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Photographs of Ukrainian Buks Geolocated in Poltava Oblast, Nearly Three Years Later

April 4, 2017

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

On July 15, 2014, a chaplain for the Ukrainian Armed Forces named O. (short for “otets,” or “father”) Gredil Mykhailo uploaded a handful of photographs showing a Ukrainian Buk missile launcher in a field that appeared to function as a Ukrainian military camp. We can now say that this Buk missile launcher was not located in eastern Ukraine, but instead in the Poltava Oblast in central Ukraine.

The photographs would not be noteworthy if it were not for two things: the fact that Mykhailo uploaded the photographs two days before the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (July 17, 2014), and that he included geotags indicating that the photographs were taken near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The apparent location of these photographs seemed to contradict statements from the Ukrainian government claiming that there were no operational Buks in the zone of the “Anti-Terrorist Operation,” or the “ATO zone.”  These photographs gained minor popularity in some circles online after a user uploaded a series of photographs to an imgur album showing saved copies of Mykhailo’s photographs, including a geotagged photograph of the Buk missile launcher. One of these photographs shows Buk missile launcher 210 of the second battalion of the 223rd Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which is based in Stryi in western Ukraine. The photograph was geotagged in the Yasinuvatsky rayon (district), north of Donetsk. Another photograph, uploaded to the popular Russian forum Yaplakal, shows Mykhailo inside a control unit, geotagged in the Perevalsky rayon near Debaltseve.

However, after nearly three years, the photographs have been geolocated thanks to members of the Smolensk Forum. Mykhailo’s photographs were not actually taken in eastern Ukraine, but instead on the Myrhorod Air Base in the Poltava Oblast, hundreds of kilometers from the front lines of the war.

The most notable photograph uploaded by Mykhailo, showing Buk missile launcher 210 with an unusual paint job typical for Buks of the 223rd Anti-Aircraft Regiment. Source (geotag removed)

Geotag for the photograph with the Buk missile launcher, indicating the location of the Yasinuvatsky area, north of Donetsk.

According to the imgur post, Mykhailo replaced the geotags with a location near Moscow, Russia after people found out about some of his photographs geotagged in the ATO zone. He also claimed that the previous images were photoshopped. However, Mykhailo’s own reaction of 2 August 2014 does not mention this, but only that the location is hundreds of kilometers from Donetsk.

An article and photographs of May 10, 2014 on Mykhailo’s church website make clear that he visited a military camp before in May 2014. Two photographs in the article show Buk missile launcher 231 and Buk missile loader 222, which belong to the 2nd battalion of the 223rd Anti-Aircraft Regiment. One of the photographs shows, apparently, an airfield landing strip. Comparing May and July 2014 photographs of Mykhailo’s visits to the air defense base makes clear that he visited the same military camp in the area.

Comparison between May and July 2014 photographs of Mykhailo’s visit to a military camp.

Another comparison between May and July 2014 photographs of Mykhailo’s visit to a military camp, with the May 2014 photograph showing what seems to be an airfield landing strip.

Geolocation

User “Vam” from the Smolensk Forum began reexamining the location of the “chaplain photos” and also noticed similarities between the July 2014 photographs posted by Mykhailo and May 2014 photographs on Mykhailo’s church website. The same user later noticed an article on the site “Catholic Columnist” published on July 14, 2014 about a visit from Mykhailo to air defense troops. In this article, it’s described how the chaplain brought supplies to soldiers near Poltava before moving to the ATO zone, further south and east. This is a likely explanation for why the geotags were set for the Yasinuvatsky and Perevalsky areas, as Mykhailo may have uploaded the photographs of the air defense military camp a a few days later while traveling in the ATO zone.

Users “Andrew Andreev” and “Vam” from the Smolensk Forum then connected all the dots and figured out the location — Myrhorod, in the Poltava Oblast, located in between Kyiv and Donetsk. A grain elevator in the distance of Mykhailo’s July 15, 2014 photograph showing Buk missile launcher 210 was geolocated to 49,940772, 33.607480.

Furthermore, an April 2014 video of military equipment–including Buk vehicles–being transported in Myrhorod in April 2014 was found. This video includes Buk missile launchers 210 and 231, along with Buk missile loader 222 of the 2nd battalion of the 223rd Anti-Aircraft Regiment–visible in Mykhailo’s May and July 2014 photographs.

Finally, and most importantly, the military camp that includes the Buks were found on satellite imagery, at 49.919630, 33.629099.

Buks and other military equipment on August 14, 2014 (Google Earth)

The satellite imagery of August 14, 2014 does not show the Buk missile launchers very clearly, but satellite imagery from August 17, 2015 and February 21, 2016 show the same military camp, including Buk missile launchers, more clearly. The missiles mounted to the missile launchers are clearly visible with this higher-quality satellite imagery.

