Conflict Disinformation OSCE Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Ukraine
Article February 18, 2020

Early-morning flare-up in Luhansk

By Michael J. Sheldon

Following an exchange of artillery fire near the Zolote disengagement area in the early morning hours of February 18, the DFRLab found satellite imagery showing the extent of its aftermath. The DFRLab also verified a video showing auto-cannon fire landing in a civilian area as having originated from the Ukrainian side.

Using the direction of tracer fire, researchers determined that it is highly likely that the fire from Ukrainian positions was directed at a mortar emplacement just south of Donetskyi. The distance of the suspected mortar position from the nearest northern Ukrainian position is about 3,500 meters, which would be at the edge of the effective range for a BMP-2 of 4,000 meters. This may explain why the impacts were so much louder than the outgoing shots in the video and also the distinct lack of accuracy, with some shell impacts visible near civilian housing.

Exchanges of fire at this scale are highly unusual at this stage of the conflict, which has stalled over the past few years. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the February 18 exchange means in terms of the larger conflict.

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The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) has operationalized the study of disinformation by exposing falsehoods and fake news, documenting human rights abuses, and building digital resilience worldwide.