(Click here to watch and listen to the video version of this blog entry)
What happens when you have to geolocate a photo or a video and there’s no available google street view or panoramic images to help you out?
Sometimes you will have to find the coordinates of locations so remote that there are no available imagery to help you navigate. For that we need to resort to using satellite imagery.
There are a decent number of satellites orbiting Earth, taking snapshots of our planet every few days and collating them all for open source access and analysis. They provide an endless supply of data and are definitely worth learning how to take advantage of their massive collection. But sometimes you don’t even need recent satellite images, old ones would suffice assuming that the landscape hasn’t changed that much. And that is what we will be using today.
Last week I came across a post on telegram that contained 2 images and a very small video of just 19 seconds. The data showed a partially destroyed Tochka missile. The caption mentioned the name of the village and the region in Ukraine where the missile ended up.
Below are the two photos:
The video, found on a link above, is quite short and it is just a person walking towards the missile. Below are the screenshots of the first and last frame of the video.
The Ukrainian caption, visible on the frames of the video, says:
“#Чернігівщина: ось таку ракету збила сьогодні наша ППО у селі Деснянка” which translates to “Chernihiv region: such a missile was shot down today by our air defense in the village of Desnyanka“.
That is all we are given.
First thing we need to do is analyse the image as much as possible. I know it’s easy to just look at it and say “there’s a dirt road, fence, trees and some houses. Every village has the same thing and without something else there is nothing we can do”. You are wrong.
Let’s put our Sherlock Holmes hat on and really look at the image. Every single detail matters. Some will be useful to find the place, some will be useful to get our confirmation. None of it is useless.
Starting from the left we see a white fence that at some point turns darker. This is possibly a gate. The fence then resumes and keeps going, stopping 2/3 of the length of the white house. The left residence has a prism shaped dark roof. No windows or door are visible from this angle. Across from this house there is an emerald coloured building, also possibly a residence, with a similar roof and fence around it. In between them we see a pole. It is not clear on which side of the road the pole is located. Behind the emerald coloured house there are only trees.
On the right side of the image we see dry vegetation, hard to guess the width of this area but it is either the same width as the dirt road or slightly wider. At some point a wooden rickety fence starts with 2 trees on the other side of it. A bit ahead, before the road, we see another big pole. Across the street there is another fence, likely also made of wood. Behind the fence we see another building with a dark roof, smaller in height than the emerald one.
Right in the middle there is a crossroads separating all three buildings we just analysed.
I can tell you now that there is no google street view or any panoramic images anywhere in this small village. You knew that already of course, it’s in the introduction I wrote.
So let’s get our new best friend, Google Earth Pro. This tool is a must have to any OSINT analyst and is free to download to any operating system (yes, even Linux).
If you don’t want to download it you can also use the web version although with some limitations.
First let’s navigate to this little village in Ukraine called Desnyanka.
For that just open Google Earth Pro and write the name of the place on the search bar. Quick and easy.
And this is our town. Not a huge city with lots of buildings and roads but certainly not so tiny that it would be fast and easy to find the location of the lost missile.
So if we think back on the analysis of the images and videos that we did a few minutes ago, what could be seen from this aerial view that could help us out?
The answer is usually interesting buildings, odd coloured roofs or road shapes. In this case the buildings are not interesting, the roofs are just dark/black so let’s focus on the road shape.
You might remember that I mentioned it was a crossroads. Let’s check it out one more time before proceeding.
Now let’s check out below how many crossroads there are in Desnyanka.
Three. That is it. There are literally only 3 crossroads in Desnyanka. Not looking too hard now is it?
Time to zoom in on all of them and look for our buildings. We know that there will be houses in 3 of the 4 corners of the crossroads. We also know the roof shapes of 2 of those buildings and we know there are (at least) two wooden poles near the crossroads. With a bit of luck we might even spot the fences.
Let’s start with the first one on our list below.
It’s definitely a no. The houses are only on 2 of the sides of the crossroads and they are too far from the centre of it. This is not where the missile is. Next!
Now onto crossroads number 2.
On the top right of the crossroads we can see a huge fence separating the road from the property. We know that our target area has vegetation on both sides of the road before getting to the fences on each side. I also don’t see any poles. This is also not our location. Next!
And now our final guess, crossroads number three. At first glance I can immediately see this is the correct location. Let’s compare every single detail below to see how I got to this conclusion.
First thing I will do is use Google Earth Pro’s option to rotate the image so it is faced the same way as when the video was recorded. It makes it easier to compare and less confusing when trying to picture it all in our heads. The red arrow below points in the direction of the footage.
We can observe below how the crossroad is not completely straight, making a bit of a curve just before the centre. I have slightly exaggerated the dip, in yellow, to better visualise what I mean.
The left fence
On the left we see the image from the video showing the white fence (in green), then a darker gate (in purple), then the white fence resumes. On the right we can also see a lighter coloured fence, a darker break in that fence and then it being resumed.
The left house
This house has a prism shaped roof (in orange). It is also visible how the house keeps going even after the end of the white fence (in purple).
This might be a harder one to spot but it’s also there. Just before the left house starts, behind the white fence, there’s a tree. This tree is also seen on the aerial view, mainly because it was full of leaves when the satellite took a snapshot of the area.
The left pole
We could see how there was a pole between the white and the emerald house on the left. At first I couldn’t quite see which side of the road it was. Now, looking at the aerial view, it is much clearer. It is on neither side, it’s kinda in the middle of the road. Why? Beats me. I’m not a town planner.
The emerald house
We won’t be able to see the colour of the building from a satellite view but we can still see the shape and colour of the roof, and the location in relation to the road and the white house.
On the right side of the frame, where the missile is located, we see that there is a decent amount of space with vegetation in between the dirt road and the fence. Below you can observe it as well.
The other pole
On the right side of the image we can see another big wooden pole on this side of the road. Below we can see how it is also present in the aerial view.
The other building
On the right side of the image, across from the street, we could see a building with a much lower roof than the other houses. It’s hard to see some detail on it due to the tree branches in front, but we can still see something is there.
Now that we have established the location, we can make a good guess of the coordinates of the Tochka missile. I would say that it was (or still is) located around the area marked below.
And that is how I geolocated a Tochka missile in rural Ukraine using only one OSINT tool. Once I submitted my coordinates (51.567169, 31.214896), and they got reviewed and approved, they were added to the Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map on MapHub as seen below. The map has now been moved to EyesOnRussia.org
Some geolocations are not as hard as they first seem and some look extremely easy until you realise that they are not. Either way, it’s always worth giving it a shot. You might surprise yourself.
I hope you enjoyed my journey and I hope it was a useful learning tool. You don’t need many fancy tools, you just need a good eye and lots of focus. Almost anything is geolocatable given enough time (don’t quote me on this).
Thank you for reading!