So why did only a handfull of people report seeing the BUK moving in Donetsk

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One of the many mysteries in the Bellingcat narrative is the very little number of people who reported seeing the BUK travelling from Donetsk to Snizhne.

According Ukraine the BUK travelled at night from the Russian border to Donetsk. It was first noticed  at around 09:00 am on the morning of 17 July 2014 according a  post on vKontakte found by Bellingcat.

Donetsk is a city with about a little less than 1 million citizens. Probably in July 2014 less as  people left the city because of the war. Many of the people have a mobile phone.

Yet there is only a single  person who made a photo (or video)  of the BUK parked next to a busy road. Nobody knows exactly for how long the BUK was parked there. According Bellingcat the BUK loaded on a low-loader departed around 10:45 heading east towards Zuhres. The times of departure were adjusted a couple of times by Bellingcat.

So the BUK, which was an unusual sight as this was the first BUK in separatists occupied area, was standing in a busy town on a busy road and only one person made photos of it. Actually it is still unknown if the two photos are stills from a dashcam.

Dutch reporter Gert-Jan Denekamp told me the road H21 was the major road for people to travel to Luhansk as the E50 motorway was blocked near Debaltseve. So many people including journalists past the place where the BUK was parked.

Also the motel at the roundabout was a frequently used meeting point for journalists who wanted to meet with separatists.

It is also not logical the BUK was moved in the middle of the day. The Strela-10 was moved from Donetsk to Snizhen in the night. Probably to avoid Ukraine was aware the position of this tactical weapon.

Reasons for hardly any eyewitness

The reason that so little people reported about the presence of a BUK could be fear. Well, that is the reason Aric Toler, one of two persons working for Bellingcat, believes.

Australian TV station SBS One had an interview  (here the programme starting at15:00) with an anonymous eyewitness. He stated he saw the BUK in Donetsk. He wanted to be anonymous because of fear. The eyewitness saw it was a surface to air system with 4 missiles loaded on it.

The eyewitness likely stated that he saw the BUK at 09:00 in Donetsk. The presenter of the program in fact told this.

According the eyewitness the BUK drove on Ilycha Avenue and made a right turn to Shakhtostroiteley Boulevard.

sbs one eyewitness

The map below shows the possible route of the BUK.


This man is the only witness known who appeared on tv and saw a BUK in Donetsk. The other people stated about their sighting of a BUK (or possibly some other military vehicle) on social media. Arnold Greidanus did a lot of research on social media postings.

Are people afraid to post military movements on social media?

It certainly does not look like people were afraid to post information and video’s on military convoys in the days before July 17.

Here is an example, here another  and here another.  I really doubt layman like citizen are were able to judge themselves that posting images and videos  of a BUK were dangerous. And postings of other military equipment were not. As the eyewitness featured by SBS One told, most  citizen did not even know what kind of vehicle a BUK was.

Ofcourse it is possible that postings were deleted after the shotdown of MH17 because people then understood it was better to delete postings and videos.

Strange thing is that the videos we still have, were made from apartment buildings. So very easy to trace where the person who made the video lived.

Aric Toler of Bellingcat provided me with two links indicating people were made afraid by the separatists. This is a study of Amnesty International titled ABDUCTIONS AND TORTURE IN EASTERN UKRAINE. The other link provided is a document titled Ukraine: Rebel Forces Detain, Torture Civilians


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16 Comments on So why did only a handfull of people report seeing the BUK moving in Donetsk

  1. Maksym Ponomarenko // March 22, 2016 at 12:31 pm // Reply

    So still we have not one single photo or video that can be verified. Not one reliable witness who can be tested.
    But this is all just a red herring. The has satellite proof of the launch site but refuses to disclose it.

  2. Maksym Ponomarenko // March 22, 2016 at 12:32 pm // Reply

    The USA has proof I mean

    • The USA has provided only accusations. 20 months have passed, and the USA has one provided a single shred of hard evidence.

      The USA has proof?

