Footage captures signs of COVID-19 overwhelming Moscow

Videos of ambulances lined up outside Moscow hospitals suggest the situation is much more dire than the Kremlin would like to admit

(Source: @LAndriukaitis/DFRLab)

Despite the Russian government claiming that the COVID-19 situation in Russia is under control, long lines of ambulances near Moscow hospitals suggest a different situation.

Specialists argue that official Russian coronavirus numbers are downplayed by the government and that the real situation is much more dire. Russian lawmakers have even implemented fines up to $25,000 and prison terms of up to five years for anyone who spreads COVID-19 information that is “fake” from the perspective of the Kremlin.

Despite the optimistic official picture, signs of a different situation started surfacing. On April 14, news began to spread that even the Kremlin is being forced to admit that the situation in Russia is worsening. On April 16, the Kremlin announced that this year’s WWII Victory Day parade in Moscow would be canceled next month.

In the days prior to both of these stories, though, social media users photographed and filmed long lines of ambulances near Moscow hospitals, suggesting the potential extent of rising COVID-19 cases — and the public’s awareness of it. These alarming videos and photos can be geolocated and verified.

One of the earliest posts showing long lines of ambulances appeared on Facebook on April 10. Some commenters suggested that up to 80 ambulances might have been lined-up in these photos.

April 10 Facebook post, showing a long line of ambulances somewhere in Moscow. (Source: Facebook/archive)

The location of these photos was not mentioned, as the author only stated he was working as an ambulance driver that night and he he not seen anything like this in six years of work. The post was widely liked, shared and commented, and some of the comments suggested that the photos might have been taken in a Moscow suburb called Khimki. Geolocation confirmed that the ambulances were lined up outside the veterans’ hospital, the Federal Clinical Center for High-Tech Medicine.

Geolocation of the April 10 video revealed that the photos were taken outside the Federal Clinical Center for High-Tech Medicine in Khimki, Moscow Oblast. The numbers 1 and 2 indicate matching light poles, while number 3 indicates matching brick wall. (Source: Facebook/archive, left; Yandex Maps, right, Google Maps, bottom)

As the video suggests, a large portion of the ambulances are Russian-produced GAZ 27051 (ГАЗ 27051) vans. The average length of this type of vehicle is 5.5 meters. According to Google Maps, the distance between the fence seen in the photos and the entrance to the hospital is roughly 365 meters.

Distance between the fence seen in the photos and the entrance to the hospital is around 365 meters. (Source: Google Maps)

Even with the most modest calculations, factoring in that the cars are parked half a meter apart and there is no congestion around the hospital, it would accommodate approximately 60 ambulances, given that 365 meters divided among 5.5 meter-long vehicles plus half a meter between them would equal around 60 vehicles. This is a slightly smaller number than some commenters mentioned, yet it is possible that 80 ambulances were trying to get into the hospital at the time these photos were taken.

Another April 10 Facebook post appeared to be similar to the one captured that day.

April 10 Facebook post, showing a similar location as another post. (Source: Facebook/archive)

Geolocation confirmed that this was the same hospital, photographed in daylight, thus suggesting the conditions at the hospital stretched through a significant portion of the day.

Geolocation of the daylight photos. Number 1 refers to the antenna. Number 2 marks a small white building. Number 3 refers to a brick wall. Number 4 shows the matching parking lot. (Source: Facebook/archive, top; Yandex Maps, bottom)

Videos and photos that surfaced on April 10–11 reveal two more hospitals that were significantly overcrowded. On April 10, a video appeared on YouTube that may have been taken by a medical worker. In the video, she commented that Hospital №68 is becoming overwhelmed. This comment allowed for easily geolocation.

Geolocation of Hospital №68. Number 1 marks a small basketball field. Numbers 2 and 3 mark U-shaped buildings. (Source: YouTube/archive, top; Google Maps, bottom)

On April 11, two videos appeared on YouTube both capturing the same hospital. Upon closer examination it appeared that one was taken from a building south of the hospital entrance, while the other was taken from a passing car. Both of these buildings allowed for geolocation of the area, identifying the medical facility to be Veteran’s Hospital №3.

Geolocation of the Veteran’s Hospital №3 in Moscow. Numbers 1 and 2 refer to the buildings south of the entry to the hospital. Number 3 marks the southern-most building of the hospital complex with a distinct U shape. (Source: YouTube/archive, top left, YouTube/archive, top right; Google Maps, bottom)

Lukas Andriukaitis is an Associate Director with the Digital Forensic Research Lab;

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