Russian Kremlin funded RT journalist shared manipulated photo to discredit BUK plume photo

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Now self-declared “independent journalist” Yana Yerlashova  who worked for Kremlin financed RT in 2015 took photos which are clearly manipulated afterwards. The shadows shown on the photo do not match the time the photo was taken according EXIF data. The purpose of the manipulation seems to discredit photos presented as evidence by JIT for a Buk missile launch. 

Russian former RT journalist Yana Yerlashova made two documentaries for RT about MH17 released in 2014 and 2015. Both documentaries are full of disinformation. In 2019 she and Dutch blogger Max van der Werff started a Kickstarter crowdfunding to fund another documentary on MH17. The promotional video of the couple again has disinformation. Also the trailer has nonsense. The documentary is expected to be released around July 17, 2019.

Yerlashova,then working for Russian RT, took in June 2015 a serie of 12 photos showing a black smoke plume. The photos were taken from the same apartment as a series of photos  showing a white smoke plume with black smoke around it made in July 2014. These photos show the smoke trail of the BUK missile which downed MH17.

Dutch blogger Max van der Werff published 10 of the  photos made by Yerlashova on his website. Yerlashova so far did not use her photos for a documentary.  The large resolution photos can be downloaded here. To download all 12 photos in high resolution adjust the URL. The names of the photos start at img_5264 until img_5275.

Something is wrong with the photos made by Yerlashova in 2015. The time displayed in the EXIF data of the photos does not match the shadows shown in the same photos. That seems a deliberate modification.

Lets show how I came to that conclusion.

This is part of a serie of blogposts on Yana Yerlashova and Max van der Werff  showing how they spread a lot of disinformation on MH17. I requested the couple many times for comment but they never responded to questions.

  • An overview of disinformation and lies by former RT journalist Yerlashova and Dutch blogger van der Werff (link)
  • “Local witness” debunked as liar is seen in two different MH17 documentaries supporting Kremlin narrative (link)
  • Self proclaimed “independent researchers” try to discredit BUK smoke trail photographer and the BBC (link)
  • More nonsense by Yana Yerlashova & Max van der Werff (link)
  • Self proclaimed “independent” researchers Van der Werff and Yerlashova provide proof for their lies (link)
  • Max van der Werff and former RT journalist known for disinformation start crowdfunding for MH17 documentary (link)
  • Eight issues with the “fake photo ” claim of Max van der Werff (link)


Kremlin funded media like RT and Sputnik have spread a lot of disinformation on MH17. Two documentaries made by RT are a good example of that. Also Russian trolls employed by St. Petersburg based IRA were active in manipulation of mainly the Russian audience. Their message: Ukraine did it.

An example of disinformation by former RT journalist Yana Yerlashova are her statements the photographer of the white smoke plume photos lied. That is nonsense as proved in this blogpost. Yerlashova or van der Werff didn’t respond to my questions to clarify what lie she refers to in her video.

The manipulation of the EXIF time of the photos she took in June 2015 showing black smoke   is another attempt to discredit the plume photos. Blogger Van der Werff published the photos on his website. Van der Werff has strong doubts about the official version of the shot down of MH17. Van der Werff does not rule out Ukraine shot down MH17 by mistake and is helped by Western states to put the blame on Russia.

Van der Werff titles  the photos made by Yerlashova on his blog as  Another ‘Buk launch’ image. Buk launch is meant ironically here.

He writes  the black smoke on the photos made by Yerlashova are exactly at the same point at the horizon as the photos made at July 17, 2014 showing the smoke trail of the BUK missile. Van der Werff suggests a train or a chimney of the Voskresenskaya coalmine could be the cause of the black smoke in both the pictures taken in June 2015 and July 2014. However Van der Werff and Yerlashova fail to explain what according their opinion caused the long white smoke plume seen on the same photos made in July 2014.

A well informed source of mine gave a more likely explanation for the cause of the black smoke seen on the photos made by the then RT journalist in 2015. He told me Yerlashova arranged a couple of locals to set fire to possibly car tyres at exactly the same location at the horizon as the smoke of the July 17, 2014 photo. The reasoning could be that Yerlashova wanted to show that at the same time as the July 17, 2014 photo was taken black smoke was seen. Which could be caused by for example a train which runs frequently at the same time of the day.

Hence the manipulation of the EXIF time of the photo. The EXIF time of the July 17, 2014 smoke plume photos was 16:25. Yerlashova set the EXIF of her photos to 16:23, while the shadow on her photo points to a time much earlier.


Researching the shadow of  Yerlashova June 2015 photos

The photos made on July 17, 2014 of the white smoke trail and the photos made by Yerlashova in 2015 show the same house. Next to the house  a large pole can be seen. The shadow of that pole seen on the house is a perfect reference to determine the time the photos were made.

The photo below shows the pole and house (not the Yerlashova photo)

This house is located  in the small village of Krupskiy (Крупский) which is close to Torez (later renamed to Chystiakove) , the place where the plume photos were made from. The name of the street where the house is located is вулиця Крупської (Krupskoi street). More details in this Bellingcat blog.

