Kamov K-52 attack helicopter operated by the Russian army. Illustrative image. Source: Youtube
On 5 September, Facebook user Viktor Vyshnivetskyi shared three photographs and a video of a military helicopter flying over a village:
Ukrainian social-network users have quickly identified the helicopter on video and photos as the Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator” Hokum-B. Russian two-seat attack helicopter Ka-52 was manufactured after the fall of the USSR and never exported to Ukraine. It has a typical look different from other Soviet and post-Soviet helicopters:
The only similar helicopter model is its one-seat predecessor Ka-50 “Black Shark” Hokum-A. However, only “about ten pieces” of Ka-50 had entered service with the Russian army, as of 2011 only 6 of them remained operational and were planned to be used for training. Meanwhile, Russia has more than 100 two-seat Ka-52 aircraft.
In comments to the original video, Mr.Vyshnivetskyi specified that the incident occurred in the village of Pavlivka, Chaplynka Raion, Kherson Oblast. The village is located 10 kilometers away from the Russian-controlled administrative border of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
The Ukrainian military portal website geolocated the video and images, finding the exact locations in Pavlivka.
The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab confirmed the accuracy of the geolocation by the Ukrainian Military Portal, showing the matching landmarks in the video and on the satellite imagery:
The helicopter moved from the north to the southeast:
The Facebook video had been published on 5 September, but it gained popularity on 11 September. It was the next day after former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili had crossed the Ukrainian border into western Lviv Oblast omitting border control. Many Ukrainian users mass reposted the video of the Russian helicopter over the Ukrainian territory on social networks, implying that the footage was recent. Combining this assumption with Saakashvili’s break-through, they concluded that Ukraine was helpless to control her borders.
Commenting on the time and the origin of the video, Mr.Vyshnivetskyi mentioned that the footage was filmed last summer. “My friend filmed it. The purpose of sharing it is to draw attention to our combat-ineffective air defense forces,” he stressed.
On 13 September, spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Forces Roman Yurchylo denied the information on Russian Ka-52 incursion. “According to the operations duty group of the Air Force, the information on crossing the border in Kherson Oblast by a Ka-52 helicopter hasn’t been confirmed,” he said.
On the same day, the Ukrainian military portal refuted the statement by Yurchylo. The site published the images and maps proving that the video and photos were taken in Pavlivka. “Thus, the command of the Air Forces relies upon the data served by operations duty group while ignoring the existing materials for revealing and fixing issues of how securing airspace is organized,” the text reads. “We are sure that the filming location was Pavlivka, Kherson Oblast, but the shooting probably could take place not in 2017,” assumes the author of the refutation.
Two days later, the head of the Chaplynka Raion Administration, Oleksandr Bureyko posted a comment on Facebook confirming the fact of the border violation. He specified that the accident occurred on 22 June 2017. Mr.Bureyko wrote:
“I won’t lie, this situation took place (the checked and confirmed fact) in the village of Pavlivka, Chaplynka Raion, Kherson Oblast in summer this year, June 22.
“The enemy helicopter came out of an arroyo on Crimean coast at the narrow segment of Syvash [lake] between the [Crimean] peninsula and mainland Ukraine.
“Why it wasn’t shot down, I don’t know. Did they [Ukrainian military] draw a conclusion from this? I’m sure. Back in 2014, AA-guns were shooting at Mi-24 [helicopters], this time they didn’t for some reason. I hope, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have drawn a conclusion from what has happened.”
Taking into account the comment by the Chaplynka Raion leader, the likely starting point of the intruder or a checkpoint on its route could be the Russian military stronghold on Lytovskyi peninsula built shortly after the occupation of Crimea.
The military facility is situated just around the corner of a little bay west of the cape of Lytovskyi peninsula. Lytovskyi creates the narrow segment of Syvash mentioned by Mr.Bureyko. Under “arroyo” he could mean the bay west of Lytovskyi.
In their investigation, the DFRLab team suggests, “The most likely destination for this helicopter is Dzhankoi, Crimea, where Russia operates a military base with a number of helicopters. This base is southeast of Pavlivka, matching the direction of the filmed helicopter.”
Other known incidents involving Russian helicopters
Russia considers Ukraine’s Crimea its own territory, that is why Ukrainian airspace in Crimea has been regularly violated since 2014.
Among several unconfirmed reports on Russian aircraft violations of Ukrainian borders in the Ukraine’s war-torn eastern region of the Donbas, there is at least one confirmed case.
Regular flights of Russian military and civil aircraft have been conducted over the occupied Crimea since the beginning of the invasion of Russian forces into Crimea in February 2014. Civil flights are established from Russian cities to Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea. Russia regularly conducts military drills in Crimea involving aviation.
First videos of the Russian Mil Mi-24 fleet invading Crimea were published on 28 February 2014. This footage shows the fleet flying over Rozdolne, northern Crimea:
This video shows Mi-24 fleet flying over the village of Pischane on the western coast of Crimea, the description of the video explains that the helicopters went south, heading Sevastopol from Evpatoriya direction:
Read also: Russian Helicopters Attempted to Cross Border Between Crimea and Kherson Oblast (May 2014); Russian Military Helicopter Violates Ukrainian Airspace (May 2014)
This video shows Ka-52 helicopters flying by a Crimean beach in summer 2016:
Ka-52 have been regularly spotted in the airspace of the occupied Crimea. However, the recent Ka-52 incursion into Kherson Oblast is the first publicly known instance of the airspace violation in mainland Ukraine since 2014.
This video shows K-52 participating in military drills in September 2016:
Two videos reportedly filmed in July 2014 show the Russian Mil Mi-35/Mi-24 attack helicopter flying over the Ukrainian territory in Luhansk Oblast in the area of checkpoint Krasna Talivka on the border with Russia.
The location where the Russian helicopter has flown over the Ukrainian military is 2 km away from Krasna Talivka border checkpoint (on map):
- On the reverse of the Russian medal “For the Return of Crimea” the date range of the Crimea assault operation is specified as 20 February 2014 – 18 March 2014. It means that the operation had begun when president Viktor Yanukovych was still in Kyiv. On the 8th day of the operation, Crimeans saw Russian helicopters involved in the assault.
- Russian aircraft haven’t been actively involved in the Russian military actions in the Ukraine’s Donbas.
- On 17 July 2014, the Ukrainian government said that a Russian military plane had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet in Ukrainian airspace the previous evening, a serious allegation of direct intervention by Russia’s armed forces.
- On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a missile launched from a Russian BUK anti-aircraft system while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
- In 2014, Ukraine lost due to hostile fire: 10 helicopters (five Mi-8s and five Mi-24s), seven combat planes (one Su-24, four Su-25 and two MiG-29) and three transport planes (a An-26, a An-30 and an Il-76).
- On 25 November 2015, the Ukrainian PM said that Ukraine has banned all Russian civil planes from using its airspace.
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