential firing point located.
I. Presence of 2 x T-72Bs and 1 x 2s19 MSTA from Russia inside Ukraine 27 August to early September NA Videos and photos of convoys in Russia with matching vehicles sighted in Ukraine

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Sean Case and Klement Anders, with significant contributions from Aric Toler and Eliot Higgins.

The following members of the Bellingcat Investigation Team also contributed to this report:

  • Timmi Allen
  • Andrew Haggard
  • Pieter van Huis
  • Veli-Pekka Kivimaki
  • Iggy Ostanin
  • Nathan Patin
  • Daniel Romein

Thanks to Pavel Aleshin and Dmitry Bochkov for assistance with the translation to Russian.

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144 Comments

  1. stranger

    “He signed the EU agreement initially, then the RF agent refused to recognize his signing and then stated himself after a consolation with the RF representative that he never signed it, even though he had many other witnesses there”
    What is that story? I have never heard. Do you have any link other than ukr press?

    That was not a majority at maydan, and they couldn’t have decided for everybody including east and Crimea. May be cynical to say, the revolution itself was done by just few people – those snipers. Nobody still knows who they were and from which side. Snipers are the new way to conduct democracy by changing regimes in 3rd world countries? They might have been government special services, but there were witnesses they were from opposition, the investigation is still not over.

    Obama said “we brokered the transfer of power in Ukraine” whatever that meant.

    Reply
  2. Mad Dog

    Wait a minute, you mean those guys were democratically elected? Gee, does that mean that Randy is right when he mentions the ‘legitimate’ government of Syria. I really wonder about his definition of ‘legitimate’. (especially since he and his stalwarts are in the minority).

    Reply
    • Randy Dread

      the rulers of the rebel areas are as legitimate as the rulers of the rest of ukraine.

      ukraine lost its legitmate government when it was overthrown and no legitimate goverment has replaced it.

      Reply
      • randy2

        no Randy, the government was not overthrown. The president ran away, but all the elected reps stayed in the parliament – all elected as before.

        Reply
  3. Randy Dread

    as a failed state i think Ukraine needs a few years of being run directly by the UN with armed peacekeepers.

    Reply
    • Dude

      Wow, this terroRussian clown Randy Drool is really jumping over his head trying to satisfy his kgb paymasters…

      Just a little observation … hehehe

      Reply
    • Mr Fox

      Ukraine is doing quite well as a state, despite Russian savagery. Much like all the other European states freed from Russian slavery with the collapse of the Soviet enslavement.

      The only failed or failing state I see is the militaristic autocracy with the full time propaganda and the self destructing economy. You know? The one ruled by Polonium Putin the Butcher of East Ukraine and doom of MH-17

      Reply
  4. stranger

    There is no any demarcated border between Russia and Ukraine. Those easily could have been rebels came from Ukraine and having lost. Looking at the first example of firing across the border, if one takes a look at a larger scale, cut off by bc image, the border is sharply bent to the east just above the supposed launch site. Taking into account the errors in determination of the direction and the distance, that could easily have been Ukrainian territory instead. Black spots at the ground could have been anything.

    Russia probably supported the rebels, with weapon, but not with regular army. That was not good anyway. Nevertheless the majority of rebels are from the eastern Ukraine. That is the fact, which supporters of Ukraine are constantly trying to ignore and represent it as a conflict with Russia, instead of the internal civil conflict. The same way as they are saying rebels fire to own villages to civilian, to discredit Ukrainian army, and bombing from the air was from an ‘unknown’ plane.

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      The evidence says otherwise Stranger. The rebels don’t have that firepower or the logistics to support it.

      Reply
      • stranger

        The regular army looked like in Syria or Georgia (2008). Is it possible that only limited disguised subdivisions took part in Ukraine? I don’t know. We do know about ‘volunteers’ from Russia, and the fact Russia didn’t pursue rebels at its territory. We know on the other hand about UK journalist Gram Philips, several American journalists and at least one American volunteer fighting for rebels ‘Novorossia’.

        I can say that every time Ukraine captured Russian citizens soldiers it made it as publically loud as possible. That happened 2 maybe 3 times for all 1.5 years. First time a group of Russian soldiers were captured, they had made to speak publically. They told they didn’t understand where they were going and got lost and came to Ukraine territory. Whether we believe it or not, if they had any battle task they would have made to tell that, probably. The other times it was even less obvious.

        There are a lot of heavy weapon, it is logically to assume it came from Russia, even though there was a lot of weapon captured at Ukrainian military bases. Particularly just before the MH17 incident it was reported rebels captured a Buk from Ukrainian base, Ukraine said the Buk was broken and not operating. May rebels have used that story to cover another operational Buk from Russia, I have no idea again.

        Ukraine would make them public, if they had any other significant evidences, there would be no need for subtle BC investigations if they had.

