New “DNR” rocket system allegedly used against Ukrainian positions
Last week, videos were published showing how Russian-led forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) fired on Ukrainian positions near the town of Avdiivka. The town is located in government-controlled territory north of Donetsk. This shelling was notable because it used the “Cheburashka” multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) that was allegedly developed by DNR engineers and paraded on May 9, as detailed by the @DFRLab.
Where were these videos taken, what Ukrainian positions were attacked, and how can we assess the “Cheburashka” MLRS from these published materials?
Videos and Geolocation
Multiple videos were published of the Cheburashka rocket attack, as the DNR clearly sees propaganda value in touting the use of the MLRS system they have developed “in house”. The WarGonzo group, which has released a number of videos while embedded with Russian-led separatist forces, published a video that showed an attack on May 31. However, videos from Donetsk24 show that the attack actually took place a week prior, on May 22. The Donetsk24 footage included drone imagery filmed during the shellings, which allowed us to easily geolocate the targets.
The aerial imagery was geolocated by Wim Zwijnenburg as the Akatsia village, just east of Avdiivka proper.
When comparing this shelled location to the current situation map, via LiveUAMap, it became clear that this village is on the front-line in government-controlled territory. More worrisome, the location is a mere two kilometers from the Donetsk Filtration Station (DFS), which provides water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in the area. Below, the red shaded area indicates non-government-controlled territory.
The “Cheburashka” MLRS was used in the attack on Ukrainian positions, two weeks after it was paraded on Victory Day in Donetsk.
Comparing the MLRS that fired weapons near Avdiivka with the one displayed in Donetsk on Victory Day shows a clear match, with the two clusters of rockets on the back of a modified KrAZ 260 chassis. More on the Cheburashka can be read in a previous @DFRLab report.
Since this shelling took place, DNR authorities have become more ambitious about the capabilities of the Cheburashka. On June 5, the “Head” of the DNR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, threatened to fire on Ukrainian forces conducting exercises on the Azov Sea by firing on them with a Cheburashka on a sea vessel (likely a motor boat).
There have been no credible indications that the DNR has the capabilities to carrying out a sea attack with the Cheburashka MLRS.
Context and Reaction
True to form with the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, this attack with indiscriminate, unguided shells was heavily publicized and largely conducted as a propaganda stunt. The DNR and friendly media outlets, including WarGonzo, LifeNews, and Izvestiya, were on hand to film the shelling both from the ground and sky, with a drone in position for the incoming shells.
WarGonzo, for example, framed the attack as “revenge for Mamai,” the separatist commander who was killed in a Ukrainian attack on May 21 — the day before the timestamp on the Donetsk24 video of the Avdiivka shelling. On the shells of the rockets launched towards Ukrainian positions, DNR forces wrote “For Givi”, “For Motor[ola]”, and “For Mamai”, referencing various killed separatist commanders.
The “Kharkov News Agency,” which is run out of the so-called Troll Factory of St. Petersburg (Internet Research Agency) and has no physical presence in Kharkiv, Ukraine, echoed this statement, stating that the shelling was “An Answer to the Death of Givi, Motorola, and Mamay — Cheburashka carries out an attack on Ukrainian Armed Forces Positions”.
Judging from the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation’s response — or lack of response — to the Avdiivka shelling and minimal reported casualty figures, the shelling from the Cheburashka MLRS did not leave large impression with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, even if the Cheburashka attacks only hit abandoned homes and missed Ukrainian military positions, the propaganda value of the deployment of a “locally” created weapons system is obvious, no matter if it was truly more effective than the MLRS transferred from the armories of the Russian Armed Forces.
Considering the media blitz and multiple videos produced of the attack — including some that resemble military recruitment videos set to a heavy metal soundtrack — the DNR was apparently looking for a larger victory in the information space than conflict zone.
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