      No, the USA has lies and people like Higgens and Akkermans to send the investigators and public on wild goose chases.

      When the truth slowly emerges it will not come from Higgins, Akkermans, the DSB or the JIT. It certainly will not come from the USA.

  3. “people were made afraid by the separatists.” Not a very good argument. In Raqqa, Syria there is an organization called: Raqqa is being slaughtered silently. They provide lots of information about atrocities by IS. They have every reason to be afraid. In a city with about a million inhabitants, some might be afraid, some might not believe the stories and other may have never have heard of them.
    There is also an other possibility: they don’t want to be a witness against, what they see as their own people.

    • Hector Reban // March 22, 2016 at 8:46 pm // Reply

      Its a total nonsens argument. Why should they be afraid? Because the BUK movement, that stood for at least 1.5 hrs on a busy road during daylight, should have been a secret?

      And were all pro-separatists people – not one reported the BUK from Donetsk all the way to Pervomaiske – also afraid?

    • Exactly, “people were made afraid by the separatists” is not a good argument. Look at the topic “Bellingcat presents new social media evidence for BUK presence in Donetsk”:
      The text about BUK presence in Donetsk, which was cited by Bellingcat, was posted in the social media group “Donetsk is Ukraine!”, uniting anti-separatists in Donetsk and its area. Created in 2014, the group still exists; on 31 March, it had 3508 members (in the Bellingcat article, there is the link to that group, anyone can see the group’s posts). Thus, people are not afraid to be in an anti-separatist group. Also, no special courage was needed to phone or send an email to Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Center whose contact info was easily available on internet.

  4. “Dutch reporter Gert-Jan Denekamp told me the road H21 was the major road for people to travel to Luhansk as the E50 motorway was blocked near Debaltseve.” If this was true on the 17th, this is further proof the official Ukrainian maps are unreliable. However the E50-M04 was blocked near Bile. If the Buk had come from the direction of Luhansk, it had to follow H21. Remember where the video of the “Luhansk” Buk was taken? Avakov even gave the coordinates and the time: 48.545760°, 39.264622°, 4:50 am. Andrew may not like this, but to me, this Buk came from Metalist and was on its way to Donetsk in the early morning of the 17th. But then again, if they drove along H21, they must have passed Snizhne, Torez, Zuhres. Where they enjoying the country side?

    • Rob:

      “Andrew may not like this, but to me, this Buk came from Metalist and was on its way to Donetsk in the early morning of the 17th.”

      Rob: In my personal theory, I think a captured BUK without missiles was possibly moved Donetsk-Snizhne on July 14. It didn’t have missiles because there is a clearance limiting bridge at Shakhtersk with 4.5 m clear, while a BUK with missiles is 5.0 m. Low loader drivers are not stupid – they know what the clear routes are and what they can take. I don’t see a daytime problem – the rebels brazenly moved many high value assets during the day openly flying Russian, DNR, LNR, and Ossetian flags, including large tank and self-propelled howitzer convoys, convoys of BTR’s towing D-30 howitzers, and large lines of trucks with ammunition and war supplies. I think the Lugansk video may originate with a video of Russia moving BUK 322 from the Metalist base.

      I don’t think any Russian BUK’s crossed the border into Ukraine. There were 4+ hours from dawn to 9 am for someone to see a BUK moving west from the border to Donetsk during rush hour! Ukrainian BUK’s moving between 4 am and 9 am on March 5, 2014 near Soledar got videoed three times and photographed half a dozen times and made the local news that day and were discussed that day on Twitter and VKontakte. On July 17, essentially nothing provable until ~11 am/12 noon Tweets.

      If no one saw, no one photographed, no one videoed, no one reported a huge war machine loaded with giant missiles moving in the open during rush hour towards Donetsk, the simple answer is such a BUK did not exist. If a rebel BUK existed in Donetsk, it also did not fall out of the sky into Donetsk as if left by space aliens, it originated at the Ukrainian base at Spartak. Until evidence of more complex movement comes forth, there is no need to posit anything more complex than Ukraine was lying about the condition of equipment it left behind.

