Ukraine Liveblog Day 156: MH17 Victims In The Netherlands, More Jets Shot Down In Ukraine

July 23, 2014
Victims of MH17 are loaded onto a Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130 following a minutes silence. Photo: Daria Sipigina

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Pulling The Pieces Together – The Buk Missile Launch Site

As we reported below, both Buzzfeed and The Telegraph have traveled to a field between the town of Pervomais’ke and Snezhnoye (roughly here). They followed the directions, it seems, of a blogger who suggested that the missile may have been launched here. Both Buzzfeed and The Telegraph can’t conclusively say that this field is where the missile was launched from, but they both appear to be leaning towards the idea that it is a strong possibility. The discovery of scorch marks and metallic artifacts could be compelling evidence.

This is the picture that led them to the field. It was tweeted soon after MH17 was shot down, and it supposedly shows the smoke trail of a missile, perhaps a Buk, headed towards its target.


The Ukraine at War blog made an attempt to find out where that picture was taken. What’s fascinating is that not only does that theory appear to match up (the area between the blue lines is the camera angle), but it also matches a possible launching site (the red line):


Another interesting observation from Ukraine at War is that in the satellite images released by Google after the crash, one can see strange tracks that do not follow a typical pattern used by a farmer. A geolocated video proves that at one point a Buk was seen moving on the road north of these tracks. Those tracks terminate at a freshly-ploughed corn field (approximately where we have the red marker on the right in the picture below). The tracks do follow a path one might take if they wanted to move south of Snezhnoye while staying away from populated areas. As you can also see from the image on the right, this is suspiciously near where, according to the logic described above, the “missile trail” image showed a missile launch. 


At the end of the day, we can’t confirm that this is the launch site, but available evidence seems to suggest that this is a very good candidate.

Did The Telegraph Find The Missile Launch Site?

The Telegraph has sent reporters to investigate a field near the MH17 crash site from where, as some reports suggested, the missile which shot down MH17 was fired.

The patch of blasted wheat and wildflowers lies just a few miles from the Russian border, 12 miles from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines, and – as the Telegraph discovered – just a few hundred meters from concealed rebel positions…

While the Telegraph cannot vouch for the soundness of the analysis, a visit to the locations suggested found a remote area with clear views in the direction of MH17’s flight path, a heavy rebel military presence, and multiple marks across fields and dirt roads that suggested tracked vehicles had been operating in the area.

The area makes a very good match for a potential launch site.

The report also contained this picture which may or may not be an important  piece of evidence:


Yesterday The Guardian and Buzzfeed spoke to residents in both Snezhnoye and Torez who confirmed that a Buk was spotted moving through the area on July 17th, the day MH17 was shot down.

Buzzfeed also appears to have confirmed that a picture which reportedly shows the missile launch was taken overlooking a field in the nearby town of Pervomaiske.

The Telegraph, however, is still not entirely convinced that they have found the launch site. Read their investigation here.

The Ukraine at War blog believes that they have geolocated the picture of the alleged launch.

What We Know, And How We Know What We Know

Early this morning The Interpreter’s managing editor was interviewed by the BBC. The heart of the interview was not just what we know about whether a Buk missile system was used by the Russian-backed militia to shoot down MH17, but also how we came to this knowledge.

In the last week many of the revelations about this incident did not come through traditional media or statements from intelligence agencies, but through journalists using non-traditional sources. As Miller explains, however, a tremendous amount of data emerged within just hours of the shooting down of flight MH17, and traditional journalists are now traveling to the area around the crash site to investigate clues that were originally uploaded to social media.

Listen to the interview here:

Vostok Battalion Commander Says Separatists Had Buk SAM

Reuters have an exclusive report in which Aleksandr Khodakovsky, the commander of the separatist Vostok battalion, confirms to them in an interview that separatist fighters possessed a Buk SAM system.

“I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR,” he said, referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk, one of two rebel provinces along with Donetsk, the province where the crash took place.

“That BUK I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters on Tuesday.

Later in the interview, Khodakovsky commented on the possible origins of the Buk, claiming that although some Ukrainian Buk systems had been captured, they were all non-operational.

Khodakovsky said it was widely known that rebels had obtained BUKs from Ukrainian forces in the past, including three captured at a checkpoint in April and another captured near the airport in Donetsk. He said none of the BUKs captured from Ukrainian forces were operational.

While he said he could not be certain where the BUK system operating on rebel territory at the time of the air crash had come from, he said it may have come from Russia.

“I’m not going to say Russia gave these things or didn’t give them. Russia could have offered this BUK under some entirely local initiative. I want a BUK, and if someone offered me one, I wouldn’t turn it down. But I wouldn’t use it against something that did not threaten me. I would use it only under circumstances when there was an air attack on my positions, to protect people’s lives.”

