Two Mariupol Geolocations in One – Kadyrov’s men are back

(Click here to watch and listen to the video version of this blog entry)

Introduction

My previous blog entry was a geolocation of a group of pro-Russian Chechen’s engaged in a ground battle in Mariupol, Ukraine. It seems that they either have been busy or enjoyed the overall attention they are getting because suddenly there were other videos of them online; which is great because the more data we get, the more likely it will be that they will post something they shouldn’t and be held responsible for it.
The video that I chose to cover on this blog entry is interesting because it spans across two different locations (both geolocatable) so this time we got a two-for-one deal!


The Video

A few days ago I came across a video in which it is visible a group of Kadyrov’s men in a residential area shooting at something, likely filmed on the 24th March 2022. The footage was recorded by the pro-Russian Chechen group themselves and provides a good view of the area. It starts with them taking cover in a structure already quite damaged, surrounded by big residential buildings and then panning around giving us a good panoramic view of their location. The video, which is almost 2 minutes long, cuts at the 1:35 min mark to show a long road ahead, very different from the initial view.
Feel free to watch it to get an idea of what we will be geolocating. You can also try to pick up any details and see if you would follow the same path I did in order to geolocate the men.

Fig: Screenshot of the video, found on a Telegram channel.


Where to start

Although most of the video covers a first location where this battalion is seen in active combat, even providing us with a full 360º panoramic view (how thoughtful of them), the second part immediately caught my eye. I spotted a landmark that would help me narrow this down fairly quickly, a mountain (hill?) in the distance. Unless you’re in the middle of a very mountainous country such as Switzerland, these sorts of features are great to figure out the general area and orientation of the footage.
In order to make it less confusing (I hope) I have decided to name them based on their order in the video. For that reason the first one will be named geolocation 2 (from 1:34 to 1:58 min) and the one afterwards will be referred to as geolocation 1 (from 0:00 to 1:33 min).


Geolocation 2

This section of the video starts at the 1:34 minute mark and ends with the video. Below you can see the mountain (hill perhaps?) that caught my eye.

Fig. Screenshot at the 1:52 min mark. Hill / mountain highlighted in red.

Geolocation of the footage

We already know that this video was recorded in Mariupol, Ukraine, so if we go to that region of the globe using Google Earth Pro you will quickly spot the only high elevation area fairly quickly.

Fig. Image from Google Earth Pro showing Mariupol. Highlighted in yellow the hill / mountain.

We know that at the time of the recording of the second part of the video (geolocation 2), the fighters could see the mountain in the distance. I also know that recently I have geolocated a Chechen group on the coast so I will start my search in that area as there is some chance they might still be in the same region.

Fig. Highlighted in fuchsia is the area where I found the pro-Kremlin Chechen men last time.

Google Earth Pro has this amazing feature of elevating the ground (and monuments, towers, etc) which is very useful at the moment.
We can see below the view of the mountain from the area I marked above.

Fig. High elevation area of Mariupol showed on Google Earth Pro.

The mountain shape is useful but we need more details to help triangulate the footage. I have selected 3 features from the frame below. The mountain (dark yellow), the monument on the left (dark green) and the direction of the road ahead (blue).

Fig. Frame from the footage at the 1:52 min mark. Highlight the relevant landmarks.

We know that the sea will be on our left facing South so this road is facing West and the military vehicle is driving from East, in our direction.

Manoeuvring the map a bit on Google Earth Pro you’ll quickly spot this area.
We are now facing the mountain in a way that the shape visible above is similar to the one we see now, there is a monument on the left marked with a tower symbol, and we have a road facing East-West.

Fig. Google Earth Pro view of the area of interest.

Verifying geolocation 2

Now that we have a good guess of our location we need to find a way to confirm our findings.
In the image above you might have noticed the little icons around the map. They are photos geolocated and submitted to Google Earth Pro (sometimes also visible on Google Maps) by users. Luckily for us we can spot one of these icons by that monument. We can click on it and see if the photo of the monument matches the one we saw on the frame above.

Fig. Selected icon shows the image associated with it on Google Earth Pro.

It does! We can watch them side by side below. On the left, a photo of the monument taken with the coast on the photographer’s back, and on the right, a screenshot of the video we are geolocating.


Street confirmation

The information above is already enough to confirm the location but I like to go a step further whenever possible to leave no margin of doubt. Ideally we would check streetview but there’s is no google streetview available. That is where Yandex comes in handy!


If you haven’t heard of Yandex before, allow me to give you some basic details. Yandex is a search engine, just like Google, but developed by a Russian coorporation. If you haven’t been using Yandex for image reverse search you are missing out. They are the best at that task by far. They also have a great coverage in terms of street view, especially in areas near Russia (makes sense). Whenever I struggle to find google streetview imagery of Ukrainian locations on google maps I just switch to yandex maps and, most of the time, I find what I’m looking for. This is one of these times.