      “But then again, if they drove along H21, they must have passed Snizhne, Torez, Zuhres. Were they enjoying the country side?”

      No, of course not. Total nonsense along with all tales of mixing up Pervomaiske’s and all the rest. Look for the simple explanation.

      The only remaining question then is where were Ukraine’s BUK’s? Ukraine had a huge armored presence along its border with Russia in Sector D of the ATO. These troops were under Russian retaliatory attacks in response to continual shelling of Russian territory during the punitive operation. Ukraine was also provocatively violating Russian airspace during its bombing runs. Soviet/Post-Soviet military doctrine posits field mobile air-defense support of large concentrations of armored assets. You can’t get a much higher concentration than 3 or 4 armored Brigades undertaking a large scale offensive operation in a tight corridor. Hard to believe they failed to bring along mid-range air defense along capable of reacting to and defending a Russian air assault when such assets were readily available.

  5. Those “evil separatists” were not the only people terrorizing civilians in Donbass. See this video of presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko:
    And no, his uniform is not proof of German involvment…

    I agree about other points, though: few people could identify a Buk vehicle off-hand (technically a “SAM launch vehicle with 4 missiles” could also be a Strela-10), and even fewer have heard or seen a launch of a Buk missile in real life. Most people would mistake it for a low-flying military jet. This can explain why so few witnesses saw the Buk, while so many reported a fighter aircraft.

    • Roman Shein // March 22, 2016 at 11:13 pm // Reply

      Your comment actually contains explanation why there was no hype over Buk in July 17:
      Active military equipment movement was an exotic event in March, as Ukraine used to be peaceful and quiet country until 2014. That is why it attracted so much attention.
      By July locals have seen a huge inflow of various Russian military tech. There were nothing special spotting just another Russian missile.

      • I do not agree with your observation. An eyewitness stated he saw the BUK in Donetsk loaded with four missiles. The BUK was loaded on a large lowloader with a white Volvo. That was not a common sight. Especially as it drove through the suburbs of Donetsk.
        The BUK was not driving on some sort of motorway.

        People must have seen it. I am also wondering why the JIT send 50.000 sms messages to try to get people to tell if they saw a BUK. 50.000 is quite a lot of messages. You would expect that investigators just visited the many. many apartments in Donetsk and ask for people what they saw or heard.
        Remember the BUK even blocked two lanes.

        • Sergey Tokarev // March 23, 2016 at 10:06 am // Reply

          Guys! Please focus on such things as phone intercept – smoking gun, instead of spam of Eliot Higgins or UA. If you want to deal with spam such as ‘moving BUK’ – deal with it so that eventually arrive at some conclusion and close this issue, instead of endlessly chatting about it without new info. You can ask popular blogger Sharij for help. He lives in the Netherlands, and he is the best blogger on Ukraine.

      • 1) I live in a country as quiet and and peaceful one can imagine (Switzerland), and every now and then I see tanks, APC, and self-propelled howitzers loaded on trains going for military exercise.
        2) Almost all the equipment used in the war against Donbass is USSR origin, including the Buk that brought down MH17. So it could be Russian Ukrainian, Georgian, or whatever.

  6. sotilaspassi // March 23, 2016 at 2:43 pm // Reply

    Do we have public timeline somewhere that has info of exact times when these materials became available:
    (that twitter “page” has estimated timeline of actual events, I think)

  7. sotilaspassi // March 30, 2016 at 9:22 am // Reply

    Little bit related old news item that again popped up.
    “DONETSK, July 17. /ITAR-TASS/. Militiamen of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) brought down a military transport Antonov-26 (An-26) plane of the Ukrainian Air Force on the outskirts of the town of Torez, eyewitnesses said.
    A missile hit the An-26, it fell on the ground and caught blaze, they said.”

    More people to interview, there somewhere, perhaps.

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