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March 24, 2020

Storming the sauna: a ceasefire violation in the Donbas

By Digital Forensic Research Lab

The video stills were taken from а camera reportedly under the control of Ukrainian forces that had been set up to observe the point itself and the surrounding area. On February 27, Telegram user Andriy Tsaplienko posted a video from the same camera, also recorded on February 18, showing as many as 13 armed soldiers approaching the point, opening fire on the point directly before capturing it, and subsequently firing outward at Ukrainian positions retreating from it. There are also several explosions throughout the video hitting the immediate area.  Satellite imagery of the area from weeks prior to the incident was not clear enough to make out details on the ground, but the aerial image appears to show scorched earth, numerous craters, and scattered earth consistent with an explosion — all of which were indicators that Banya was an active military position.

Ceasefire violations along the line of contact are regularly reported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) through the organization’s daily updates; however, video footage of artillery fire or destruction to property can offer a more detailed look at how these cases unfolded on the ground. This case was unique, as there was clear video evidence of Russian-backed separatist forces advancing on a position with the presumed intention of securing a territorial capture.

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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.