Read the full article here

US And NATO Say Russia Still Arming And Training Rebels
The United States and NATO are coming out swinging today, saying that there is significant evidence that Russia has continued to militarily support the rebels even after MH17 was shot down:

Ambassador Pyatt also clarified a somewhat confused and misreported intelligence briefing that took place yesterday. The Ambassador emphatically insisted that in fact there is significant evidence that Russia is arming and supporting the separatists. Below is part of a transcript of an interview between Pyatt and BBC Radio 4’s Sarah Montague:

Q: Can you explain what you know about these latest comments from US intelligence officials, because there had been comments immediately after the crash that America would produce evidence of Russia’s involvement. And now they’re saying they don’t have it.

A: No, I think that mischaracterizes the situation, Sara, let me start by saying. We believe that Russia has played a decisive role in this crisis. There are large volumes of heavy armor and artillery, multiple rocket launchers, which we know Russia has moved across the border to support the separatists. We know that Russia exercises massive influence over the separatists. Most of the leaders of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” are Russian citizens, and indeed several are Russian intelligence operatives. We know that there are training camps for the separatists in Russia. It was not a pitchfork or a 1950s AK-47 that brought down Malaysian Flight 17. It was an advanced military rocket system.

Q: No, but as you well know, the suggestion in the days immediately after was that this was one that was sent over from Russia, possibly that same day, and that there was Russian help at the time in the shooting.

A: Well, we certainly know that there were advanced weapons moving across the border from Russia. We also know that there would have been a degree of training that would have needed to be provided to the crew who operated this system. So by no means was yesterday’s briefing meant to suggest that Russia is not responsible for what happened, the tragedy that happened last Thursday. Russia is responsible, and we look now to Russia to deliver the credible international investigation that will establish the facts.

Read the entire transcript here.

Most Debris Removed From MH17 Crash Site?
A troubling tweet from CNN’s Ivan Watson (picked up by RFE/RL’s liveblog):
Earlier there were some reports that debris looked as if it had been sawed apart, and videos showed construction equipment digging through the wreckage.
Fighting also is reported not far from the crash site:
And, as we’ve reported below, two Ukrainian military jets have been shot down today south of Snezhnoye — and the Ukrainian government says that the missiles were launched from Russia.
RT Stringer Reported Missing in Donetsk

Graham Phillips, a British stringer for RT, has been reported as missing in Donetsk.

Russian state media outlets RT and RIA Novosti report that he has been missing since last night. According to RT, the last message received from Phillips was an SMS message at 2 am that read “All is fine.”

However the press office of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ separatist group told RIA Novosti that Phillips had been detained by Ukrainian troops:

DPR’s press service has earlier told RIA Novosti that on Tuesday night RT’s British stringer Graham Phillips and his colleagues headed toward in Donetsk airport – currently the most active warzone in the regional center besieged by Kiev’s troops – amid a firefight. Phillips and one of his colleagues decided to get closer to Kiev forces positions. In a short while his colleague made a call with Phillips’ cell phone saying that “Phillips was taken.”

According to Donetsk’s press service, Phillips’ colleague remained in the building of a supermarket fearing to get under fire. But since then the contact with him was lost.

ANNA-News information agency reported that it couldn’t get in touch with its cameraman who worked with Graham Phillips in the area of Donetsk airport and stopped answering his phone at approximately the same time. ANNA-News reported that the journalists were taken hostage by the Ukrainian military.

RT report that Andrei Lysenko of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council had denied any knowledge of Phillips’s detention.

Enough Grandstanding. It’s Time For Real Sanctions Against Russia

Andrew S. Bowen has published his latest assessment of new sanctions passed by the United States and Europe:

The EU finally agreed on a set of measures that, hopefully, will herald the beginning of a serious commitment by the EU to challenge Russia. They have committed to drawing up a list of individuals that will be subject to sanctions and revealed this Thursday, along with compiling a package of actions:

“The Council recalls the previous commitments by the European Council and remains ready to introduce without delay a package of further significant restrictive measures, if full and immediate cooperation on above mentioned demands fails to materialise. To this end, the Council requests the Commission and the EEAS to finalise their preparatory work on possible targeted measures and to present proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector. The results of this work will be presented on Thursday, 24th July.”

And while it does not actually sanction any industries, it is a powerful step for the EU, and the beginning signs that the understanding that Russia is not committed to a peaceful negotiated settlement on anything other than its preferable terms, and that the West stands more to lose by doing nothing than mere financial interests.

Read the entire analysis here.

Ukrainian Security and Defence Council Claims Russia Shot Down Su-25s
UNIAN reports on a briefing given by Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO):
“Today, near the village of Dmitrovka, four Su-25 sturmoviks provided fire support to units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, who are bravely holding their positions on the border of our state,” he said.

“After successfully completing their mission, they were fired on by heavy duty anti-aircraft missile systems. Even though they carried out anti-missile manoeuvres and fired heat flares, two of our aircraft were shot down at an altitude of 5,200 metres,” said Lysenko.

