On April 8, Voice of America reporter Fatima Tlis shared a video online claiming to show “Russian tanks passing into Ukraine” in the Rostov Oblast. She did not name the location of the video, but made it clear that the village was near the Russia-Ukraine border and it was recently filmed. This video showed a number of Russian BMP-3s, a Soviet-era infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), parked along a dirt path.
Soon after tweeting out this video, Tlis sent out the location: the village of Petrovka, near the border.
The video was first geolocated by Twitter user @obretix to a Petrovka village in the Rostov Oblast, verifying the information from Tlis.
By matching up the roofs visible in the video and on satellite imagery, we verified the geolocation, which placed the video at this village, facing south.
Even though the original tweet claimed the video showed “tanks passing into #Ukraine”, this is far from the truth — the video was taken almost 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
In fact, the video is far closer to the Kuzminka Firing Ground — Russia’s largest military staging area near the Ukrainian border.
Earlier video of BMP-3 convoy
This was not the first video filmed in the area in the past week. On April 2, a video was shared onto the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) showing a military convoy that included BMP-3s — the same vehicle in the recent video in Petrovka — in the Rostov Oblast.
At the end of the video, we see a road sign for the town of Bolshoy Dolzhik (Большой Должик).
This gave us an easy geolocation — the video was filmed heading south into this small town, with a tree line on the left (east) of the camera, and a field to the right (west).
With this April 2 video and the new April 8 video taken in tandem, and assuming the BMP-3s are the same, we see that the two were filmed quite close to each other. Furthermore, we can suppose that there is a trajectory to the military convoy’s movement— the largest Russian staging area near the Ukrainian border, the Kuzminka Firing Ground.
The April 8 video showing Russian BMP-3s sent many into a panic, expecting an escalation in Russian activity in the Donbas with the ongoing Easter Ceasefire. However, geolocation proved itself to be our most powerful tool in this case. By geolocating this video, we see that it is not on the border, and tanks were not actually entering Ukraine. In fact, coupled with another recent video of BMP-3s in the Rostov Oblast, we can see that the convoy was most likely headed the same place that the vast majority of military equipment in this area goes — the Kuzminka Firing Ground. However, Kuzminka is not always the final stop for Russian military equipment, as we have seen massive incursions into Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 from this area.
We will continue to watch military movements at and near the Ukrainian border, with an eye focused on the Kuzminka staging ground.