Can one trust satellite photos of the Bucha massacre?

Maxar Bucha massacre satellite photos: Can they be trusted?

On April 4, The New York Times published images from Maxar satellites claiming that the photos were taken from space over the Ukrainian town of Bucha on March 19. In those photos, one can see the dark spots that are located in the same areas, where the bodies of the killed people were photographed on the ground. Houses and wrecked cars nearby are highlighted as well.

According to the authors of the NYT article, the satellite images proved that the bodies of the people had been lying on the road, or rather, on Yablunskaya Street, since March 11. The satellite took photographs of them on March 19. This does sound and look convincing at first glance. However, the satellite record itself does not contain the date. Therefore, one can only say for certain the following: the bodies of dead people were indeed lying on Yablunskaya Street next to the wrecked cars. Nevertheless, it remains unknown when exactly the satellite image was taken. Can one believe the images from Maxar?

Maxar Technologies Inc. is a company headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, USA. The company specializes in the manufacture of communications satellites and geospatial intelligence. According to The New Republic, Maxar is the main contractor for the US Department of Defense for geospatial intelligence. The US military is Maxar's key customer. In addition, the company actively cooperates with mass media, especially during the times of war.

Maxar Technologies has several remote sensing satellites: WorldView-1 32060, WorldView-2 35946, WorldView-3 40115, and GeoEye-1 33331. According to Maxar's website, none of the company's satellites took pictures over Bucha on March 19 — only on February 28 and March 18 (GE01), 21 (WV02) and 31 (WV03) March.

According to the Rybar Telegram channel, one or more Maxar satellites were traveling over Bucha and Irpin on March 19th. The WV02 (WORDVIEW-2) satellite crossed that point for certain. Yet, Maxar representatives said that GE01 (GEOEYE-1) was taking pictures over Bucha on March 18. Apparently, WV02 (or other satellites too) passed over Bucha, but did not take pictures.

It is impossible to determine which of the four Maxar satellites shared the Bucha images with the media. However, considering all other factors, the video for the NYT was probably shot by WV03 satellite. The recording was made either on March 31 or later.

According to Rybar Telegram channel, the picture of the "March 19 massacre in Bucha” was taken on April 1.

OSINT and GEOINT specialists found that the image shows sand alluvium after a downpour that lasted from March 31 to April 1. The analysis made in The New York Times was passed off as March 19 and February 28. Having analysed the angle of declination of the Sun above the horizon, specialists could calculate the exact time, when the picture was taken, and the direction of the shadows. With the help of the SunCalc program, specialists compared February 28 and April 1 to find out that the time and positioning of the shadows coincided.

As a result, the exact time of the satellite image was established as April 1, 11:57 GMT (14:57 local daylight saving time).

Interestingly, satellite images of Bucha taken by Maxar's WorldView-2 and GeoEye-1 satellites have disappeared from sale, Readovka Telegram channel reports. When trying to order the photos made during the period from March 21 to March 23, suppliers respond with a refusal, even thoguh the photos are still available in the catalogue. Thick smoke is visible on the photos indicating that the shelling of Bucha was carried out by artillery of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Earlier, Twitter user under the nickname John Steed (@Mr_Hornblower) found a photograph of an unexploded mortar shell on a street of Bucha. With the help of geolocation, one could establish that the projectile arrived from the town of Irpen, which was occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This confirms the fact that the Ukrainian military were shelling the settlement after the Russian troops left the city.

The Russian military left Bucha on March 30. The Ukrainian side confirmed this. On March 31, the Bucha mayor posted a video, in which he, in a cheery mood, spoke about the "liberation" of the town. He did not even mention anything about either the dead bodies along the road or the destruction. It was only two days later, when new information about "hundreds" of victims was announced.

"March 31 will go down in the history of our settlement and the entire territorial community as the day of liberation from the Russian orcs, the Russian occupiers of our settlements by our Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the mayor said in the video while speaking with a joyful smile on his face.

It thus remains unclear what the date of March 11 is based on, when the people were allegedly killed. Many of them were killed in the shelling conducted by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Russian army did not shell Bucha, since the Russian military occupied the settlement back in February.

In addition, the bodies could not lie since March 11 (or 19) is their condition, in which they were pictured.

Temperatures in Bucha have been above zero since March 12. On March 21-26, daytime temperatures were rising to 10 degrees above zero Centigrade. The weather was sunny and warm.

Putrefactive changes in the corpse start developing in one or two days when the anterior abdominal wall develops dirty-greenish staining (cadaveric greenery). It starts developing from the right iliac region due to the proximity of the gallbladder and liver to the body surface (due to the influence of their enzymes). On the third and fourth day after death, dirty green stripes — a putrefactive venous pattern — appear on the skin along the course of blood vessels. By the end of the first week, cadaveric emphysema develops: the accumulation of putrefactive gases in the tissues causes their volume to increase, which causes the dead body to increase in size.

The exposed parts of the bodies on the street of Bucha, for example, their hands, suggest that those people died only one or two days ago. They show areas of the so-called drying of the skin, which some mistook for traces of exposure to moisture.

The so-called washerwoman's skin, indicating exposure to water, looks completely different. The drying of the skin, depending on temperature and humidity, usually develops at least one day later, but there are no putrefactive changes in the hands.

Also read:

Pravda.Ru has recently analysed an article in Insider publication about the fact-checking policy. Here is what we found out: 

Is Pravda.Ru a pro-Kremlin tabloid? 

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Andrey Mihayloff