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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: July 17, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Signs of Posts Deleted Last July 17 at Strelkov's Antikvariat Forum; Other VK Group Reports 'Ukrainian' Crash

A forum section "War Dispatches from the South West Front" of, a site about military collectibles and historical re-enactment of battles moderated by former separatist commander Col. Igor Strelkov shows indications of tampering and renumbering of the posts on July 17, 2014, the day flight MH17 was downed most likely by Russian-backed separatists.

As we have reported, the well-known post on the Russian social media VKontakte showing how separatists bragged about the downing of "an AN-26" -- which actually turned out to be the MH17 Boeing -- isn't "fake" or "from a fan group" nor to be discounted; it came from a separatist support at

This post attracted wide attention when writer Anne Appelbaum and others tweeted it July 17, 2014, soon after the news of the downing of MH17 broke; The Interpreter analyzed it at the time and concluded it was indeed from a separatists' social media account frequently used by Strelkov for news and announcements.

Three days later, Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Fox News, referenced this VKontakte post:

We know that very shortly thereafter, separatists were bragging in the social media about having shot down a transport plane. We know that the so-called defense minister of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, Mr. Igor Strelkov, actually posted a bragging social media posting of having shot down a military transport, and then, when it became apparent that it was civilian, they pulled it down from the social media.

The post (retrieved from Google cache and copied by numerous bloggers) is from a community on the popular social network VKontakte called at the time "Dispatches of Igor Ivanovich Strelkov" using his first name, patronymic and nom de guerre. which indeed was authorized to publish the official statements of Strelkov, and had permission to use his name and picture as a persona for the whole separatist movement and its news from the front. That is why Kerry -- and anyone else who saw the information fresh on July 17 -- could have the impression that Strelkov himself made the post.

Ever since then, pro-Kremlin debaters have seized on what seems like a discrepancy to claim that Strelkov himself didn't make the post, but a "fan group" did -- so it had no validity.

The original post as we reported on July 17, 2014 didn't claim to quote Strelkov, but said it was a "report from the militia," the term the Russian-backed fighters use for their forces. But the post was not in a mere "fan group"; it was in a group authorized to issue Strelkov's direct statements and make reports on his behalf. While the name was changed later to "Novorossiay Militia Dispatches," the VK system still shows the URL as ""

We explained the evidence for the close association of Strelkov to this group last year as a long-time observer of the VK group, but the evidence is also sill visible in the stream of posts on July 17 in Strelkov Dispatches saved at the Internet Archive. When the group moderators came on to explain why they deleted the post about the AN-26, they said that only posts with the banner showing the image and name of Strelkov and the phrase "Strelkov Reports" were directly from him.

And on the afternoon of July 17, just as many days before (and since), there was just such a post by Strelkov at 12:02 p.m. Moscow time regarding a battle at the town of Metallist -- with the iconic Strelkov banner:


It was a post copied exactly from, a forum about historical battle re-enactments and military antiques moderated  Strelkov under  the name "Kotych" which means "Son of a Cat." (The link between "Kotych" and "Strelkov" has been widely reported by Russian and separatist media and is not disputed.)

Strelkov was an avid poster on his own forum as we can see from paging through it and from the accounts of separatists and from his activity on July 17, 2014.

His first post came at 12:51 am on July 17 (#3123) about the Kalmius Battalion ambushing some Ukrainian soldiers, then he likely went to bed.

His second post that day came at 10:39 local time and was numbered #3130, and was a detailed dispatch about the battle at Metallist -- this was copied exactly to VKontakte about an hour and a half later as we can see above -- like many such posts indicating the close relationship between Strelkov's verified, direct posts acknowledged on and reprinted soon after on the VK group authorized to use his name and picture in the "Novorossiya" military campaign.

The third post was a reply to another forum user at 11:06 about the town of Serebryanka (#3134)

The fourth (#3135) was a reprimand at 11:07 to a user who asked for the wounded "Banner" to be sent home. "Who will we fight with? You can't come," he scolded.

The fifth (#3137) at 11:10 disclaiming that his fighters were surrounded.

The six (#3147) was at 14:23 saying the news that the fighters were surrounded was likely "disinformation."

The seventh (#3149) was at 15:53 in reply to another participant who wondered how long it might take for the Ukrainian army to prepare a strike on Snezhnoye. "Not long," said Strelkov.

Then, after having posted 6 posts in about 5 hours, he stopped -- and may have had meetings, as after all, he had a war to run. There were no more posts for the rest of the day.

Or perhaps he did make posts -- but they were deleted.

How could we tell if anything was deleted? There isn't any interruption in the sequence of numbers -- but then if a number of posts were deleted, the forums software would just pick up at the next number.

At at 16:08 (No. 3152), Margo-Donetsk makes the post about the movement of Ukrainian troops toward Kramatorsk which was reprinted (without reference to her, but cited only as a "report form the militia" on Strelkov's Dispatches as we reported.

Her post at 17:37 about the plane downed near Torez was deleted, as we noted, citing participants of the Antikvariat forum, speaking on another forum called, who discussed it. One of them showed a comment from another forum user showing the notice that her post was deleted as evidence.

And one user showed the post itself, as it had originally been screenshot. If we look in the upper right hand corner, we see that the number of her post is #3161.


The next post after hers by someone named "Tiger1313," showing that it was sent at 18:12:12 is numbered #3162. It is cut off in the screenshot but we can tell that it is a post of a video from the black border and "i". It's this one, titled "In the area of Snezhnoye, a plan was downed 17.07.2014" -- the top of the video embedded, with the smoke in the sky, and the words of the title "In the area of Snezhnoye" can just be made out as this screenshot shows:


Above her post in the screenshot is a line in purple. It says "Thank you! Respectfully, Leo."

Back on the actual forum, we can see a post at 16:36 o the 17th like that from a LeoT, with that phrase  in purple, "Thank you! Respectfully, Leo" at the bottom -- his tag-line.

But when we look at the top of his actual post as it remains, the number says "#3153" -- although if it came before Margo-Donetsk's post about the downed plane (as seen from the screenshot), which was number #3162, it would have to be numbered #3161.



That means 9 posts were deleted, and the post numbers the automatically continued the sequence. Now posts #3161 and #3162 are already by other people, on the next day, July 18.

Those nine posts must have contained a discussion of the downing of the AN-26 that proved damning, in light of the later news, and were removed.

Given that two posts were made on the Strelkov Dispatche's group, the well-known one and one we found previously overlooked 13 minutes earlier -- there's the possibility that Strelkov himself made the report.

Two participants on the forum claim they in fact saw a report from Strelkov about the downing of the plane on One hastens to explain that he himself didn't brag that his men downed it; he merely said it was downed.

There's always the possibility that any social media screenshot was photoshopped, but no one disputes that Margo deleted her own post, nor the screenshot showing its number discussed on multiple forums. The user named "Tiger1313" who posted right after her and was captured in the screenshot is still on the forum; in June, he was a "newbie" from Saratov with no posts.

So Margo-Donetsk's post was deleted; Tiger1313's post with the video of the smoking crash in Snezhnoye -- and 7 others, unidentified, before or after.

Col. Strelkov's relationship to this fateful news -- which we can now see isn't fictional -- may never be established to the satisfaction of some critics. Fortunately, this isn't the only piece of evidence that the separatists bragged that they had shot down a Ukrainian plane.

Strelkov's Dispatches and were not the only social media where supporters of the separatists discussed what they thought was a downed AN-26, a Ukrainian military aircraft, then with gradual horror, realized it was MH17, a civilian plane -- and grabbed at various hypothetical explanations to deflect guilt.

