Analyzing the footage and narratives of the blatant attack
On Saturday, March 11, a video emerged showing a nine-storey apartment building in southern Avdiivka being struck by an explosive. It is unclear exactly what type of projectile was fired, but it was most likely a tank shell. The video was first shared by a man named Vlad Makhovsky on his personal Facebook page, noting that the video was shot from the Probuzhdenie church.
The video was shot facing northwest, with the apartment building located at Vorobiova 15 hit by the shell.
The person who filmed the video did not comment on who was conducting the shelling, either in the video itself or in information included with the upload. However, the Russian Ministry of Defense’s television channel, TV Zvezda, ran an article blaming Ukraine for carrying out the shelling.
“In Avdiivka, Ukrainian forces shelled apartment buildings with their tanks, as reported by witnesses.The videos were uploaded online as video evidence. In the video it is clear that the artillery strike directly hits the nine-storey apartment building.”
Additionally, a popular pro-Russian/separatist Vkontakte community shared the video of the shelling with the title “11.03.2017 Ukrainian Armed Forces shell a house in Avdiivka for the cameras of TSN journalists.”
In the description, it is written that a Ukrainian tank shelled the apartment building specifically for nearby journalists, creating a “false flag” or provocation scenario to blame separatist forces.
The claim that the scene was conducted for the cameras of watching “journalists” is absurd, as there were no watching journalists: the only camera that captured the scene was from a local citizen at a nearby church.
The online analysis, which was originally taken from the “Shtorm Mariupol” Vkontakte page, goes on to say that “if you draw a line in the direction of Vorobva 15 — Mendeleyeva 5-3, then it turns out that the fire was conducted from the direction of Lastochkino-Orlovka.”
Let’s follow these directions and see how a line of fire from Ukrainian-controlled Lastochkino (Lastochkyne in Ukrainian) or Orlovka (Orlivka in Ukrainian) would look, to judge whether this assessment is accurate. Below, a map highlights the two mentioned Ukrainian-controlled villages northwest of Avdiivka, and two buildings northwest of Vorobiova 15.
This line of fire indicates that the west side of the nine-storey apartment building would be hit; however, we can clearly see that side of the building close to the camera was hit — the east side of the apartment complex. Thus, a firing location from the northwest would require the shell to do a 180-degree turn in mid-air to hit the east wall. We can safely discount this direction of fire, and instead should look east.
A frame-by-frame analysis of the video shows that the shell came from the southeast, as the shell passed over the camera (positioned southeast of the hit building) before it struck the side of the apartment.
On frame 2, an object can be seen on the top of the frame, before disappearing while moving towards the building. You can see the object better if we combine the frames, and extrapolate the approximate trajectory of the shell:
If we reexamine the perspective of the video, we can see that the shell comes from behind and to the left of the camera — thus, southeast of the building.
However, we cannot determine which side shelled the apartment from this information alone, as the area southeast of the apartment building (marked with a red star) is held by both Ukrainian and separatist forces, per the recent frontlines defined by LiveUAMap.
Though this map alone does not tell us who fired the shell, we can say that Ukrainian forces did not shell the building from Kruta Balka or the Donetsk Filtration Station, as many Russian and separatist sources have claimed, as these two locations are both northeast of the shelled apartment building.
This apartment building at Vorobiova 15 has been one of the most visible residential complexes in the war in the Donbas. Located in a precarious spot on the edge of Ukrainian-controlled Avdiivka, it is vulnerable to shelling from separatist positions in nearby Yasynuvata and the Donetsk Airport. In July 2015, a dramatic video of separatist forces conducting shelling from the Donetsk Airport was published, showing a direct hit on the apartment block. The video was filmed from the top of Vorobiova 15.
Furthermore, photographs and videos emerged last month showing four Ukrainian tanks parked behind Vorobiova 15. These T-64 tanks were in plain sight of journalists and OSCE monitors.
— Tom Burridge (@TomBurridgebbc) February 1, 2017
So, who shelled Vorobiova 15 on March 11? As with nearly every other shelling, both sides blame each other for the attack. However, considering video evidence of previous separatist attacks targeting this same building, and the fact that Ukrainian officials were scrambling to justify the presence of tanks in the apartment complex in February 2017, there is little reason to suspect Ukrainian forces of conducting this shelling. In fact, there are reports from locals in separatist-controlled Yasynuvata from the day of the shelling reporting the mobilization of tanks and outgoing tank fire:
15.32 к ДФ по Ясиноватой сегодня танки катаются туда-сюда
— hochu domoy v ua (@hochu_dodomu) March 11, 2017
— Внутренняя Монголия (@l_vinchenso) March 11, 2017
While it is possible that Ukrainian forces fired with a tank on their own territory, hitting an apartment building where they were heavily criticized for housing military equipment, it seems far more likely that Russian-separatist forces shelled the same apartment building they have attacked numerous times before. Additionally, reports of tanks moving about and firing from a location that corresponds with the line of fire on the apartment building adds credence to this theory.
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