This Panoramio photo show below shows the same pole (in red circle) from a different angle. The photo was taken from the hill west of Krupskiy.

To check the time the photos of the white smoke trail were made, someone went to the house and made a series of photos during a couple of hours. Then users of the Russian forum were requested to see what photo matched the time the July 17, 2014 photos. Bellingcat published a blogpost about this Russian research.

I used the same large pole to determine the time Yerlashova made the photos in June 2015 during her visit to Torez.

A closer look of the pole and the house is provided by this photo. The roof seen is the westerly part of the roof.

The exact location of the pole is indicated by the red arrow. (48.027555, 38.671405)

Now we have the location of the pole relative to the house, lets look at one of Yerlashova photos, check the time in the EXIF and check the shadow.

The photo with filename 5265 provides a sharp photo with a clear shadow on the roof of the house. A closeup of the photo showing the house and the large pole is shown below.

Notice the house has two roofs which are at a different level. One with three sides and a larger and more elevated one with also three sides. The shadow caused by the pole is on the smaller, three sided westerly part of the roof.

Now lets examine the EXIF info of the photo taken by the RT journalist. It shows a date of June 7, 2o15 and a time of 16:23.

Now we have to determine the actual time this photo was taken using the shadow of the pole. In the past Suncalc was a great tool for this purpose however due to Google changing the license Google satellite view cannot be used in Suncalc anymore. Another great tool is Shadowcalculator. This tool even allows to draw shapes representing buildings and indicate the height of the shape.

When we set the date to June 7, 2015, and make a shape representing a pole with a length of 30 meters we can determine the shadow of the pole relative to the roof of the house.

Around 13:46 is the best match. This is not the local time in Krupskiy ! To determine the local Krupskiy time, we check this website.

The website shows a sunrise for nearby Torez for June 7, 2015 of 04:27 and sunset of 20:21. So the times shown by should be added by 1 hour to get the local time.

So now we determined that the photo with  filename 5265 was taken by Yerlashova at around 14:46! However the EXIF time showed 16:23 !

That is a big difference!

Could it be the time of the camera used by Yerlashova was set to an incorrect time? That is very unlikely. First Eastern Ukraine and Moscow are in the same timezone. Assuming  Yerlashova set the time of the camera corresponding to the timezone of the RT office in Moscow. Besides the hours on photo and EXIF do not match there is big difference of over 2o minutes as well.

Correct shadow for time 16:23

To double check we have a look at the shadow position when the time is equal to that of the EXIF of the photo (16:23 local time).

We again use Shadowcalculator and move the sun as close to 16:23. See the image below. If Yerlashova had taken the photo at 16:23 as her EXIF wants us to believe, the shadow would be like in the image below. Very different than the shadow seen on her manipulated photo. So there can be no doubt EXIF and shadow do not match at all.

Another crosscheck of the correct position of the shadow is provided by the research mentioned earlier in this post by users of the forum.

Photo 4328, which was in between the two leading vote-getters (4325 and 4330) matches the shadow best with the picture taken from the Torez apartment in July 17, 2014.

This photograph (4328) was taken at August 1, 2015 at 4:35:46pm with the azimuth of 260.52, which corresponds to a July 17, 2014 time of 4:21:29pm. The photo can be downloaded here. 

The shadow of the pole clearly is in a totally different position than the EXIF time of the manipulated photo by Yerlashova shows.

More examples of disinformation

This is not the only case of disinformation and manipulation of facts related to MH17 by Russian state funded media RT . The first occurance of disinformation was the mention of a fake air traffic controller named Carlos. Hours after the shot down of MH17 Carlos started to sent Tweets stating MH17 was shot down by Ukraine military aircraft. Additionaly he stated  soldiers were raiding his traffic control tower in Kiev. This video clip shows the mentioning by RT of the Tweets sent by Carlos. The full broadcast can be watched here. However Carlos was not an air traffic controler working in Kiev. He was a fraud. Radio Free Europe published a story about Carlos.




Yerlashova or someone related to her  changed the EXIF time of the photos she made to suggest at the same time as the 2014 BUK missile plume photo was taken , black smoke was seen in June 2015. This to suggest the smoke in the 2014 photo could possibly not be of a BUK missile launch but of a train or chimney of a coal mine. Yerlashova might want to use these photos in the upcoming documentary on MH17 to convince her viewers the BUK photos are faked.

Request for comment

At May 2 I sent a message to Max van der Werff with the questions below. Van der Werff did not respond.

1. Op welke dag en op welk tijdstip zijn deze foto‘s gemaakt?
2. Komt het tijdstip van maken van de foto‘s overeen met de EXIF-data van de foto‘s?
3. Wat is volgens jou een verklaring voor deze zwarte rook?
In english
1. On what day and time are the photos made ?
2. Do the time of making the photos and the EXIF time match?
3. What is according you the cause of the black smoke?
On May 5 I requested via Twitter Van der Werff/Yerlashova for comment on the mismatch between shadow and EXIF. Both did not respond.
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