A local community called "Russian Patriots of Torez" -- the town next to Snezhnoye where villagers also saw a rocket fired at a plane and the crash of the plain -- also reported the downing of "the Ukrainian plane."

A series of posts on July 17, 2014 follow a similar pattern as Strelkov's Dispatches -- except none of them were deleted.







First, the moderator writes (translation by The Interpreter):

A downed SU fell above the Glukhovsky Woods.

The SU, nicknamed in Russian the sushka is the Sukhoi aircrafts.

These woods are marked here on Wikimapia, just south of Grabovo and southeast of Rassypnoye, the sites of the scattered pieces of the crash.

A member of the "Patriots of Torez" immediately posted a news item from saying a Malaysian Boeing-777 had in fact been downed.

The other participants, disbelieving, argue with him. One says "they are trying to pin an international scandal on us!!!". Another posts a news item of the video from the pro-separatist saying that "a Ukrainian Air Force plane crashed."

She avidly defends the separatists' innocence but another man intervenes to say "but a friend called, he says there are a lot of bodies!!!"

Others kept saying the claim that the separatists shot down a plane was fake, not believing the Ukrainian media or the aggregated news on

Another man named Alexander Nikolaenko said had just seen a photo from the crash site of bloody bodies, many children were completely undressed,  and there were pieces of the plane and dismembered bodies. "It's horrible!" he exclaimed:

"A man just came from that place, he showed it to me on a photo in the store. But he said the SU shot down a passenger and from the ground, they shot down the SU!"

So the patriots believed a story quickly spun by the fighters -- the Ukrainian Air Force shot down the passenger plane -- MH17 -- but the separatists then shot down the SU.

Confused reports of "two planes" were common that day and ensuing days; there have never been shown to be any other plane crashes on that day and in that area, however, and the "air-to-air" missile theory has been debunked.

The group participants discussed the finding of the black box, and one man said he had heard it had already been sent to Moscow.

The group moderator then came on and posted screenshots from two videos, one of which was posted by Strelkov Dispatches and the other by Tiger1313 on Antikvariat, with this comment:

The Dillweeds' transport plane AN-26 was shot down over Torez. It fell in Grabovo in the field in the area of the chicken farm. The search for the two pilots is under way.

"Dillweeds" is a pejorative Russian word for Ukrainians.

But another member comes on and says "It's the Malaysian Boeing" -- and the next post is from a reporter from Kommersant Radio in Moscow who is looking to interview eyewitnesses of the crash.

Further on in the chat we can see people reporting what they saw or heard -- "It didn't reach Lesnaya"; "it was somewhere between Lesnaya and Grabovo" and continuing in disbelief.

"It fell in Grabovo on the field by the chicken farm. There are bodies, a car passing by suffered. There is no electricity in Grabovo."


Such social media helps to corroborate the video evidence supplied by the Ukrainian government and journalists, and forensic evidence from the scene that the separatists shot down a plane they thought was an AN-26 or SU, in territory they controlled, then discovered their mistake.

Thus, Strelkov's Dispatches are compelling evidence but isn't required alone to make the case as other social media groups reiterated similar reports from their own sources and the Russian media reported it from theirs.

The fuller version of the video now released by News Corp Australia is even more damning than any of these posts, however, as we hear in the separatists' own voices that they discovered that the victims were civilians and the plane was foreign, and they immediately moved to grab the black box, seal off the area, and cover up their involvement.

They immediately concoct a story: as James Miller and Michael Weiss, managing editor and editor-in-chief of The Interpreter write at the Daily Beast:

News Corp also says that their investigation has unearthed evidence that the locals on the ground were being instructed to say that a Ukrainian jet shot down the civilian airliner. [...]

The commander continues to repeat that “they [the Ukrainians] brought down the passenger plane [with a fighter jet] and we brought down the fighter.”

It's the exact same story told by Alexander Nikolaenko above, one of the "Russian Patriots of Torez."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick