the home of online investigations

Separatist Convoy Linked to MH17 Buk Transport

March 4, 2016

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

At 10:40am on the morning of 17 July 2014, one of the first mentions of a Buk missile launcher in Donetsk reached the internet. This came in the form of a post on the “Donetsk is Ukraine!” VKontakte (VK) community, warning of the Buk’s arrival from Makeevka and the presence of three civilian vehicles:

“Bad news. Around 9am, a hauler was going along the Makeevka highway from Makeevka in the direction of Donetsk. On the platform was a BukM1-M2? This AAMS proceeded to the intersection with Shakhtostroiteley Boulevard. The system was accompanied by a convoy that was composed of 1 gray Rav4 SUV, a camouflaged UAZ, and a dark blue Hyundai van with tinted windows. As of 9:15am, the vehicle was located at the intersection of Shakhtostroiteley and Ilycha. The militants got out of their cars, blocking 2 of the far left lanes. Obviously, they were waiting for logistical guidance.”

This news was printed on two Ukrainian news sites, and shared in tweets. The information was later corroborated through reports on local channels of the group voice communication platform Zello.

July 17 Vehicles

Two of the automobiles described in this message were later seen in Donetsk and Torez, just meters away from the Buk 3×2, the Buk-M1 missile launcher that is widely believed to have downed MH17. The RAV4 SUV is likely the same one parked next to the Buk in Donetsk hours before the downing of MH17. This RAV4 fits the description of the European version of the 2010 Toyota RAV4, with a non-stock roof spoiler and a rear spare tire. The RAV4 is seen here in a photograph shared by the tabloid Paris Match:

pm

A UAZ-469 jeep was seen with the Buk in Torez just after noon, likely a couple of hours after it had left Donetsk. The photograph was uploaded on VKontakte on the day of the tragedy:

torez

The BBC spoke with an eyewitness (from either Snizhne or Torez) from the day of the tragedy, who said that “an officer in a military jeep escorting the BUK spoke with a Muscovite accent.” This jeep is likely the same one seen in the Torez photograph.

The Hyundai van is harder to pin down, as there are not many Hyundai vans used by separatists in convoys. It is possible that the “Hyundai” van was actually a Volkswagen, which are frequently spotted in convoys with Donetsk separatists, but there is not information on this vehicle to make any reliable determinations. A dark van was spotted with the Buk near Zuhres just before noon, but it is not possible to make a clear determination if this is the same vehicle described in the earlier message.

zuhres

July 15 Convoy

This post in the Donetsk community is quite notable in its own right as a detailed witness report of the Buk in eastern Ukraine. However, the identification of the UAZ and the RAV4 are even more important when considering that the 2010 Toyota RAV4 and the UAZ-469 were filmed two days before the MH17 tragedy in a separatist convoy headed from Luhansk to Donetsk. There are several news reports, videos, and photographs of this convoy, allowing us to document the convoy’s movements and discern numerous details of the RAV4 SUV and UAZ jeep.

The bulk of the reports of the convoy are from its movement from Enakievo, through Makeevka, and to Donetsk on the afternoon of July 15, 2014. This convoy consisted of the following vehicles, which had various Russian and Novorossiyan flags at different points:

T-64 tank (35):

t64-35

T-64 tank (36):

t64-36

T-64 tank (37):

tank37

T-64 tank (38):

t64-38

Three unnumbered, unmarked 2S1 Gvozdikas:

three_gvozdikas

Scania P-series truck (likely a Scania P360 LA4X2HNA), with Scania griffin decal/sticker on the both sides of the cabin:

p360_truck

BTR-80 (265):

btr80-265

Dark blue Volkswagen with blue siren light and license plate АН 2338 ВК:

