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New MH17 Photograph Geolocated to Donetsk

October 20, 2017

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

On October 19, 2017, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine, published a new photograph Buk 332, the Russian Buk missile launcher that downed MH17 on July 17, 2014. Buk 332, previously identified by Bellingcat as ‘Buk 3×2,’ is an anti-aircraft missile launcher belonging to Russia’s Kursk-based 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. The image shows the right side of the Buk, loaded on the red low loader. In publishing the photograph, the JIT wrote that the photograph was “probably taken on July 17, 2014 in the town of Makeevka, Ukraine,” but we can now conclusively say that the photograph was actually taken at 78 Prospekt Ilycha, at the intersection with Shakhtostroiteley, in Donetsk.

The Hunt

Using Check, a crowdsourced verification platform, we asked our readers to contribute tips regarding the location of this photograph so that we could collectively geolocate this key piece of evidence concerning the downing of MH17.

One of the strongest candidates was 78 Prospekt Ilycha in Donetsk, due to previous witness accounts identifying a Buk missile launcher with its Russian/separatist convoy at this site.

Source (Archive)

“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.”

Numerous features in the photograph were also visible in Google Street View and Yandex Panorama imagery of the same location, including the two trees in the foreground, a gate beneath the Buk’s low-loader, a rock next to the nearest tree, and notches in the curb blocks.

Taking these tips together, the following comparisons show how some key details match between the two photographs, making the site worthy of  further investigation to confirm the geolocation.

Left: A part of a gate visible in an open space through the red low loader, just under the Buk missile launcher.
Right: the same type of gate visible on October 2011 Google Street View of Prospekt Illycha in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Left: The new Buk 332 photograph with a thick tree, a slanting branch of another tree, a little rock and notches in the curb, all marked in red.
Right: the same landmarks in Google Street View marked in red.

Conclusive Evidence

Today, at least one local in Donetsk snapped two photographs from this same location, attempting to confirm or refute a geolocation to Prospekt Ilycha in central Donetsk. These photographs were shared online by Christo Grozev and Rudy Bouma.


With this geolocation, we now have photographic evidence of a scene that was reported on by numerous locals: Buk 332, originating from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, arrived in Donetsk from Makiivka around 9am on July 17, 2014, parked at the intersection of Prospekt Ilycha and Shakhtostroiteley, and then eventually turned towards the east-bound Prospekt Ilycha towards the Motel roundabout in Donetsk. The movement is shown in the map below, with the photographer of the original Buk photo facing south from building number 78.

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  1. ttb

    It is a truly awesome piece of deduction and sleuthing. I do sincerely hope though it doesn’t lead to the photographer being publicly identified. If they sent it anonymously to the JIT I’m sure they’ve their reasons.

    • Aric Toler

      Thankfully, the photograph was taken from outside of a beauty salon on a very busy sidewalk, and not an apartment or a house. The photo was clearly cropped on the sides when it was submitted, so the witness may have already removed identifying information about other people (or him/herself) in the photo.

  2. Tom Wonacott

    Robert Parry at Consortium News writes in his September 2017 article “The Official and Implausible MH-17 Scenario” that the circuitous route taken by the Buk anti-missile battery was implausible yet he never addresses the geolocation of the Buk by Bellingcat or the Dutch investigation unit. He could have investigated the same sources as Bellingcat yet did not even address the issue as if that visual evidence is just going to disappear. Parry simply obfuscates and deflects while accepting Russian accounts. Parry writes:

    “…….After the MH-17 shoot-down, which killed 298 people, I’m told the Russian government did fear that somehow one of its field operatives might have been responsible and conducted an intensive investigation, including an inventory of its equipment, concluding that all its Buk missiles were accounted for……”

    Parry accepts the narrative of the Russians without question using an unidentified source(s) (“….I’m told….”). This is typical of the journalistic standards of Parry who treats the Russian and Syrian governments as clients. He then promotes an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory using a single source and the familiar “……I was also told……”:

    “……..I was also told that at least some CIA analysts shared the doubts about Russia’s guilt and came to believe that the MH-17 shoot-down was the work of a rogue and out-of-control Ukrainian team with the possible hope that the airliner was a Russian government plane returning President Vladimir Putin from South America……”

    Pure bunk – and Parry knows it. Parry is an advocate. He provides zero evidence for his theories on MH17, but the goal isn’t the truth, but to promote doubt in the investigation to protect Russia.

      • Tom Wonacott

        Thanks. It’s a big error. I confused the date with the Consortium article on September 7, 2017 “A New Hole in Syria-Sarin Certainty”.

  3. Andrea

    I find it AMAZING how in a matter of hours an image can be reliably located (even tough you obviously had a specific route to check).
    This image is really good cause it shows the Buk and his details, and the blue van too!
    A timestamp would have been great too…. but if you are able to do 1+1 you probably don’t need the timestamp…

  4. The Bird

    While this video did not draw too much attention (yet) I think it contains a nice piece of information:
    Jump to 8:30. The DNR soldier was asked to tell what he believes what happened on the day of downing MH17. He did not say: “There was a Ukrainian fighter jet.” He said that there were Ukrainian soldiers that sent a rocket towards MH17. This is the first time I see DNR people saying that a surface-to-air missile hit MH17. Of course he would not admit that it was done by DNR or Russian people – and so far I don’t know who to blame for the downing (although I have an idea). Anyway, the important piece of information is that even DNR people say that MH17 was brought down by a BUK missile.

  5. Ilya Kuprik

    Any evidence, that photo was really taken on 17th July? Any evidence, it is not a digital manipulation?

    • KimmoK

      There is no evidence (or eyewitness) of any BUK TELAR being there on any other day.
      There is even less evidence of that specific Russian BUK being there on any other day.

      There is no evidence of any digital manipulation (not yet, not beyond cropping and resaving). So far all 9+ BUK TELAR photos/videos seem authentic.


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