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Zaroshchens’ke Launch Site: Claims and Reality – A Bellingcat Investigation

July 13, 2015

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

This report (which can be found in its entirety here) analyzes in detail one aspect of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) by a Buk missile system in eastern Ukraine: the plausibility that Zaroshchens’ke was the launch site. First, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed in a press briefing on 21 July 2014 that Ukrainian Buk M1 TELARs (transporter erector launcher and radar) were positioned in an area south of Zaroshchens’ke. The Russian MoD supported this assertion with a satellite picture of the area showing the vehicles. While it was not explicitly stated that a missile was fired from this position in the briefing, the information is persistently interpreted as evidence of possible Ukrainian involvement in the downing of MH17.


Later, a larger area south of Zaroshchens’ke that included the Russian MoD’s Buk position was claimed to be the launch site of the Buk M1 missile that downed MH17. This claim stems from Almaz-Antey, the successor company of the original Buk M1 producer. Almaz-Antey’s analysis uses publicly available pictures of the wreckage of MH17 and is primarily based on a calculation of the missile’s last position using the impact direction of the warhead fragments. Almaz-Antey claimed that this method allowed them to identify the possible launch site using the trajectory profiles of the particular missile used.



This report assesses the validity of both the Russian MoD’s and Almaz-Antey’s claims using open-source information. In particular, the analysis utilizes maps showing the situation in eastern Ukraine and Google Earth satellite imagery. The satellite imagery is used to identify with varying degrees of certainty the locations of military positions in the area surrounding the alleged launch site. This information is then used to reconstruct the area under control on 17 July 2014, the day MH17 was shot down. This report also draws upon various press reports from the area.

Based on this report’s analysis of the aforementioned information, two conclusions are reached, namely, on 17 July 2014:

  • The area south of Zaroshchens’ke was not under Ukrainian control
  • There were no Ukrainian Buk M1 (TELARs) in the area identified by Almaz-Antey as the launch site

It is also possible to assess the likelihood of a missile launch from the area south of Zaroshchens’ke on 17 July 2014. While it is not possible to reject that claim completely, it can be concluded that:

  • It is highly unlikely that a missile was launched from the area south of Zaroshchens’ke on 17 July 2014

This assessment also provides additional evidence that the Russian MoD misinformed the general public in their 21 July 2014 briefing. The satellite image presented that claimed to show Ukrainian Buk M1 TELARs south of Zaroshchens’ke must be either a fabrication or a deliberately misinterpreted satellite photo meant to mislead or confuse the public.

The full report is available in English, German, and in Russian.

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  1. Frank

    Looking at this site and its content, I feel totally baffled. What is the point of all this?

    Not only was it well known that DPR had BUK systems at the time, it is still possible to google up the ITAR-TASS public announcement of that fact 2 or 3 weeks prior to the tragic events with MH17. Further, in those weeks, a number of high altitude planes had been shot down.

    It is not clear who shot down the plane, but I fail to see how or why it is relevant.

    • Mad Dog

      It is relevant for a lot of reasons, both political and legal. For instance, who is responsible will be the question asked when indemnity is sought.

      • Frank

        In my opinion the responsibility is utterly obvious.
        The rebels had and have no reason to deny possession of BUK system:
        The announcement was public, and the Russian media continue to leave that uncensored.
        Even so, that is irrelevant. It was well known that **high-altitude** flights had been shot down in the weeks prior to the MH17 event in that area.
        Knowing that high altitude flights were under threat, who was responsible for leaving the corridor open despite warnings from the European flight authorities?

        • boggled

          The highest shot down was at 21k feet before MH17.
          Ukraine increased the ceiling after that incident to 32k.
          21k feet is still it is 2 miles below what MH17 was travelling at.

          Fare thee well

      • Frank

        In addition the other message, which I cannot edit, just to be clear. Even if we discover that the plane was downed by a ‘3rd party’, or a local storm of asteroids that had been raining down those weeks, in my opinion (and without legal prejudice), the air traffic officials responsible for the route should be tried for criminal negligence, at minimum, and further investigated for collusion with the Ukrainian military.

        • boggled

          A hypothetical – Russian Federation has nuclear weapons, the leadership of Russia has threatened the use of nuclear weapons if it did not get its wishes.
          The UA government released the blackmail statements, but did not demand everyone for the length of the war to stay in bomb shelters.
          RF launches and destroys cities.
          Do you still feel it is the UA’s government’s guilt for not demanding that everyone live in bomb shelters until the end of the war?
          Or is it the guilt owned by the RF for launching said attack?

          Fare thee well

          • Ivan

            Incorrect comparison. You cannot move cities but you can easily forbid all flights in the area.

  2. AnonymousDefender

    There is no reason for close airspace over Ukraine even if Buk air-defense spotted. Air-defense dont used against civilian airliners on alt 10km. Only terrorists use everything what have against innocent people.
    So if we look on story about MH17 and ukrainian airspace we must choose one option
    1. Terrorists shot down MH17 with weapon which they just received from Russia. Ukraine dont have enough info about it and was disadvantage by propaganda war of Russia.
    2. Any airspace with Buk presence must be closed because Buk have ability for shot down high-alt targets. Then Russia airspace must be closed first and immediately – it was russian TELAR on separatists controlled part of Eastern Ukraine so russian airspace always at danger of destruction civilian airliners (with 350 launchers around all country – ready to use and dont have mercy), not Ukraine which dont launched missile.

    • boggled

      Of course you are right AD, however negligence will have to be looked at in the future, and discussed as a better method might be to prevent a disaster like this.
      It is a minor issue and really should not be talked about right now, there are bigger fish to fry and the court case involving this probably won’t happen for another ten years, if at all.
      It is just a Kremlin propaganda ploy to avoid discussion the relevant issues, ie, distract others when they are getting close to the truth.
      I will try to avoid it.
      Kind of like, here are the Olympics in Sochi over here, pay attention to this and while your distracted away from Kyiv, I will send my snipers in to crush a protest against Moscow orchestrated corruption.

      Fare thee well

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