(Click here to watch and listen to the video version of this blog entry)
For the past week and a half, since the Ukrainian-Russian war started, I have been busy, just like many others in the OSINT industry, geolocating anything that I can find regarding the conflict.
I will be sharing how to do quick and efficient geolocations using only open source tools, freely available to anyone (unless you live in North Korea, things are probably quite limited there).
As this blog entry refers to military movements of an ongoing war, I want to make clear that I have waited over a week to post this geolocation walkthrough. By now the flying jets have left the area a long time ago and my article will not affect the outcome of their encounter at all.
The video that I will be geolocating was shared on Twitter on the 26th February, 2022. The tweet has been archived.
First thing we do is check out the caption, comments or replies. Quite often they will have some useful information regarding the location, usually the name of the town or city. In this case we can quickly read that this was recorded in Vasylkiv, a city in Kyiv Oblast, central Ukraine.
Now that we know the general area it is time to look for something more specific.
When viewing a video with access to the play and pause button I tend to just hold the bar and move it back and forth to get a good view of the nearby landmarks that could help me geolocate an area. These can be interesting buildings, statues/sculptures, names of shops, train tracks, mountains, etc.
In this case what got my attention was the huge red sign with letters. Unfortunately I do not read Ukrainian and I have an English keyboard. So how can we translate text from an image? On google translate there is a keyboard input option. First you select the language you want, in this case Ukrainian, then you click the little arrow to choose the type of input and select the small keyboard. Now you can type using the Cyrillic alphabet!
I can spare you the details and just tell you that the sign simply says “оренда” which translates to “rent”. Not super useful in this situation.
I then went to the next best thing, what looks like the name of a shop on a big green banner.
I took a screenshot of the name of the shop and zoomed in enough to be able to (attempt) to read it.
I wrote what I could see on google translate using the Ukrainian keyboard as seen above. Iam fairly sure it says “здорова їжа”, which translates to “healthy food”.
I also translated the name of the town from Vasylkiv to the Ukrainian name “Васильків”. When putting them both together “Васильків здорова їжа” and search on google maps we immediately get a result.
Time to drop our yellow person nearby and check out the area.
Unfortunately the google streetview images were captured almost 7 years ago, in May 2015, so they might be very out of date.
When comparing the images from 2015 and our video from 2022 there are definitely plenty of similarities.
But I have another trick up my sleeve! Most businesses with images on google maps will have a photo of the front of their shop amongst many others of their product. So let’s go back out of google streetview to the list of shops that we just saw before and click on the big photo on the left.
Once you do that, on the screen you will be able to navigate the photo gallery of the business either using the scroll on the left or the arrows underneath the image.
So let’s just click away and see what we can find. I was quite lucky and on the second image I spotted this:
Comparing the zoomed in image from the video with the one I just found.
It seems to be a match!
So let’s check the features of the building and confirm everything. Below, on the left we have a screenshot from the video with the dogfight between Russian and Ukrainian jets over Vasylkiv. On the right we have a screenshot from google streetview from 2015. We can see how, starting from the left, the brown building matches, with one window and a door, a brown colour and a reddish tone banner at the top. The same can be observed on the right image. Then we see a stone wall between that brown building and the next one where the “healthy food” shop is now located. On the other side of the green/yellow building we can see another stone wall, this time a bit brown, or at least much dirtier. Finally there’s a clear match on the stone “fence” on the right, just before the entrance to the woody residential area.
And that is it, if you right click on the location on google maps you’ll see that the coordinates are “50.21156, 30.317412”. Once I discovered the exact location I added it to the Centre for Information Resilience‘s database and, once it had been reviewed, it got added to the “Russian Ukraine Monitor” map (which has since been moved to EyesOnRussia.org).
That is it. Anyone can geolocate images and videos similar to this one with very basic tools. In this case I literally just used google translate and google maps in order to find the exact location of where the video was recorded.
Feel free to stick around, I plan on keeping on posting tutorials such as this one on how I am geolocating data from the Ukraine – Russia war.
Thank you for reading!