Intercepted radio communications between Russian military units in Ukraine revealed potential war crimes and scenes of disarray within the ranks of the invading army.
Open source intelligence experts and online volunteers have intercepted and released snippets of what they claim are battlefield radio communications between Russian forces currently in Ukraine.
While the vast majority of communications are likely through secure channels, many Russian soldiers use analog radios to communicate on the battlefield, experts said. This allowed a community of online sleuths to monitor these communications and share them publicly. They call their mission “Operation Russian Radio”.
In a conversation translated by the independent, which is filled with military language and call signs, a commander appears to order artillery fire on a populated area.
“Remove the first military property from the city, then cover the city with artillery fire,” one of the Russian soldiers, who appeared to be from an artillery unit, said in a recording.
Indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians are war crimes under international law.
The veracity of the records could not be independently verified by The Independentbut the contents correspond to open source and video evidence showing the bombardment of civilian areas by the Russian military.
There has been a marked increase in Russian artillery and missile strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. Videos showed Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, came under intense bombardment on Wednesday, with the city’s central square hit by a missile strike and at least 21 people reportedly killed. Ukrainian authorities said five people were killed in the attack on a television tower in the capital Kyiv.
Ukraine’s state emergency service said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 civilians had been killed since the Russian invasion on February 24. This number is impossible to verify given the scale of the violence across the country.
ShadowBreak International, a private British intelligence gathering company that posted some of the recordings online, said it was “working closely with radio amateurs and translators, across the world, to document and gather intelligence”.
Together with the volunteers, they use publicly available tools to intercept and translate these communications in real time, and share the recordings with the world.
“An entire community has sprung up around these communications, currently scanning and recording anything of interest to them, including ShadowBreak. Creating hours of intense recordings of Russian military chatter, each demonstrating an unprepared army to a such a situation,” ShadowBreak said.
Kirill Timchenko, 18, a Ukrainian currently outside his home country, said he joined this volunteer effort because he wanted to help in some way and spent the four last days listening to Russian units communicating with each other.
“I did about 300 translations where there was a lot of information. I’ve been doing this for four days without much rest,” he said. The Independent. He said they heard the soldiers “blindly” directing artillery, mortars and missiles.
“I decided to help because Ukraine is my homeland. Unfortunately, I am not here at the moment. So listening and transmitting information for me is like fighting for my homeland in cyberspace,” he said.
Mr Timchenko said he heard many Russian soldiers complaining that “they are suffering, that their evacuation service takes a long time to recover the wounded and that they also bombard populated areas with artillery”.
The same artillery unit that was overheard appearing to order an artillery strike on a populated area had its communications monitored, translated and posted online in real time for days. Further conversations revealed that the same unit was having difficulty reaching its superiors and was exchanging phone numbers with other units in order to communicate.
The ease with which online volunteers were able to listen in and share Russian communications raises questions about the logistical competence of the invasion force. Great Britain Department of Defense said this week that the Russian military had not made the expected progress due to “logistical challenges and strong Ukrainian resistance”.
Some of these challenges were evident in intercepted communications.
In one recording, a man who appears to be a commander yells at his subordinates for not activating a piece of equipment, which may be a portable anti-aircraft device.
“[indistinguishable] is not ready yet. There’s not enough tension,” says a Russian speaker.
“Oh, fuck you, you fucking sheep! You stay there for three fucking days, copy.
“Yes,” comes an answer.
“What the fuck is it yeah? When is it gonna be f***** ready, it’s like *** show.
In another, a Russian soldier can be heard ordering a unit to send its troops killed and wounded to a certain point, to which someone responds with a possible number of casualties: 22 from one unit and five from another. .
ShadowBreak International has only released a fraction of the recordings so far, but the group said it had more hours of communication and “every conversation showed a disturbing lack of coordination between units, sometimes even shooting it”.
The company said the mere fact that Russian troops were using analog radios instead of secure digital channels showed a lack of logistical preparedness for the invasion.
This method of communication was also vulnerable to jamming and frequency interference, which sometimes hampered the Russian soldiers’ ability to communicate. On several occasions, their communications were interrupted by someone drowning out their conversation by playing the Ukrainian national anthem on the same frequency.