“According to preliminary information, the missiles were launched from the territory of the Russian Federation,” said the spokesman for the SNBO.

MANPADS, which the terrorists have at their disposal, are unable to cause damage at such an altitude,” he added.

Here is a rough map of the area:


Ukraine Says Su-25s Were Shot Down From Russian Territory

There are breaking reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO) has told reporters at a briefing just now that the two Ukrainian Air Force Su-25s shot down today were hit by missiles fired from Russian territory.

More details to come.
Separatists Release Video of Su-25 Crash Site

The IKorpus YouTube channel, associated with, a site that carries separatist news stories and publishes dispatches from Igor Girkin, a.k.a. Strelkov, has uploaded a video which purportedly shows the downing and wreckage of one of the two Ukrainian Air Force Su-25s shot down today.

The video opens with large cloud ascending, suggesting it was filmed immediately after the impact of one of the aircraft. The camera then zooms in on what appear to be flares, still hanging in the air, likely fired from the Su-25 in an attempt to evade a heat-seeking missile.

The wreckage shown does indeed appear to be that of a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25. This screenshot shows what strongly resembles the wing section, including the distinctive wing tips. A Ukrainian Air Force roundel is also clearly visible.



2 Ukrainian Su-25s Confirmed Shot Down

Ukrainska Pravda reports comments by Alexei Dmitrashkovsky of the ATO press centre, confirming the incident (translated by The Interpreter):

“Indeed two Ukrainian aircraft have been downed near Saur-Mogila. The circumstances under which they were shot down and the fate of the pilots are still unknown. A special operations team is working at the crash site.

There will be more information later.”

Earlier, Dmitrashkovsy had confirmed to that at least one of the downed aircraft was an Su-25.

Unconfirmed Reports of the Downing of a Ukrainian Air Force Jet

There are unconfirmed reports going around Twitter that a Ukrainian Air Force jet has been shot down by separatist fighters near the Saur-Mogila kurgan, south of Snezhnoye and Torez.

Translation: A second aircraft has been shot down in the Saur-Mogila area. (near Torez and Snezhnoye)

Ukrainian Forces Report Further Shelling From Russia

Both the press centre for the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) and Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance claim that shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border has continued.

We confirmed video of this on July 16, verifying the location of a number of videos showing Russian Grad batteries firing rockets towards Ukrainian territory near the Russian town of Gukovo.

There were also reports yesterday of multiple cross-border shelling incidents.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the ATO press centre announced that Ukrainian checkpoints had been shelled from Russian territory:

At 3 am a checkpoint, not far from Chervonopartizansk [known in Russian as Krasnopartizansk], was fired on from BM-21 Grad launchers in Russian territory.

On July 16 Ukrainian soldiers in Krasnopartizansk reported being shelled by Grad rockets from across the border. 

The launch position filmed in Gukovo appears to be highly likely to be the culprit for this, and today’s attacks. On the evening of July 16, before receiving news of the Krasnopartizansk attack, we published a rough estimation of the field of fire of the launcher. 

Krasnopartizansk lies in the centre of this projected cone:


Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance also reported on cross-border attacks on his Facebook page:

Attempts are constantly being made to take control of the border crossings at Uspenka, Marinovka and Dyakovo. Ukrainian security forces are successfully repelling all attacks, but they are in a very challenging position.

ATO positions in the border regions were shelled twice from Russian territory. On both occasions, the shelling came from BM-21 Grad MLRS

All translations by The Interpreter.

Ukrainian Journalist Abducted in Donetsk

Novosti Donbassa reports, citing Telekritika, that Anton Skiba, a Ukrainian journalist who has previously reported for them, has been abducted in Donetsk.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

From their own sources, Telekritika have ascertained that the kidnapping occurred on the evening of July 22 in Donetsk. Anton Skiba was staying at the Donbass Palace hotel, together with a film crew from the American CNN channel. Suddenly, three armed militants burst into the hotel, seized Anton Skiba, brought him out and took him away to an unknown destination.


Representatives from Donetsk City Council, public and trade union organisations, and journalists are currently negotiating with the terrorists for the release of the journalist.

The US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, has condemned the abduction:

Zaporozhye Explosion Not a Terrorist Attack

UNIAN reports that the Zaporozhye regional branch of the Interior Ministry has announced that last night’s explosion in Zaporozhye was not the result of a terrorist attack.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

According to them, there was no terrorist attack or intent to carry out a terrorist act: some lads “having read up” bomb making recipes on the internet, decided to build and test such a device in a deserted location, but the force of the explosion was much greater than they had expected. 

Despite some damage to the windows of a nearby hospital building, no one was injured according to police.

First Plane Carrying MH17 Victims Leaves Kharkiv for Amsterdam

The first bodies of those killed aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17 have left Kharkiv aboard a Royal Netherlands Air Force plane bound for Amsterdam.  

Meanwhile the flight recorders from MH17 have reportedly arrived in the UK for analysis: