Ukraine Situation Report: Video Of Air Defenses Prompts Arrests

As Ukraine works to repair a U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot air defense system damaged during a Russian missile barrage, authorities there are cracking down on social media users who posted imagery of air defense batteries in operation.

“We assess the system sustained some damage but remains operational at this time,” a U.S. official told The War Zone Wednesday. The official declined to specify which components were damaged or whether the repairs will require any U.S. assistance. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesman Col. Yuri Ignat said the Patriot battery was too distributed to be destroyed by a Russian ballistic missile, a fact we pointed out in our analysis as well.

While Ukraine’s Patriot batteries remain operational, the emergence on social media of spectacular video showing a torrent of dozens of air defense interceptors rocketing toward the sky sparked a flurry of action Wednesday by Ukrainian officials. They arrested those accused of posting the imagery, searched for web cameras that can capture such images and issued stern warnings against future actions.

Ukraine’s SBU state investigative services “established the identities of six residents of the capital who illegally disseminated information about the work of air defense forces during the massive Russian attack on Kyiv,” according to the SBU website.

They face up to eight years in prison if found guilty of violating laws prohibiting unauthorized dissemination of Ukrainian military operations and equipment.

“On the night of May 16, they took unauthorized photos and videos of the work of Ukrainian air defense and posted relevant materials on social networks.”

Among other things, those individuals “recorded the results of defeating Russian cruise and ballistic missiles. Thus, they could reveal the location and specifics of the work of the domestic air defense.”

Those videos were quickly picked up by Russian Telegram channels and Russian propaganda outlets, according to SBU. 

“Among them are Internet resources controlled by the special services of the aggressor country.”

In addition, SBU cyber specialists “blocked the operation of online cameras that automatically recorded the operation of the Ukrainian air defense,” the SBU reported.

According to the investigation, “the discovered video cameras are on the balance sheet of several commercial structures in the capital.”

At the same time, access to the captured files was open to a wide range of “users” who posted the video of the night attack on Kyiv publicly on YouTube, SBU claimed.

“The occupiers could use the information obtained in this way to adjust repeated airstrikes on the capital of Ukraine.”

During “urgent investigative actions” at the homes of the accused, “mobile phones and computer equipment, which they used to distribute prohibited content, were seized.”

SBU investigators registered criminal proceedings under Part 2 of Art. 114-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (unauthorized dissemination of information about the sending, transfer of weapons, armaments and war supplies to Ukraine, the movement, transfer or placement of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations formed in accordance with the laws of Ukraine, committed under martial law).

“Under the procedural leadership of the Kyiv City Prosecutor’s Office, comprehensive measures are underway to establish all the circumstances of the crime and bring the guilty to justice,” SBU reported.

The Security Service “once again emphasizes the prohibition of shooting and publishing video and photo materials regarding the activities of the Defense Forces, as well as the consequences of enemy shelling.”

The publication of such photo and video materials on the Internet is considered to be a crime punishable by law.

There was also an effort to locate “web cameras with public access” that can “transmit information about the operation of air defense systems and the movement of military equipment,” according to the IT Army of Ukraine.

And the military has re-upped its warnings about posting video and images to social media.

“In preparation for the next missile attacks, the Russians use air and ground intelligence, study social networks of Ukrainian users” and others, Ukraine’s Military Media Center warned Wednesday.

Do not post on social networks in a real-time state, Ukraine’s military urged, adding the following list of things not to post:

  • Photos and videos of our air defense missile launches;
  • Photos and videos of the positions of our air defense equipment;
  • Your thoughts, which Ukrainian weapons can be placed where and which objects to cover;
  • How many units of equipment were seen or rocket launches were heard.

Russian forces use the following information for:

  • Intelligence;
  • Laying routes for the use of missiles to bypass Ukrainian air defense systems;
  • Adjusting and striking the air defense means themselves.
  • Be careful and do not help the enemy collect data about our air defense systems.

One of those arrested publicly apologized.

Whether the actions taken by Ukrainian authorities to prevent the distribution of images connected to air defenses has any real effect in a hyper-connected world remains to be seen, especially as the nation faces continued Russian bombardment.

The move by the Ukrainian government is also another reminder of the highly-charged information war unfolding on all sides and that Ukraine has far more control of what appears on social media than it outright seems. Of course, Russia has every type of intelligence at its disposal for locating high-value assets, from electronic surveillance to space-based assets to human operatives. With Ukraine in a fight for its life, this situation shows the tension that exists in a democratic society under constant attack.

