Amateur images show Russian military convoys heading to Donbas
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Large convoys of military equipment have been filmed in Russia and Belarus in recent days. Amateur videos analysed and verified by the FRANCE 24 Observers team show that some of these military reinforcements are heading for the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, towards the pro-Russian self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Moscow announced on March 30 that it would concentrate its military efforts in the region.
Columns of armoured vehicles and military trucks stretch on for more than a kilometre, marked with a white letter "V". Dozens of men in military fatigues sit on top of them, some wearing white armbands – a distinctive indicator often worn by Russian soldiers operating in Ukraine.
This video, posted on Twitter on April 11, was geolocated by @karolgoal to Matveev Kurgan in the Rostov region of Russia. On Google Street View, the intersection where this video begins can be seen, along with the blue sign of a petrol station visible at the end of the video. It is therefore possible to determine that the convoy is heading north, in the direction of the Ukrainian border. The video was filmed 25 kilometres from the Donbas.
At the end of March, Russia vowed to reduce its military activity around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in order to "focus core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas", according to Russian defence officials. Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said on April 12 that he expected a major offensive in the region: "According to our information, the enemy has almost completed its preparations for an assault on the east. The attack will take place very soon."
For several days, videos shared online have shown military reinforcements in Russia's border regions. The video below, posted on the Russian social network VKontakte on April 12, shows armoured vehicles in Zheleznogorsk in the Kursk region. We pinpointed the video to the north of the city. On Google Street View, we can match up the grey nine-storey buildings, tall trees and a red supermarket, visible at 0:16 of the video. Ukraine is 90 kilometres away.
Sometimes the convoys were warmly welcomed by the Russian population, with residents gathering with flags to show support for the military operation. In another video posted on VKontakte on April 12, residents try to stop vehicles in a military convoy to offer donations to the soldiers.
The video was filmed near the village of Zmiyovka in the Orel region of Russia. In the video, a green fence can be seen at 0:03 in front of a small red brick building. On Google Street View, the same fence and the same building are visible on the right side of road 119, just before the village of Zmiyovka. We can thus conclude that the convoy was heading south towards the Donbas.
Troop movements visible in satellite images
Satellite images from April 11 published by Maxar show a buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. They were geolocated by @Noobieshunta_ on Twitter in Soloti in the Belgorod region. If you flip the image you can match up the shape of the Oskil River, as well as small dirt roads curving through fields, with Google Maps imagery. The images are 50 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.
Another convoy was captured on the same day in Maxar satellite images inside Ukraine, near Bilokurakyne in the Luhansk region, en route to the self-proclaimed republics to the south of the region. The convoy was coming from the north near the Russian border. These images were geolocated by the British NGO Centre for Information Resilience. On Google Maps one can recognise the small road that leads to the square building with the green roof (which appears grey on Google Maps) and the three long rectangular buildings arranged in a staggered pattern.
Troop movements also detected in Belarus
Other military convoys have been documented moving through Belarus. Although Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly stated that his army is not involved in the war in Ukraine, his country does serve as a support base for Russia. At the beginning of the invasion on February 24, some Russian troops entered Ukraine from Belarus.
A video posted on TikTok by a resident of Orsha in eastern Belarus on April 11 showed military vehicles on a train near the station in his town. The video shows a red and white building just 200 metres from the Orsha train station, as seen on Google Street View. The convoy appeared to be heading southwest.
According to the Belarusian opposition website Motolkohelp, which documents daily troop movements in Belarus, the convoys are mainly concentrated southeast of Homel, about 50 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Since the beginning of April, the Centre for Information Resilience has verified and analysed a dozen videos showing movements of military equipment in and around Homel.
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The above video was geolocated by @RedIntelPanda on Twitter to be near Retchytsa in southeastern Belarus. In the video there is a sign indicating "Ivanovka" 1 kilometre to the left and "Yampol" 4 kilometres to the right, indicating the position of the convoy, which appears to be advancing eastward towards Homel.