According to Yandex maps, as seen below, they have street view images available of the road and around the monument. Perfect!

Fig. Screenshot of the area on Yandex Maps. Visible the available streetview.

Jumping into the road on yandex maps we get this view:

Fig. Yandex streetview of the area of interest.

It’s very similar to the frame from the footage so let’s compare them below. At the top, a screenshot of the Yandex streetview of the area, and at the bottom a frame of the video we are attempting to geolocate.
Starting from the left we see, highlighted in green, the monument we had visualised below in a photo on Google Earth Pro. Next to it we have the road separations in blue and behind the military vehicle in the first image we can see the zebra crossing. On the right we can also match the streetlight that has been partially painted in white, similarly to the trees.

We can confidently claim that the person recording the footage on the second part of the video (geolocation 2) was on the following coordinates:
47.0980, 37.6415


Geolocation 1

Now that we have finished geolocating the “easy” part of the video, let’s try to find out where Kadyrov’s men were on the first part of the video.
It is quite likely that they are not too far from our previous location so let’s just look around a bit and try to match the satellite view with some of the landmarks visible on the video.
On the frame below we can observe the mountain/hill still in the distance, and because we have geolocated the other part of the video, we know that the road (highlighted in blue) should be in the direction marked below. Another interesting thing is that the building is not parallel to the road as I have seen the majority of them in the satellite view before. This will (hopefully) help me narrow it down quickly.

Fig. Pro-Russian Chechen video at the 1:16 minute mark. Highlighted landmarks of interest.

Using Google Earth Pro again this is what we see below. Our pin marks the previous geolocation (2), in light blue is the road, and in fuchsia we see buildings in a direction similar to the ones from the video.

Fig. Google Earth Pro image showing geolocation 2 pin and highlighted the area of interest.

You might have noticed above that there are not that many icons near our area of interest with photos submitted to Google Earth Pro by users; we only need one to be useful and sometimes I’m lucky so let’s give it a go.
In the photo below I spotted something quite interesting.

Fig. Image associated with the highlighted icon on Google Earth Pro.

Let’s open up and zoom in on the feature that caught my attention. I have highlighted it in red below.

Fig. Image from Google Earth Pro. Highlighted in red the area of interest.

If you watched the video you might have noticed the intriguing frame below. At the time the structure caught my attention because it stood out so much. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at but my first guess was that it was part of a small playground. After looking at so many (bombed) residential areas in Ukraine I have noticed that places with tall apartment buildings tend to have a small playground at the bottom, usually in the grassy / woody area in a centralised location. They are notoriously hard to geolocate because there are often not that many photos of them and never streetview available.

Fig. Chechen video at the 1:12 minute mark. Highlighted the peculiar frame.

The two images above give us a good comparison platform so let’s attempt to verify our geolocation guess.


Verifying Geolocation 1

Looking at both the images below this is what you’ll see.
Highlighted in green we see the structure that caught my eye. In dark blue, above the door, we see a long rectangular window, next to it on the right in light blue, we can count 3 sets of windows between the door and the end of the building. Then on the other side we can observe a window with a white frame across the middle. There are a few other similarities that I have not marked but these are already more than enough to get a confirmation.

We also know that the Chechen men were taking cover in some sort of small structure in between the buildings. The presence of such a building can also be confirmed by the satellite image on Google Earth Pro below.
With the pin I marked where the men were when the recording started, in green where the metal frame we saw in the pictures above, and in fuchsia the shape of the building they had in front of them.

Fig. Screenshot of the area in Google Earth Pro.

With all of these confirmations we have verified our geolocation 1 with the coordinates:
47.0979, 37.6492


Distance between points

Now that we have two geolocation points we can quickly calculate the distance between them using Google Maps. For that I used the coordinates for the geolocation 2 point, right clicked it and selected “measure distance”. Then I selected the second point (geolocation 1) and google quickly tells me it is about half a kilometre between them.

Fig. Google Maps view showing the distance between points (geolocation 2 and geolocation 1).

Direction of travel

If we were to assume that the first part of the video was filmed first, and the second part was filmed afterwards, we would have to conclude that the Chechen men were moving West, towards the centre of Mariupol
But would that be true? Were they even filmed on the same day?
For that we can analyse the shadows on the ground. In the first part of the video we even see the sun peeking through the high rise building and in the second part of the video, even though we can’t see the sun, we can see that it’s casting shadow on the trees near the road.

We could analyse this video a lot more but at this point I fear this is already a very long post and shadow analysis is definitely material for another day.

I hope you enjoyed this 2-for-1 geolocation.
Thank you for reading!

~Sofia.

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