We’ll keep an eye on the situation as it develops.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

While Kyiv has been repeatedly attacked as of late, and most of the ground combat in Ukraine is focused on Donbas, especially Bakhmut, much of the nation’s south has been caught in the crosshairs as well.

Images emerged Wednesday on social media of what appears to be a Russian missile strike on the Black Sea port city of Odesa. The damage caused was not immediately clear. We will update this story when more information comes to light.

The city of Mykolaiv was also hit, according to the regional military administration.

“Last night, May 16, at 11:08 p.m., Mykolaiv was hit by an enemy missile attack. As a result, a shopping center and a car showroom were partially destroyed, the fires were promptly extinguished by rescuers at these facilities. Private houses and shops were damaged by the blast wave. In addition, an industrial infrastructure object was hit. So far, one injured person is known.”

And in the Kherson region, three people died, including a 5-year-old boy, in a Russian attack on the village of Zelenivka, according to the Kherson Oblast prosecutor’s office.

Northern and northeastern Ukraine has been under attack too, according to Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar’s Telegram channel.

“Over the past month, the enemy has increased shelling of the border regions – Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy,” she wrote. “For example, in the last week, from May 8 to 16, 2023, Russian troops carried out 162 attacks on the specified areas. Sumy Oblast suffered the most shelling – 110. Chernihiv Oblast – 29. Kharkiv Oblast – 23.”

“Every day, the enemy army fires at the civilian population with various types of weapons and destroys civilian objects – kindergartens, hospitals, schools. There are dead and wounded, including children. Russia is waging a war without rules and systematically violates the norms of international humanitarian law.”

In addition, Mailar wrote, “with artillery and air strikes in the border regions, the enemy is constantly trying to keep our troops under tension and prevent them from engaging in other directions.”

Meanwhile, the bloody battle of Bakhmut continues as Ukrainian troops continue to hold on in that devastated Donetsk Oblast coal mining city.

Ukrainian troops have recaptured about 20 kilometers of territory in the suburbs surrounding Bakhmut, Maliar claimed on her Telegram channel.

“Let’s move on. We have progress in some areas. There are fierce battles in Bakhmut itself. The enemy is advancing somewhat. Everything that in the military sense can be done in this situation – our command and fighters are doing. It is done professionally and at the limit of possibilities.”

You can get a sense of the destruction in territory remaining in Ukrainian hands in this video below.

And you can see how badly the city has been destroyed in this recently released Maxar Technologies satellite imagery.

We’ve talked a lot about the weapons and other items the U.S. has sent to Ukraine. But let’s talk more about how it gets there.

U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) which oversees shipments of U.S. materiel around the world, has moved an incredible amount of stuff to Europe in support of Ukraine, as well as other U.S. allies in the region.

Three Russian academics who have worked on Russia’s hypersonic missile technology face “very serious accusations” as part of a treason investigation, the Kremlin said on Wednesday according to Reuters.

“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was aware of an open letter from Siberian scientists in defense of the men, but that the case was a matter for the security services,” Reuters reported. “In the letter, published on Monday, colleagues of Anatoly Maslov, Alexander Shiplyuk and Valery Zvegintsev protested their innocence and said the prosecutions threatened to inflict grave damage on Russian science.”

A retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier has been identified as the American citizen killed by Russian artillery in the embattled city of Bakhmut this week, CNN reported, citing a close friend and the founder of a non-profit group working in Ukraine.

“Retired Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Maimer was in a building in Bakhmut that collapsed after being hit by artillery fire, according to Retired Lt. Col. Perry Blackburn, founder of the non-profit AFGFree, with which Maimer was working in Ukraine,” according to CNN. “Ukrainians who were with Maimer believed he was either trapped in the collapsed building or killed by a ‘barrage’ of Russian artillery fire, Blackburn said.”

Check out these Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack jets making a low-level run near the front lines.

If you ever wondered how France’s donated Caesar howitzer works in conjunction with a Polish FlyEye drone, check out this video below from Ukraine’s United24 media outlet.

And finally, there are consequences for actions in life, but this woman in Crimea, occupied by Russians since 2014, apparently does not care as she plays the Ukrainian national anthem on her violin.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there is more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.