#MinskMonitor: Misplaced Drone Video Over Donbas

Analyzing video footage of an alleged Ukrainian bombing of Donetsk-area village

(Sources: Left — YouTube / News Front, Right — Google Earth, 2017 imagery)

Last week, officials of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) accused Ukrainian forces of using a drone to carry out attacks on the settlement of Mineralne, located in non-government-controlled territory north of Donetsk city. DNR officials claimed to down a Ukrainian Phantom-4 drone and recover a video of a bombing run on a flash card. They shared the alleged video on a DNR Telegram channel and a number of pro-Russian and Russian-led separatist media outlets.

However, the video was not shot in Mineralne, as claimed.

https://youtu.be/c3aLhLNyoMs

Geolocation of footage

Despite the fact that DNR officials said that this footage was filmed in Mineralne — located near the frontline, east of Avdiivka and north of Donetsk — it was actually filmed over 20 kilometers to the southwest over the settlement of Staromykhailivka. Both Mineralne and Staromykhailivka are in non-government-controlled territory with frequent Ukrainian military activity nearby.

(Sources: Left — YouTube / News Front, Right — Google Earth, 2017 imagery)

DNR officials claimed that a civilian was injured in Mineralne as a result of a Ukrainian drone dropping an explosive device onto the town. This incident may have occurred, but it is not in the footage published by the DNR, which took place in an area right on the conflict’s frontline. Below, a map courtesy of LiveUAMap shows the approximate dividing line between government and non-government-controlled (shaded red) territory.

(Source: LiveUAMap)

Bombing run

The alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Staromykhailivka has been previously reported on by pro-Russian and Russian-led separatist outlets, including from the “DNR” Militia Press Service and Patrick Lancaster. Video reports from Staromykhailivka surfaced on November 3, showing the aftermath of a previous alleged drone attack, along with footage showing the aftermath of another explosive device being dropped by a drone in the village.

The two videos were filmed at the same location, with the same DNR fighter providing interviews on the same day. During the two reports, the fighter claims that Ukrainian drones drop different types of explosive devices, including grenades, a shell, and even a tennis ball filled with flammable and/or explosive materials.

Remains of a tennis ball filled with flammable/explosive materials, allegedly dropped by a Ukrainian drone. (Source: YouTube / Patrick Lancaster)

In the video from the drone, the explosive device dropped appears to be a grenade with two blue-capped tubes strapped onto it.

(Source: YouTube / News Front)

However, the video showing this makeshift explosive device being dropped does not show an explosion — it was unclear if this is because it was not visible from the drone’s perspective, if the video was cropped to before an explosion, or if the device was a dud. It was also unclear what the blue-capped tubes were, but were likely some sort of substance or material used to increase the destructiveness of the device, such as a flammable substance.

Future of Trench Warfare?

A Ukrainian drone dropping explosive devices in Staromykhailivka and Mineralne would not be a surprise, as a number of Ukrainian soldiers and organizations have boasted about their success in using relatively cheap drones in dropping grenades and shells into trenches across the Donbas.

As @DFRLab reported in May of this year, a Ukrainian formation linked to far-right nationalist Dmytro Yarosh published drone footage of a VOG-17 grenade being dropped on entrenched positions of Russian-led separatist forces in between Mariupol and Novoazovsk.

Ukrainian defense manufacturers have focused on developing drones that can drop small explosive devices; however, Ukrainian forces have successfully deployed cheap, commercially-available drones over the past year to deliver their payloads to Russian-led separatist positions along the front line. There have been very few significant territorial changes in the past year in the Donbas, meaning that cheap and accurate methods of delivering a payload to enemy positions become more valuable to both sides of the conflict.


Aric Toler is the Lead Digital Forensic Research Associate for Eurasia at the@DFRLab.

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