The Bellingcat team of investigative journalists has identified Russian officers and militants as perpetrators of an artillery strike on the Ukrainian-controlled strategic port city of Mariupol in January 2015.
"The Bellingcat Investigation Team has determined conclusively that the artillery attack on the Ukrainian town of Mariupol on 24 January 2015, which resulted at least 30 civilian deaths and over 100 injuries, came from Russia-controlled territory," the team reported on 7 May. Bellingcat also established that the shelling was instructed, directed and supervised by Russian military commanders in active service with the Russian Defence Ministry. Bellingcat identified nine Russian officers, including one general, two colonels, and three lieutenant colonels, involved directly with the military operation.
Furthermore, Bellingcat established that two artillery batteries of multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) were transported from Russia into Ukraine the day before the Mariupol operation.
"On the early morning of 24 January 2015, these batteries were deployed near the village of Bezimenne exclusively for the shelling of targets in and around Mariupol, after which they were repatriated back into Russia," it said.
Having analysed the events on the eve of and on 24 January 2015, Bellingcat also identified two Russian generals involved with the selection and assignment of Russian artillery specialists to commanding roles in eastern Ukraine.
"This investigation was made possible due to access to raw video and audio data that is being submitted by the Ukrainian government to the International Court of Justice as part of an ongoing legal case. This data was made available to a small group of international investigative media for the purposes of independent assessment," it said.
Bellingcat and its media partners analysed a large volume of intercepted calls from and to participants in the armed conflict located in the area of Bezimenne at the time of shelling. Bellingcat conducted detailed cross-referencing of events, names and locations, as well as metadata from the calls, to open source data, including satellite photography data, social media posts, and voice samples from public statements of some of the identified persons. A detailed analysis permitted the identification of persons and military units, and the reconstruction of events leading up to the shelling of residential areas in Mariupol.
"While previous reports, including the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine report from 24 January 2015, have identified that shelling of Mariupol's residential areas came from separatist-controlled territory, Bellingcat's investigation is the first to fully detail and identify the role of active Russian military units, as well as the direct commanding role of active Russian army officers in this military operation," it said.
"The Russian officers who were in charge on high and lower levels of the MLRS batteries on the day of the shelling at Mariupol, or provided target instructions from another location in Eastern Ukraine, have been identified by Bellingcat as: Maj-Gen Stepan Stepanovich Yaroshchuk, Alexander Iozhefovich Tsapliuk (call sign 'Gorets'), Alexander Anatolevich Muratov, Maksim Vladimirovich Vlasov (call sign 'Yugra'), Sergey Sergeyevich Yurchenko (call sign 'Voronezh'), Alexander Valeryevich Grunchev (call sign 'Terek'), Col Oleg Leargievich Kuvshinov, Maj-Gen Dmitry Nikolaevich Klimenko, Col Sergey Ivanovich Lisai, Alexander Mikhailovich Evtody (call sign 'Pepel'), Grayr Manukovich Egiazaryan (call sign 'Shram')," it said.
Bellingcat announced the publication of a full report identifying the nine Russian officers involved with the military operation that led to the deaths of 30 Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol later this week.