Volkswagen_van an2338vk

Dark green UAZ-469 with white marks on both driver and passenger doors, license plate “АН 2226 ЕС,” and blue siren light. It is possible that this license plate is counterfeit:

uz469-front

Gray 2010 Toyota RAV4 (European facelift edition, modified rear spoiler, rear spare tire, chrome door handles, roof rack):

rav4-side
33401h1_360

License plate of the RAV4

Further investigation of the RAV4 and UAZ-469

There are a few features to these two automobiles—the RAV4 and UAZ-469—that indicate that they were the same vehicles seen two days later with Buk 3×2. The RAV4 is uncommon with its modified rear spoiler and rear spare tire, both of which are visible in the Paris Match photograph.

rav4-spoiler-highlighted rav4-pm-spoiler

Compare this rear spoiler to the unmodified stock spoiler on the same vehicle:

rav4-stock-spoiler

The UAZ-469 has a white square on both its driver and passenger-side doors. This white mark is clearly visible in the Torez photograph.

uaz469-white

The Route

The route taken by the 14/15 July convoy from Russia to Donetsk may not seem remarkable, but it confirms various details related to the transport of Buk 3×2 into and out of Ukraine. The Ukrainian news site Informator provides additional reports regarding this convoy. According to its reports, the convoy arrived in Luhansk at 7:50am on 15 July, including “a few tanks,” a BTR, and a large truck. The convoy was seen in Yubileyny at 8:05am and Alchevsk later in the morning, before arriving in Enakievo before noon.

The same website reported that a military convoy was seen in Krasnodon at 12:18am the same morning after crossing the Russian border the previous night, but it’s unclear which (if any) vehicles in the eventual Enakievo convoy were in this group

The route that the convoy took across the border, through Krasnodon, Luhansk, Makeevka, and finally to Donetsk is extremely similar to the route that Buk 3×2 may have taken on July 16/17 into Donetsk, according to the Joint Investigation Team’s video in which they call for witnesses. The main difference is in the entrance into Donetsk, which does not use Makeevka in the JIT’s map. As seen in the VK post at the beginning of this article, the Buk did arrive through Makeevka and through the Motel roundabout in eastern Donetsk. This location also reflects the Paris Match photograph taken near the Motel roundabout, where the Buk would have gone after coming back from the intersection of Ilicha & Shakhtostroiteley before heading east to Torez and Snizhne. Thus, the JIT seems to have miscalculated the route between Yenakievo and Donetsk, though in the video, the narrator mentions that the exact route between the cities is unclear, and asks for witness reports for a more complete picture. It is quite likely that Russian/separatist forces did not travel through the northern entrance because of Ukrainian control of some territory near the Donetsk Airport, as opposed to the stronger separatist control of territory between Yenakievo and Makeevka. Refer to our map of the convoy for a better view of the situation.

jit_route

Additionally, judging by the information in the Informator articles, this 15 July convoy almost certainly took Nechuya-Levyts’koho Street in Luhansk—the same street that Buk 3×2 was filmed crossing in the early hours of 18 July, after the downing of MH17. It has long been unclear exactly which roads were under separatist and Ukrainian control on July 17 near Luhansk, as a battle near the Luhansk Airport was raging in mid-July. The route of this convoy confirms that this road through Luhansk and the route out of the city through the west, along with the rest of the route to Donetsk, was firmly under separatist control in mid-July 2014.

Conclusion

The VK post regarding the RAV4, Hyundai, and UAZ was one of the first online witness report of a Buk in Donetsk on the morning of the MH17 tragedy. Further investigation into the vehicles mentioned in this post indicate that vehicles matching the same descriptions were photographed near the Buk on the same day. Furthermore, two vehicles that strongly resemble the vehicles photographed near the Buk and mentioned in the early morning VK post were described, photographed, and filmed in a separatist convoy headed to Donetsk two days before the downing of MH17. If there is any remaining doubt, this connection provides further proof that the videos and photographs of the Buk on 17 July 2014 are genuine and that the Buk missile launcher seen in eastern Ukraine was under Russian/separatist control.

Further investigation must be conducted regarding the identity of the owners and operators of these two vehicles that accompanied the Buk that downed MH17.

Update: The timestamp for the VK post was not adjusted for summer EEST time. This has been corrected.

Bellingcat Investigation Team

The Bellingcat Investigation Team is an award winning group of volunteers and full time investigators who make up the core of the Bellingcat's investigative efforts.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

Support Bellingcat

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the below link:

260 Comments

      • stranger

        Dutch report, page 38: “Ukrainian civil radars were not functioning due to scheduled maintenance.” next “The military primary radar stations were also not operational”, justification: “The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated that this system was not operational, because there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the sector through which MH17 flew”.
        Take a look also at the report of ATO speaker for the previous date:
        http://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-pressconference/1685475-brifing_1649666.html
        On the 16th there were almost 30 combat flights, why would they have stopped on the 17th?
        That was probably the reason why the radar data was not provided to DSB. It those data existed it would have been very important.

        Reply
        • John Zenwirt

          Stranger, you are surely aware that the most secret satellite pics. are highly classified; the US cannot tell anyone what they may have seen. If they released the best electronic info., America’s many enemies would know the very most damaging intelligence…

          Reply
          • Greg Rabinovich

            Data obtained from spy satellites overflying East Ukraine can and should be declassified. Perpetrators of this terrible crime must be brought to justice.

          • Rudolf

            Do not worry about it, the perpetrators are likely to be identified, but I am sure they will not be sentenced by any court, because their government will deny their involvement and will protect them from being prosecuted.

          • Andrew

            srranger:

            “Btw, who are the US enemies, really so many?”

            Enemies of the US? Maybe North Korea.

            On the other hand, there are an extremely large number of enemies of our bossy and overreaching US Government and its never changing functionaries.

        • stranger

          John, yes, but we don’t know then what exactly it was, was it material or nothing important, was it real or maybe a fake (do you think only Russian MoD produces fakes) Those evidences cannot be used in a court. Basically it is a way to affect the investigation without any responsibility and any evidences/proves usable in a court. Don’t you agree?

          Reply
          • John Zenwirt

            Stranger: “Those evidences cannot be used in a court. Basically it is a way to affect the investigation…”

            Since withholding sensitive satellite data, may adversely affect the West’s-DSB’s-position on this, I only see it weakens the non-Russian position, so I don’t see your point…

  1. John Zenwirt

    What I do not agree with is the covered-up “false feeding” of this woman when she agreed to take a little water…

    Reply
    • John Zenwirt

      Guardian:

      “Russia is using jailed Ukrainian pilot as a pawn in its game with the West.”

      “For a year, a Russian investigative team did its best to prove that Savchenko had helped those who shot the journalists by phoning in their location. However their arguments crumbled after her mobile phone records revealed that she was not in the same place as the journalists at the time – she had in fact been captured two hours earlier.”

      “There is more evidence. A video taken when Savchenko was picked up on 17 June 2014 was published on social media by one of the separatists. Expert analysis of factors such as the direction of sun light and shadows in the video again proves that her arrest took place earlier, and she had already been questioned by separatists’ militia when the journalists were killed.”

      “Savchenko is being offered as an example of a cynical Ukrainian officer obsessed with murdering civilians in the east. Yet the evidence we have gathered not only proves her innocence, but we have also managed to organise a worldwide campaign in her support.”

      http://tinyurl.com/zh3weaf (theGuardian)

      Reply
  2. John Zenwirt

    Stranger:

    I actually agree with the shootdown; This Is War.

    This lady bombed the separatists; so they shot her down; it happens in War.

    I just don’t agree with all the false fuss the USSR has made of this, PR’ing it to the hilt…

    Reply
    • stranger

      I really hate saying bad about persons, but she was not a pilot and was not shot down. She provided coordinates for an artillery fire for her battalion, at least that were the charges. She only studied to be a pilot. She was an officer of Ukraine army, but at that moment served in the volonteer battalion Ay dar, financed by some oligarchs and not directly subordinated to the goverment. You can find an article on wiki. They fought at Ukrainian official side in the ATO. Ay dar is known for their cruelty and war crimes, I don’t believe they even had planes, please see here https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/09/ukraine-must-stop-ongoing-abuses-and-war-crimes-pro-ukrainian-volunteer-forces/
      Those are not people to make a hero from. That case is extremely politicized, from Russian side it was also stupid to play US here.

