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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Who Was Behind the Christmas Eve Shelling of Kherson?

December 28, 2022

Mid-day on December 24, a suspected Russian shelling attack targeted last-minute Christmas shoppers in the  southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. Ten people were reportedly killed in central Kherson (6 others in the wider Kherson oblast), while 80 were seriously injured, including 10 who lost limbs. The ten killed may include, as UNIAN reports, "three employees of the State Emergency Service" who were killed while "demining the territory."

President Zelenskyy called the day's shelling on the Ukrainian-held but Russian-majority, recently liberated or temporarily occupied city, an act of "terror" and proof that Russia is "absolute evil." It wasn't the first or last day such attacks occurred. Iuliia Mendel - a former spokesperson for Zelenskyy - had already, on the 21st, compared the shelling to "torturing a hostage." 

There are of course counter-claims, if not from Russia itself then from supporters. Intel Republic on Telegram decried the "BRUTAL Ukrainian SAVAGE shelling of Kherson region (ex-Ukraine)." "As per tradition, Kiev blames Russia for the attack, despite evidence of fragments from US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launch system being found at the scene of their horrendous crime. " 

I'm skeptical of the HIMARS claim, but let's consider that either side could, hypothetically, be responsible.

Kherson vs. Donetsk and Motive

The alleged Russian motive is to punish people of Kherson for rejecting their authority. This is the same basic motive I see behind Ukraine's shelling of Donetsk, a recurring Russian gripe, recently sharpened with some of the worst shelling ever - Kherson could be seen as Putin's Christmas Eve revenge for Donetsk. 

But there are differences. Kherson is Russian-majority and its populace, on balance, doesn't reject Russian control so much as it suffers occupation. There's little motive to punish them for what's beyond their control. 

In contrast, the people of Donetsk are even more Russian to the point they successfully voted to secede from Ukraine back in 2014, and were able to enforce that militarily. They have, in fact, rejected Kyiv's rule, and many of us suspect the years of shelling is part of Ukraine's punishment for this. 

Motive for false-flag: as always, both sides could use this to demonize their enemy, at least to their own favorable audiences. Russia could convince Russians, the Chinese, etc. and some minds all over. Ukraine ... well, "the whole world" tries to "stand with them" and accept every accusation they level against the evil Russians. 

I don't mean to minimize the horror of what's been happening in Kherson or in other cities under Russian attack, real or alleged., but we also shouldn't allow it to minimize or excuse the ongoing shelling of Donetsk and other cities under Ukrainian assault. What keeps happening daily or almost hourly in Donetsk is state-sponsored terrorism by the Western-backed forces of the Maidan Junta in Kyiv. Artillery shells and rockets hit homes, but mainly streets, schools, the water system, heating plants, hospitals, churches, public markets, public transit, government officials, centers of administration and emergency response, and symbols of Russian culture. 

Kyiv has the audacity to say - for almost nine years running - that they aren't doing this - it's either made up or when proven, the Russians or the DPR are shelling their own over & over, vainly trying to make Ukraine look bad. But my ballistic analysis of shelling in September and December (week 1, week 2, week 3) - amateur but sound - proves in spades that shelling is coming from the direction of Ukrainian-held areas mainly to the northwest, and sometimes the west, southwest, or north. Repeated claims the fire comes from the Russian-held east fall apart on analysis (some examples in the above links).

They don't deny the December 21 artillery assassination attempt on the DPR's Prime Minister and Russia's former space chief, But they deny, for example, two recent attacks on a central church (both from the NW), at least 5 recent attacks on hospitals (from various directions), and September attacks on a bus stop and a bus that killed 13 and 6, respectively. 

After the heaviest shelling since 2014 occurred on 15 December, with some 40 rockets raining down on central Donetsk, Kyiv's denials were still widely accepted, but running a bit thin. 

I suspect some of Ukraine's nastier and Nazier elements pulled off most or all of the recent attacks on Kherson. They know what they do in Donetsk and other places, and they dished out some of it on their own Russian-majority cities, to improve the city-shelling PR situation and secure some blank checks to continue terrorizing those beyond their authority. And all it would cost is some hassle and some ethnic Russians they never liked to begin with.

If so, they succeeded in capturing the West's attention and negating any worry that might emerge over the same terrorism persisting in Donetsk that has by now claimed thousands of lives taken and tens of thousands scarred.

Fire from the Russian-Controlled Southeast

It's important to be aligned with the facts, and while I SUSPECT Ukraine, the facts aren't convenient to that. The same analysis I've used in Mariupol - albeit on just 3 impacts - suggests the shelling of Kherson was done from the Russian-controlled southeast. 


Putin's Christmas Eve revenge for Donetsk in Kherson ... such a bad idea FOR THEM, good for "partisans." Terror shelling of cities finally gets major western news. Meant to blame on others, for such a big deal they might do it behind enemy lines for once. So far I see from SE..." The basic idea is here sketched on a map cropped from ISW. Typo: SW meaning SE. 

One critical analysis identifies some of the damage to read - the "splash" pattern of explosive fragments on the pavement. But they read it backwards - as is easy enough to do - , finding the shells came from the Ukrainian-held northeast. What's the Media Hiding? on Twitter.

"The source of today’s massacre of civilians in Kherson has been geolocated to Ukrainian territory. The funnel was cleaned, but not the fragments on the asphalt, which paint a crystal clear trajectory. Nothing to add - another shameless Ukrainian atrocity for propaganda."

Others including the widely-read Readovka, reached the same conclusion, a bit too quickly, on the 24th: https://t.me/readovkanews/49577

The locations were good, done by others, the street directions were known, and indeed the pattern and suggested line was plain as day.  What got too tricky was which direction on that line the shell traveled. To be fair, the debris spread ("funnel") was unclear, partly swept up. This prevented (or just muted?) a visual contradiction that might have prevented this embarrassment.

Here, I'll share the visual explanation for my findings, very briefly as I have on Twitter. Modified from some manual I forget, a side view to explain why the back/under side is whare the pavement gets scraped up in a radial pattern. Ahead, you'll see no pavement markings - blast & frags spread higher & wider into buildings, vehicles or people. The point was never to scar some pavement.

Therefore, as some other manual explains, using an example from Donetsk...

Other clues to read that follow on the same principles: damage ahead of the impact will be the highest - fragments hitting a wall will form a band perpendicular to the incoming angle, so the upslope means forward. I haven't noticed much for angled wall damage (some suggested with impact B), and cars are too mobile to bother with. But general high damage ahead matters in 2 of the Kherson examples. 

All 3 in order of clarity:

A) Rishelievska St 


Coordinates: 46.637122, 32.608573

Agreed like everyone this is the spot. The clear photo faces local north (NNW). up the street.

likely the crater seen at the end https://twitter.com/YelchenkoUN/status/1606615691246854144

crater photo https://twitter.com/AdrianaMatsibon/status/1606657575356874753

B) Ushakova Ave 

https://twitter.com/kargolow/status/1606590188821553152 - 

splash pattern partly visible - enough to be readable as consistent with the damage we see on both the south (SSE) and east (ENE) faces of the Tsum shop ahead.

likely the crater seen at the start - a video shows this one has a remnant that size stuck in it. https://twitter.com/YelchenkoUN/status/1606615691246854144

Clear pattern, but not so clear meaning as to directions (no visual context) - from this, we can only say the sun comes mostly from the south (videos around mid-day) and the pattern points back well east of that = probably some southeast angle.

C) Street Hvardiis'koi Dyvizii, 49-yi

NEXTA on Twitter 


Seems like a pretty good match, but in a different part of town, some ways northeast of the other 2 impacts. Coordinates: 46.671765, 32.614988

South (SSE) face impacted, partly from the south. I'd say the balcony damage on both sides is more-or-less the force to each side. It's hard to compare them, with different materials involved. Therefore, the shell might have come straight in, a bit from the left, or a bit from the right. Local street angle is the same, shared by the building, so this is roughly up-the-street SE-NW, just like the other 2. I probably didn't need to set the range this wide.