Comparison between August 14, 2014 and February 21, 2016 satellite imagery, showing the same military camp, including Buk missile launchers loaded with missiles.

Aside from the grain elevator from a company named ‘Myrhorod feed mill’, several other structures visible in Mykhailo’s May and July 2014 photographs can be found in satellite imagery. A chimney of a factory named ‘Armaprom’, is visible here, another grain elevator and two other buildings of a company named ‘Mirgorodsky elevator’, are visible here, and two high apartment buildings, are visible here.

Several structures visible in Mykhailo’s May and July 2014 photographs include: a grain elevator (top left),  a chimney (second from left), another grain elevator and two other buildings (second from right) and two tall apartment buildings (right).

Another question answered

With this photograph geolocated, another question regarding the location of Buk missile launchers at the time of the downing of MH17 has been answered. Previously, footage aired on Ukrainian Military TV the day before the downing was a significant question, but we were able to geolocate this footage in March 2016 in the article “Ukrainian Buk Footage from July 16, 2014 Geolocated.” Now, with the geolocation of the Mykhailo photographs, we see another instance in which Ukrainian Buks thought to be within range of downing MH17 were, in reality, quite far from the MH17 crash site, let alone the front lines. Still, after nearly three years, the only operational Buk missile launcher observed within firing range of MH17 on July 17, 2014 was the Russian Buk 332, from the Kursk-based 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

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58 Comments

  1. M. Sirell

    IANAL, but unless they deliberately set out to shoot down a civilian airliner — which seems highly unlikely — it’s clearly a horrible accident. Remember the USS Vincennes shooting down the Iranian airliner, the Russians shooting down the Korean 747… I’m sure there have been others. These things will keep happening as long as there are live SAMs below flightpaths used by heavy passenger jets. TBPH it’s surprising to me that training and test firings don’t go horribly wrong more often.

    (None of that has any bearing on the justification or otherwise of Russian forces to be where they were in the first place, of course.)

    Reply
    • J.Lane

      No. Shooting a target without confirming it’s designation (mil or civ) is not an accident. This was a clear case of manslaughter at best, murder at worst. The “terrorists” (Russian backed/supplied insurgents) thought they had scored a lucky shot on the Ukrainian military. If they can take credit for a legitimate shoot down, then they also get to take the blame for an illegitimate shoot down.

      Reply
      • stranger

        Many countries have shot civil liners by mistakes or even intentionally. US shot passenger Iranian plane in IRANIAN air space because they thought that was a military one. Israel shot Egypt passenger liner because it violated their airspace or intruded into a war zone and they shot it from own jets, so they clearly saw whom they are attacking. Ukraine has shot Russian passenger plane returning from Israel.
        Why don’t you call that “manslaughter at best and murder at worse”? Why so hypocracy and double standards?

        Reply
        • Russian

          1. Because the others weren’t denying their culpability even after it was crystal clear who’s at fault.
          2. Because the others did not come up with a dozen “explanations”, many of them preposterous conspiracy theories to deny culpability.
          3. Because the others were not doing so using weaponry smuggled into a neighboring country as part of a military invasion and annexation of territory, all the while denying they are even involved.
          And the list goes on….

          Reply
          • stranger

            Because all 3 of your items is a shameless lie, “Russian” immigrant to Israel or wherever you are three. Look it up in google yourself.

  2. Yuri

    No no there was a Ukrainian jet.. and Carlos the air traffic controller on Twitter.. and Russian general who had all the plane pictures.. Almaz Antei experiments… I think we have proved that Kremlin has nothing to do with this.

    Reply
    • KC Kunnanz

      Yuri,

      Thanks for the laugh. Russia proved nothing, other than the inability to stick to a single lie. They changed their story more often than their underwear.

      Reply
      • Poe

        Multiple well crafted lies are better than one lie or even truth when trying to spread FUD. Russian Standard Operating Procedure.

        Reply
      • stranger

        Russia should not prove anything. The accusing side always bears the burden of prove. (Juristical term) Did you ever hear about the Presumption of Innocence?

        Reply
        • Andrea

          So when they were “suggesting” the presence of an Ukrainian fighter? What proof did they present? Well.. it’s said in DSB report: the original radar data were DESTROYED even if asked to keep them!!

          Reply
          • stranger

            They don’t have to prove anything. They said there are different possibilities. You further promote various circulating rumors as if they are an official statement of Russia. They are not. There is AA research which can be considered a kind of official Russian investigation. The accusing side should prove the guilt. The side being accused doesn’t have to prove it is not guilty. That is what all our juristic system is built upon. Otherwise it would be a hell.

          • basking shark

            Statements of official state-funded media is not a “circulating rumors”.
            Statements of the Ministry of Defense of Russian Federation is also not a “circulating rumors”.

          • stranger

            The Ministry of Defence didn’t insist on any version. They only said there were many possibilities. They named Ukrainian That was long time before any results from the Boeing wreckage examination were identified. Other stuff, even shown on TV, reflects only various rumors and possible versions. You intentionally misinterpret rumors as an official position of the Russian state.

          • basking shark

            The Ministry of Defense intentionally showed false data.
            Official Russian state funded media intentionally showed fakes and after that did not refute and did not bring any apologies. So it is not a “rumors”, it is a information ataсk.

          • stranger

            There is a lot of crap shown on tv. No need to invent conspirologies about Kremlin “information campaign”.

            “The Ministry of Defense intentionally showed false data.”
            Do you want to discuss how the cats epic failed with Error Level Analysis, claiming MoD faked a satellite image? Yeah, I agree, a funny story.

          • basking shark

            “Do you want to discuss” – No, I’m only saying that the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is lying.
            “There is a lot of crap shown on tv” – exactly, all words of russian official media is crap, but it’s “official” crap.

          • Yuri

            The official position of Russian state is “oh crap, let’s try to make up some stupid stuff as we are in trouble”.

          • Yuri

            I remember Carlos the Spanish air controller. The moron who made that up should be fired. With no pension.

            Also, I remember Almaz Antey and russkie general something. Again, unless their families were under threat to be executed by putler, should be fired for gross incompetence. I am sorry to say that but their “logic” was just so sad.

        • Serjar

          Nope. Russia does not operate on the “innocent until proven guilty” model. Why should it apply to them? In the Russian legal nodel it is incumbent upon the defendant to prove they are innocent.

          Reply
          • Alex

            How do you know how the legal system works in Russia? I’m from Russia, you are wrong in your reasoning.
            Prove the guilt, or be silent

          • stranger

            Why do think so? Please justify. The presumption of innocence is the cornerstone of our legal system. Otherwise, you would be executed just because you might have killed someone and failed to prove you didn’t.

          • Yuri

            You have no idea about the Russian legal system, stranger. Please don’t call it “our” as you have completely discredited yourself with your previous lack of knowledge about literature that is published in Russia.

          • JJ Joseph

            Russia does indeed operate on the “innocent until proven guilty” model. Where are you getting your information from?

        • Yuri

          Russia cannot prove anything anyway. Remember all the Almaz Antey, Russian army general idiots, fake Twitter accounts, etc. Tried and failed. Repeatedly. A joke.

          As for the “burden of prove”, the rules are very different in civil vs criminal trials. Either way, loss for Russia.

          Reply
          • stranger

            Just the regular stupidity from per Ukrainian “friend”.

  3. basking shark

    “Where do you see “pro Russian trolls” here?” – here, in comments)))

    Reply
    • stranger

      And I see an old Ukrainian fellow troll from the Russian branch who swore he’s never ever written to English branch.

      Reply
      • Yuri

        I am sorry it was difficult for you to look in a mirror. On the other hand, it’s good thing that you did it.

        Reply
  4. bliss

    On satellite photos, I see five chimneys, and only one on “chaplain photos”.
    So what does it mean?

    Reply
  5. basking shark

    I do not need your permission to START writing in the English branch, old Russian fellow troll.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Why didn’t you answer me in the Russian branch of this site, Ukrainian troll from Kharkov? I showed you that your conspirology theories was a delirium.

      Reply
        • stranger

          Would you deny what you wrote in the Russian branch of this site? Do you want to start from the scratch so that nobody recognizes you here? Change the nick at least and your manner to express yourself regardless of the language you are writing in.
          У нас все ходы записаны. 🙂

          Reply
  6. basking shark

    “Would you deny what you wrote in the Russian branch of this site?” – no.
    “Do you want to start from the scratch so that nobody recognizes you here?” -no.
    “I showed you that your conspirology theories was a delirium.” – no, again, so I think that you’re drunk.
    У нас все ходы записаны. – можешь еще узелок на память завязать.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Ну и ладненько, Велком в эту банку с пауками и гадюками. 🙂

      Reply
    • JJ Joseph

      More than one source is saying that “Bellingcat have proven that Ukrainian Buk was at Donbass before Boeing crash”. Are there two Bellingcat sites with two different stories?

      Reply
        • stranger

          You are doing a terrible work, earning money on publishing biased propagandistic material. Licking the ass of your governments.

          Reply

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