      Reply
    • barry

      she wasn’t shot down …..she done her military service prior to the conflict as a pilot …. she was not flying any aircraft during this war she was captured as part of aydar battalion

      Reply
  3. John Zenwirt

    “Russian ‘spy swaps’: the cold-war cliche making a comeback.”

    “The exchange of alleged Estonian and Russian spies on a deserted bridge has all the hallmarks of vintage espionage fiction – and the way things are going it could come to be a regular event.”

    http://tinyurl.com/h2bx88v (theGuardian)

    Reply
    • stranger

      John, btw, my mail box I used at this site was also hacked in the end of February. It was very surprising to watch logins from all over the world: China, Mexica, Brazil to my mail account. I still wonder what it was. They were not so kind to leave demotivators with cats or erotic pictures. All I can tell – use antiviruses, change passwords frequently, be safe…

      Reply
      • John Zenwirt

        stranger: “I used at this site was also hacked…”

        Ah, I didn’t know…did you have to fight to re-gain full control or not…?

        Reply
        • stranger

          The password was not changed, I just noticed a lot of unauthorized logins from various IPs, not sure what it was.

          Reply
  4. Andrea

    Stranger, you wrote: “Starting from 1:22, she is saying she heard military planes, probably flying low.” just quoting the video.
    So she is saying that after noon she heard many military planes…but how’s that there are no reports of this in social media? I mean, there were reports for everything…how did this slip trough?
    Not even reports by rebels being bombed…what were those planes doing? Just flying by with a real risk of being shot down (previous days attacks)?
    Anyway we have no radar datas that can confirm/deny her claims (low altitude for russian radars, ukrainian ones offline).

    But how would this be related to MH17 crash?
    All the world agrees it was downed by a BUK, so not by a plane…Furthermore if those planes were on low altitude they wouldn’t have had the range to engage MH17..
    Were those ukrainian planes? If not this would mean russia violated ukrainian airspace…wouldn’t be? And wouldn’t ukraine government have issued complaints?
    If those were indeed ukrainian planes this would had given a valid reason to “””rebels””” to use their brand new AA system…and this would have probably been reported by ukr government since it would be one more accusation toward “””rebels”””…

    So, for what i can see this woman probably misinterpreted the sounds she heard…

    PS: excuse my consecutio temporum, probably some mistakes but i hope you can understand 😉

    Reply
    • stranger

      This woman said further that she could not have misrecognized that sound because they used to be bom bed many times before.
      You cannot claim something was NOT on social media, because you would have to browse all media to prove that, which is impossible, you may only claim if something was found.
      That is a problem of BC investigations that they focus only on a small piece of the picture and other evidences just appear out of the scope, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
      I saw other interviews with people who stated the same, that military plains were heard on that date. That were definitely not Russian planes otherwise Ukraine would have raised yelling all over the world.
      The argument Ukraine have lost 2 planes on 16 and didn’t fly on 17 is also doubtable because a lot of aircrafts had been downed for the previous month or two, it was not something unusual.
      That is clear, It was not a plane which downed MH17, but the military planes might have hunted Buk, might have hid below commercial aircrafts, the Buk crew might have targeted the military planes instead or felt nervous to be their target.
      That also proves that Ukraine provided DSB with invalid information – the absence of military activity was named the reason why military radars were allergedly not operational.
      So I cannot say the witness of this woman and other people should be simply not believed.
      Ps your English is very clear

      Reply
      • Andrea

        For sure i can’t be 100% sure there is no report, but it seems strange nobody found one…
        It seems the web is full of trolls/guys ready to battle behind a keyboard trying to discredit others work…it seems very very and again very strange that they haven’t found any social media report allowing tho strengthen their positions … mostly considering that “””rebels””” themselves seemed pretty active on socials….

        And what would have been the purpose of hiding under the belly of an airliner at 10km height heading towards russia?

