Interview with "WowihaY," the Man Who Narrated MH17 as it Happened

The anonymous Twitter user @WowihaY has long been documenting the conflict in eastern Ukraine, especially as it has affected his hometown of Torez. He came to a degree of notoriety on July 17, 2014, as he was one of the most influential Twitter users in chronicling and deciphering the downing of MH17. Along with documenting witness accounts of a Buk traveling through Torez hours before the plane’s downing, @WowihaY posted the now-infamous photograph of a smoke trail rising above fields south of Snizhne–the smoke contrails of the missile that brought down the passenger plane. The following is an English translation of an article by Olga Bespertova that appeared in Fakty.ua on July 25, 2015, with the first public interview of @WowihaY.

Olga Bespertova

Those who are not narrow-minded in relation to this story can assert with absolute certainty: the international investigation of the Malaysian Boeing catastrophe that was shot down on July 17, 2014 in the vicinity of Torez is going on the right track thanks to several residents of Donbass. These residents have provided experts with invaluable images and information that has played a key role in establishing the “authors” of the tragedy and exposing the lies of the Kremlin.

As of now, it is forbidden to make the names of the witnesses public. But one of them (we will call him Vladimir), in an exclusive interview to Fakty, has agreed to tell (but not revealing absolutely everything, of course) how, in a few hours after the disaster, all of the world news agencies had already reported on the involvement of the terrorists with the tragedy, and a folder with indisputable evidence was lying on the table of the head of the Ukrainian state by the next morning.

 

Vladimir, where were you on July 17, 2014?

In a Ukrainian city. Thing is, the pressure from the supporters of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic was harsh, because I’ve never hidden my views, therefore there was a real threat to end up dead in a basement. In June my family and I left our hometown Snizhne.

But both then and now I know about everything that happens back home. An advantage of our group is that there are local informants who are forging victory behind enemy lines.

There were bloody battles last summer in the vicinity of Savur-Mohyla. 1 I closely followed the course of these battles. The information was very contradictory, so I gathered data bit-by-bit from various sources. Since the situation at this stretch of the front changed almost every hour, I kept poring over every line, even in the comments of trifling news, in order to find important and useful information for Ukrainian soldiers. I had channels of communication established with them.

Planes had been flying over our region, and the terrorists dreaded them. Time and time again they tried to bring down the “birdies.” Sometimes they succeeded.

On July 17 at about noon, I “caught” a message that a hauler was pulling some sort of obscure covered-up equipment through Torez. At 12:05pm I received a text “Birdies, beware!” from a person who was well-versed in weaponry. He suggested that they were transporting a “Buk” anti-aircraft missile system.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why a large piece of equipment was riding about close to the hottest point of conflict at that time.

At 12:16pm I posted a message about this on Twitter2. People immediately reacted by writing that they had also seen the Buk and two vehicles escorting it3. They photographed the launcher that was being openly transported along the roads, but they were afraid to upload the photos online because it would have been very easy to figure out where the shots were taken from, and they would be severely punished for this.

So, from that moment on, I couldn’t tear myself away from my computer screen. Based on replies from Torez and Snizhne residents on social networks, I was able to establish the following route for the anti-aircraft system: Torez city center – Centralnyi poselok neighborhood – the area of the entrance into Snizhne – the entertainment complex “Varna,”4 where the Buk was taken down from the hauler.

Similarly, I established its route into Snizhne: Donetsk – Khartsyzk – Zuhres – Shakhtarsk.

At about 4:20 pm local social networks were full of reports about how a plane was shot down over Torez. Visitors of anti-Maidan sites (in particular the “Dispatches of Igor Ivanovich Strelkov,” that wrote about the victories of “Novorossiya” and the horrors of the “Kiev junta”) were in euphoria – a Ukrainian AN-26 had allegedly been shot down.

Right away I turned to the people who could most authentically and objectively figure out what had actually happened, and very carefully tried to find out whether the pilots were alive or not. I know a story from around the same period when, over a few weeks, residents of some village nursed a wounded Ukrainian pilot who had ejected out of his plane, and then transported him across the front lines. This, without any exaggeration, is a noble civil action.

Within ten minutes, a friend of mine sent a message: something had exploded to the north of Torez, in the vicinity of the “Progress” mine. At first there was a weak boom, and then it crashed with such force that windows shook in houses located a few kilometers away. He, having heard the sound, immediately jumped up to the balcony and then onto the roof of the high-rise building and took a few shots – gigantic clouds of black smoke dissolving into the sky. He sent me this photo.

No one really knew anything. At around 5:30pm, an active correspondence began on social networks. Everyone unanimously reasserted that a Ukrainian transport plane was shot down, carrying the bodies of soldiers. I started to comb through the Internet. At 5:50pm I received a text message that a civilian aircraft likely crashed and that “the area of the Hrabove poultry farm it was a ‘bloody mess’: corpses of women and children are strewn across the field.”5 Shock!