        I’m just saying it is not a simple picture as some Ukrainian supporters are trying to paint, that Russia has invaded to gain territory and eastern Ukrainians and Crimea are hostages who are eager Ukrainian army to liberate them. Many eastern Ukrainians do support Russia and didn’t appreciate revolution in Kiev. Although some Russian citizens, (Strelkov, Boroday) used to head the rebels a couple of years ago, now rebels are headed only by eastern Ukrainian citizens, particularly Zakharchenko. Ukraine do a real blockade of own citizens at the south-east as well as is going to blockade Crimea. We also know that Ukraine is divided by west and east and many people use Russian language as the only native and doesn’t support Kiev and the west to tell them what to do.

        I’m just saying it is also and in the first turn an information war as well as a war of ambitions of politicians. I don’t justify Russia, but the simple picture which is imposed by mass media, not even saying about propaganda, is very far from reality. If somebody is saying it is simple he is lying.

        Reply
      • Dude

        Kgb agents “stranger” and “Randy Drool” here work in pair… in the manner of

        “good cop, bad cop”… 🙂

        Agent “stranger” deliver terroRussian disinformation and propaganda in a soft and seemingly friendly manner..

        While “Randy Drool” specializes in especially delirious, preposterous and outrageous statements of russian propaganda…

        Typical ways of terroRussians, so well-known to everyone in Eastern Europe!

        N’est ce pas?

        Reply
    • disco dave

      Эй незнакомец. Было бы гораздо понятнее, если вы использовали свой родной язык?

      Reply
  5. Tula

    эти уроды начали бить днем когда на самой погран заставе были люди дети, начали валить градами через нас на “кони” а валили с росии. мы потом у же конкретно опредилили откуда так как они когда шмаляли с града то поле загорелось жаль камеры небыло

    Reply
  6. Dude

    Kgb agents “stranger” and “Randy Drool” here work in pair… in the manner of

    “good cop, bad cop”… 🙂

    Agent “stranger” deliver terroRussian disinformation and propaganda in a soft and seemingly friendly manner..

    While “Randy Drool” specializes in especially delirious, preposterous and outrageous statements of russian propaganda…

    Typical ways of terroRussians, so well-known to everyone in Eastern Europe!

    N’est ce pas?

    Reply
    • stranger

      You mean Boggled + Dude? 🙂 The fighters of invisible information front? Projections… yeah… you are revealing yourself 🙂

      Reply
      • Dude

        KGB agent “stranger” responded to my message (message posted unexpectedly and quasi-randomly, as I was not here for a few days) within 20 or so minutes… which unequivocally proves he is stalking here 24/7… which in turn proves he is a terroRussian propaganda troll…

        Sapienti Sat 🙂

        Reply
      • John Zenwirt

        You can not begin to compare yourself with Boggled; he is the top Poster, you most certainly are not.

        Reply
  7. John Zenwirt

    stranger – December 17th, 2015

    “Just because you are not a paranoid doesn’t mean nobody is watching you.”

    ie., Russians are watching you.

    That could reasonably be taken as a threat; against posters who say things Russia doesn’t like, esp. when coming from yourself. Warning: Russians staged a cyber-attack on me, it can happen to anyone here.

    Reply
    • stranger

      🙂 That was a kind of a known “idiom”, may be not so common… Should I have taken his post seriously? 🙂
      I wanted to tell Dude he is doing exactly the same what he accuses others for. In psychology it is called – projection 🙂
      I saw this forum first time just several weeks ago and don’t know very well who have been here for a long time, the top posters, like Boggled or others.
      But btw are you American? So why are you complaining on anybody? Debate, compete, fight, for what you think is right! – that is the American character, isn’t it? Ideally – in a smart and respecrful way, w/o finger-pointing and calling names or nationalities. Sorry for doing that myself sometimes. 🙂

      Reply
  8. stranger

    I’d prefer to discuss the subject instead of personalities. If you have anything to tell on the subject? I understand though that not everybody here has British manners…

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Stranger, i may not agree with a lot of what you postulate, but I will never criticize your command of English. Despite the problems, you try really hard to express yourself and do a fine job. Besides, Blurb wrote incorrectly: Your a stranger…. Sorry B, but you should have wrote “You’re” as any elementary school kid would tell you.

      Reply
  9. John Zenwirt

    Paid as a Pro-Kremlin Troll: ‘The Hatred Spills over into the Real World’

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: “So who are the trolls?”

    Savchuk: “Students. At 34, I was the exception. The worse thing is that these young people are totally indifferent about what they are writing. I believe that the crime of extremism is actually being committed in the these troll factories.”

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: “How?”

    Savchuk : “Because they are wishing for the deaths of Ukrainians and Americans. Hatred between nationalities is being incited. These people are writing one thing today, another thing tomorrow and perhaps the next morning they will put masks on in real life and go out on the street and kill someone.”

    http://tinyurl.com/oewjxgl (Spiegel)

    Reply

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