A Bird, A Plane, A Russian Helicopter Over Ukraine?

Looking into a recent sighting of a KA-52 in the Kherson Oblast

(Source: FacebookArchive)

On September 5, a Ukrainian man named Viktor Vishivetsky shared a video on Facebook showing a helicopter flying over what appears to be a village. Vishivetsky also published three photographs of the situation. Within a week, a Ukrainian military news site managed to identify this helicopter and geolocate the video — a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter flying over the Ukrainian village of Pavlivka, in the Kherson Oblast.

If, in fact, the helicopter belonged to the Russia Federation, it would be in direct violation of the Minsk accords. We investigated.

(Source: Facebook / Archive)
(Source: Facebook / Archive)
(Source: Facebook / Archive)
(Source: Facebook / Archive)

What type of helicopter?

The helicopter’s model is difficult to discern from the video and photographs alone, but Ukrainians quickly identified it as the Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator” (NATO reporting name Hokum-B) — a Russian attack helicopter manufactured after the fall of the Soviet Union, and never exported to Ukraine.

A composite image showing the helicopter in the video and photographs over time shows that it has coaxial rotors, matching the Ka-52.

Composite image of the helicopter over a Ukrainian village. (Source: Facebook / Archive)

While Ukraine also has helicopters with coaxial rotors in its service — the Ka-27 and Ka-29 — they are significantly different in appearance than the helicopter seen in the recent video.

Ukrainian Ka-27 helicopter (Source: DefenseImagery.mil)
Ukrainian Ka-29 helicopter (Source: Igor Bubin)

It is difficult to make a definite identification of this helicopter, but it is quite likely a Ka-52, which notably does not match any helicopter in the Ukrainian arsenal.

Video geolocation

The “Ukrainian Military Portal” site managed to geolocate this video, finding the exact location it was filmed in Pavlivka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine, near the border with Crimea. To be exact, Ukrainian Military Portal established that the video was filmed at coordinates 46.295256, 33.791196. The website published the following three maps showing their geolocation, alongside the video and photographs published by Vishivetsky.

How accurate are these geolocations, and what can the confirmed location tell us about this helicopter?

One of the clearest landmarks in the video is a house seen at the very end of the video, with a few distinct details on the roof.

Details on a roof, from the Facebook video and satellite imagery (Sources: Archive, Google Earth)

At the beginning of the video, we see a series of white fences, with two small gaps directly in front of the camera — matching up to the same location near the house seen at the end of the clip.

Detail of a series of white fences next to the house seen at the end of the clip, with two noticeable gaps directly in front of the camera. Top image from satellite imagery by Google Earth, bottom from Facebook video (Sources: Google Earth and Archive)

The two details help us verify the images are, indeed, the same locations identified by Ukrainian Military Portal; however, confirmation of the actual geolocation alongside the additional analysis of the photographs also found on Vishivetsky’s Facebook profile.

Satellite map from Google Earth showing the path of the helicopter and location of filming in Vishivetsky’s Facebook video. (Source: Google Earth)
Satellite imagery showing the location of the video (in Pavlivka, seen in yellow box) in relation to the disputed Crimea border (red). (Source: Google Earth)
Satellite imagery showing the location of the video in relation to the disputed Crimea border (red). (Source: Google Earth)

Whose helicopter?

Unless Ukraine has suddenly acquired a new type of helicopter with coaxial rotors, it is safe to say that the helicopter flying over Pavlivka was Russian, most likely a Ka-52 (or Ka-50).

One of the most interesting details of the video is the direction of the helicopter — it was headed south, towards Crimea. There is no additional open source information uncovered indicating why the helicopter was in Ukrainian air space, or where it came from before it was filmed. The most likely destination for this helicopter is Dzhankoi, Crimea, where Russia operates a military base with a number of helicopters. This base is southeast of Pavlivka, matching the direction of the filmed helicopter.

Dzhankoi, at coordinates 45.7076657,34.4257241 (Source: Google Maps)
Satellite imagery showing the location of the video in relation to the disputed Crimea border (red) and Russian base in Dzhankoi (red icon). (Source: Google Maps)

Conclusion

A Russian helicopter in Ukrainian airspace is another instance of Russian disregard for Ukrainian borders. In 2014, Russia conducted hundreds of devastating artillery attacks against Ukrainian positions, with firing positions in both Russia and Ukraine. Now, three years later, a verified video of a Russian helicopter in Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast marks another instance of Russian military incursion within Ukrainian borders. While this helicopter flight may not be a significant escalation in the three-year-long conflict, it is demonstrative of the larger attitude Russia has taken towards the sovereignty of Ukraine’s borders, in direct violation of the Minsk accords.


Follow the latest Minsk II violations via the @DFRLab’s #MinskMonitor.

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