All the guys and I agreed not to reveal anything while it was still unverified and we were not sure that it was the truth. At 6:00 pm I read a message on the site “Information Resistance” that communication had been lost with the Malaysian flight MH17 – it had disappeared from radar screens while flying over that very territory.

At 6:18 pm I published this information on my Twitter account.

At 6:37 pm residents of the village of Hrabove sent photos from their phones, taken from the location of the tragedy, that made my hair stand on end: a corpse of a baby was lying on the field, a child about a year old.

At 6:45 pm I received a second photo – some kind of part from an aircraft. At 7:03 pm, a third – a mug with a photograph of three boys. Maybe a family that was flying out for vacation. Right then the villagers called: they wouldn’t be able to find anything else out, as a column of extremely angry DNR-ites [soldiers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic] had arrived, and the onlookers were driven off the field.

I posted all three photos online.

 

Were you the first to publish the photos?

Yes. It was only after 10:00 pm that there were more photos of the location, where on that day the Buk was spotted, and the video of its movement in the direction of Snizhne.6

 

Now for the most important thing. How did you discover the rocket’s trail?

This is an unbelievable story. At 7:18pm I was in contact with my friend – the same one who took the photo from his balcony. Having looked at the image more closely, he noticed an important detail: on the opposite side from the Boeing crash site, there was a strange vertical column of grey-whitish smoke visible, very similar to the trails of a launched missile. The smoke was barely visible, so my friend didn’t even pay attention to it. But he saved the photo in the “RAW” file format, i.e. without any distortions caused by software or hardware compression of an image file, and then, as he said, after a little bit of editing of the brightness, he could “bring the trail to light”.

Having compared the direction of the shot, the location of the photographer on Google Maps, together we figured out where the volley was fired from – from the area of Savur-Mohyla.

But in order to more accurately determine the launch location, we needed a “second line,” at the very least. We put all the effort to ringing up our acquaintances, looking for witnesses…It’s not like they fired from a Kalashnikov! We found a person whom we have unfortunately lost contact with. Back then, he specifically described where and how he noticed a white trail. Everything matched up.

This data allowed us to intersect the line of the shot and the line described by witnesses, and thus we were able to more accurately established that they fired from the territory between the villages Red October [Chervony Zhovten] and Pervomaysky.

And only then I published my friend’s widely resonating photo, which became one of the main pieces of evidence in the case. Many have said, and even now they keep saying, that the photo was fake, it was all set up. But later, at least four people from different countries independently investigated this photo. The unanimous conclusion: it’s genuine.

 

And what did the experts say?

That we had calculated everything very precisely. And the camera, which took the photo, and the original photos were transferred to the Dutch. The author of the photographs and I have already given testimonies  to the investigators. Over time, the international experts have established right where the fatal shot was fired from. They matched the objects that were in the photo with geographic objects on a map; having pinpointed the location, they located the position of the photographer, the direction of the shot, and so on.

They have also elaborated upon the weather conditions. At the moment [of the crash], this area was located in a zone of variable cloudiness—here is where the border of the cloud front passed, and 15 kilometers to the north it was raining. That is, in the zone where they presumably launched the rocket, the weather conditions were different from those at the crash site. I still remember, someone wrote: “They shot down a civilian airliner – the sky is crying for the people.”

The results of our initial calculations and the research conducted by professionals much later differ only a bit—we were off by just 300-500 meters.

 

Do you know where the Buk went to after that?

On July 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm there was a message that it was near the Snizhne supermarket “Furshet.” People were writing that, most likely, they wanted to get rid of it. I was not able to trace where it was taken after that. Late in the evening in the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” people are afraid to be out on the streets. Moreover, many were hiding from the shelling in cellars and garages.

By the way, a week later, I listened to a record of conversations dated July 17th in the Zello app, where there is a separatist channel “Shakhtarsk – Torez – Snizhne” on the theme of “Our guys – great job.” Plenty of other details surfaced, in particular, we got three localities in Snizhne where people witnessed the Buk missile.

Unfortunately, they all live in occupied territory, so they are not yet able to testify.

 

How did the President of Ukraine find out about the results of you and your friends’ work?

The chain of events has already been described in the media. Close to midnight on July 17, when a more or less clear picture had emerged, we passed all the information to the Donetsk regional councilman Vitaly Kropachev, known for his pro-Ukrainian views. He passed it to Anton Gerashchenko, the advisor to the Interior Minister. Further than that, I don’t know. But the speed of transmission of the information was instantaneous.

I still continue collect data on this tragedy. A time will come when the whole world will know exactly who is guilty for what happened. Among my friends and myself, there is no doubt who caused the death of 298 civilians. Yuri Butusov, editor-in-chief of Censor.net news website, has written that we should receive an award7. My friend and I feel that the best reward for ourselves would be the liberation of the Donbas, and punishment for those who shot down the Boeing and those who gave them the order.