FWIW, all 3 on one map - the one line and the minimum of both ranges intersect nicely at Solontsil, but that can't be read too literally. The line should be a range, and all ranges are approximate. I'd say the pink area is most likely where the launches occurred, but somewhere further south or a bit to the east or west is also likely. I don't know anything about the area, where partisan false-flaggers make more or less sense. And I certainly can't rule out that the Russians really are doing this, whatever tjeir reason. Either way, whoever is doing this needs to be stopped and exposed. 

Back in Context

I wouldn't expect to change the minds of those who blame Russia, even without the ballistic evidence. WITH it, I'd say your average, somewhat brainwashed yet rational person SHOULD blame Russia. It would be very weird to do otherwise. 

But I know too much to be that normal, Weapon used and area of use are both great clues, but not as 100% conclusive as people act. Even if HIMARS was used, it could be Russians with a stolen unit. But then firing from their area, even with uniquely Russian weapons, could potentially be done by infiltrators with stolen weapons.This isn't the usual assumption or an inherently strong point to start at. But here there may be adequate reason - for a deadly Christmas Eve false-flag attack that makes a new uproar against Russia or helps deafen ears to the Kyiv's ongoing crimes - perhaps including this.  

I acknowledge it's entirely POSSIBLE the Russians are behind this terror shelling of Kherson just for falling back into Ukrainian hands. Considering my findings, I doubt the claim less than I usually would. But even with the ballistic evidence, this is not terribly logical. It would be like DPR forces actually firing ~100 grad rockets into the Russian-majority Vostochniy district of Mariupol on January 24, 2015. That was alleged by Ukraine and widely accepted, but I for one never bought the story and suspect Ukraine got away with a flase-flag artillery massacre. 

Like Donetsk, Mariupol was Russian-majority, had voted to Secede, but then in the summer of 2014 came under Ukrainian  military occupation by "punishers" led by the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. By January, DPR forces were making progress to the south and had promised to soon "liberate" Mariupol, starting with the highly-sympathetic Vostochniy district. Ukraine presented this rocket attack as the fulfillment of that promise. They fired literally about 100 rockets, from at least 3 directions, coordinated in the span of one minute. They were allegedly trying to hit a Ukrainian army checkpoint at the district's north edge, but all 100 rockets, fired by at least two teams, missed it by 500m-2.5km, instead tearing up homes, shops, and people all across the district, north-to-south and east-to-west. Over 30 people, including known, vocal DPR supporters, were killed, and hundreds were injured. (re-addressed here in light of the city's delayed liberation, with Russian help but with much violence, in 2022)

This is where I first learned ballistic analysis, locating and analyzing rocket impacts looking for fire from Ukrainian areas. It never materialized; like the OSCE inspectors, I saw fire from the northeast and the east - DPR-controlled or areas, but potentially porous. I also caught examples of shells from the ESE and maybe south, which were both murkier, largely contested. But valuable as it was, to my mind, ballistic analysis was not key in that case. Motive factored so strongly for Kyiv's forces that I have to suspect - and strongly - that they got a few teams snuck behind enemy lines to demonize the impending DPR liberation. What Mendel compared to "torturing a hostage" in Kherson was in Mariupol more like shooting a hostage in the leg when their liberators get too close. 

I suspect Kherson is another example of this advanced false-flag tactic. And so far, it seems like just one team with one launcher might be responsible. That's even more plausible than my Mariupol conspiracy theory. A Christmas Eve massacre of innocents to blame on Putin seems special enough reason to venture such a move. I suspect it happened, and if so, there will be evidence for it. I hope to see this emerge soon. 


  1. very good analysis, you're really one of the best, and very experienced. did russia not deny responsibility? In mariupol in april they always denied responsibility. this time the ukrainians would have to have crossed the river, right?

    1. Hey, thanks. All experience is at the computer, but it does count. I looked for denials and only found Russia denies targeting civilians in general. Might have missed the explicit denial. Indeed, they'd cross the river, which is narrow here, especially in winter (I think), with muddy banks frozen = plausible enough.


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