By: Sam Doak
May 24 2023
This video was shot in 2022. The smoke shown was produced by a fire at a nearby fuel storage facility.
On May 22, 20223, an armed group crossed the Ukrainian border and entered Russia’s Russia’s Belgorod region. According to reports, the anti-Kremlin forces appear to have been at least in part composed of fighters from the Free Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps, both of which are based in Ukraine and recruit Russians opposed to Vladimir Putin’s regime.
While verifiable information concerning these events has been scarce, BBC Verify has reported that it has identified footage of armored vehicles and helicopters operating in the region during the time in question. On May 23, the Russian government announced that it had successfully repelled the incursion, though this has not been confirmed by reliable sources.
In this context, a video has circulated widely on social media. The footage shows a large column of black smoke rising from behind what appears to be a residential building. The Twitter account Visegrad 24 was among many that shared this content, captioning it “Incoming reports of the Freedom for Russia Legion having downed a Russian Mi-8 helicopter in the Belgorod region of Russia. The Legion crossed the border from Ukraine this morning and is now fighting against the Russian Army in the area.”
Despite separate verified video footage showing the presence of helicopters in operation in the Belgorod region on May 22, the video in question was not taken during these events.
A reverse image search of a frame from this video reveals that it was not shot in Belgorod. A short article published on the Finnish website “Eestinen” indicates that it shows smoke from a fire that broke out in the Crimean town of Krasnohvardiiske on April 31, 2022.
Using the details concerning this event on Eestinen’s site, Logically Facts found coverage published by Ukrainian news outlets. According to the news magazine Focus, “Around 6 a.m. on August 31, thick smoke rose over the village of Krasnogvardiyske in northern Crimea.” The outlet further reported, “In local Telegram channels, they write that an oil depot has caught fire, there are also reports that nearby supermarkets are on fire. The cause of the fire has not yet been reported, nor was there any information about explosions.”
Along with other Ukrainian outlets, Focus published a separate video showing smoke rising from a built-up area following this event. From this footage, Logically Facts was able to locate the source of the fire to a fuel storage facility situated at the coordinates 45.487505, 34.286226. Focus also published a less zoomed-in version of the video posted by Visegrad 24 and others. Using additional information visible in this version, it is possible to conclude it was shot close to the coordinates 45.481565, 34.291113. This was determined by examining the position of the buildings and road in relation to the source of the smoke and comparing satellite imagery with the details shown on screen.
The video currently being circulated does not show smoke from a burning helicopter in Belgorod, as claimed. Publicly available information reveals that it was taken in August 2022, and shows smoke from a fire at an oil refinery in Crimea. This claim has therefore been marked as false.