        Reply
        • stranger

          Why those guys have not found that, they have, that is where I saw this video. You are just watching the other guys.

          Yeah, not too much sense in hiding at 1-2km or less under the plane flying at 10km.

          Reply
      • Sam

        The first information about shoot downed aircraft was from the leader of rebels Strelkov (Girkin) and from russian media “LifeNews”, they said bout ukrainian cargo plain An-26 very joyously, but when it was discovered that it was the civilian aircraft, Kreml invented the fairy tale about Su-25

        Reply
  5. John Zenwirt

    Andrea: “consecutio temporum…”

    “consecutive insanity”…XD

    I admire those who know Latin….I wish to learn it…

    Reply
  6. John Zenwirt

    a slight diversion, but only slight…

    “New WADA report ties Vladimir Putin in doping scandal.”

    “Lamine Diack, (is) the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)…the report says Diack explained to a lawyer that he is in a “difficult position that could only be resolved by President Putin of Russia with whom he had struck up a friendship.”

    http://tinyurl.com/hnklt8n (CBC)

    Reply
  7. John Zenwirt

    WashPost: “In one of the largest U.S. airstrikes in Yemen in months, “dozens” of al-Qaeda fighters were killed when American aircraft struck an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula training camp Tuesday morning, the Pentagon said.”

    “Earlier this month, both drones and fixed-wing aircraft launched a series of strikes against an al-Shabab training camp north of Mogadishu, Somalia, killing more than 150 people. In February, the United States attacked an Islamic State base in Sabratha, Libya, killing 49 — including one senior Islamic State fighter involved in the planning of multiple terrorist attacks in Tunisia.”

    http://tinyurl.com/zpw9g45

    At least the West bombs who they say thy’re bombing, un-like….

    Reply
    • stranger

      They miss much farther than Russia, Russia was at least in Syria. And here it is Yemen, Somalie, Libya, not Syria and not even the worldly promoted brand, a scarecrow – ISIS. I thought Saudi invaded Yemen, does US participate too? And nobody going to widely report civil casualties bombed hospitals and schools.

      Reply
      • John Zenwirt

        Stranger, ISIS is IN all the countries you’ve mentioned. Why do you desire to give ISIS sanctuaries?

        They’re spreading out. They ally with other terrorist groups, and fight in Tunisia…it follows that the West must go where they are, and defeat them.

        Reply
  8. yuri_ua

    a bit strange route of БУК – is it possible to consider a certain error? By the error of planning of operation. Why БУК did not plant oneself at once?
    Можно ли считать, что была ошибка (несогласованность) в планировании операции? Почему БУК сделал путь “туда- обратно”, а не занял позицию сразу?
    Если слушать внимательно разговор (аудио запись), то видно, что “принимающая сторона” не сразу поняла, о чем идет речь. Почему? Была ли ошибка в размещении БУК? Ответы на эти могут продвинуть к ответу – какая действительная цель была у БУКа?

    Reply
  9. Владислав

    ie shooting down a Boeing with a Snow 70 km East of Donetsk, Beech went back to Donetsk? when to the border with Russia on the paved road of 100 km in a straight line and through the villages 80 km from Novoshakhtinsk! And according to the video where the Buk filmed on July 17 2014 in Luhansk city at the intersection of St. Paul street to the side of the street Nechuy-Levitsky, on the return March, the CBO made a detour through the White of Snow or even through Alchevsk, i.e. did not go with the Snow in the Red beam (from there could on the asphalt drive to the border with the Russian Federation 70 km) even if he had through Lugansk to go to Russia, he would go to the Red Beam-Uspenka-Lugansk, but then the intersection Pavlovskaya black sea would have remained behind and so it turns out that shooting down the Boeing Beech went back to Donetsk where the old route was lucky in Russia, i.e. instead of driving Snow -Krasnyi Luch-Luhansk (76 km) Beech went great hook Snow-Donetsk-Gorlovka-Debaltsevo-Alchevsk-White (204 km) through a huge number of cities showing the Buk which downed Boeing! ARE YOU SERIOUS?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)