Bellingcat, the online investigation site whose members all but confirmed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was taken down by pro-Russian separatists, is now tracking Russian military vehicles as they move through Ukraine.
Site founder Eliot Higgins, aka blogger “Brown Moses”, says Bellingcat wanted to do “something slightly different” from its usual fare of identifying weapons, geolocating war criminals and scouring Google Earth for conflict flashpoints.
So they built the Bellingcat Ukraine Conflict Vehicle Tracking Project, asking social media investigators to help form a better picture of exactly who’s running the show in Ukraine.
“We do not want to simply report a list of cases when we think Russian vehicles have crossed the border to Ukraine,” Moses said.
“Our hope is to build a large data set that can be mined to make entirely new discoveries.
“Some sightings of vehicles may not be so interesting on their own, but in a sequence raise new questions.”
Here’s a good example of what Moses and his team are looking for. This group of vehicles was seen travelling towards Russia’s Donetsk on June 21. Similar vehicles were seen travelling through Ukraine’s Krasnodon later on the same day:
By building up a database of sightings, Bellingcat hopes to be able to show these are the same vehicles before and after crossing the border between the two countries.
Here, just east of Donetsk, Pantsir-S1 sightings were reported in late January:
The Pantsir-S1, according to Bellingcat, is a weapon system used only by Russia. There were also several social media reports of Pantsir-S1 sightings near the Ukranian border not long before this.
The data so far is pretty sparse, launched on an initial data set built off research of military movements in the last Ukraine summer around the time MH17 was downed.
And Bellingcat’s new tool has already made one breakthrough. This picture of a Kamaz truck’s trailer in Boguchar was noted on social media and linked to transporting tanks to the Ukranian border in July:
By cross-referencing the license plate to other trailers in the data set, Bellingcat found it was the very same trailer which a month earlier transported the Buk TELAR unit is linked to the downing of MH17.
“(We) want to provide the active community of social media investigators a platform to do their own research, as well as allow the community to contribute to the data set with their findings through Checkdesk,” Moses said.
You can check out -and join – the Bellingcat Ukraine Conflict Vehicle Tracking Project here.
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