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Ukraine war: What happened in Poland missile blast?

  • Published
    21 hours ago

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Image source, Getty Images

Poland’s military was placed on high alert on Tuesday evening after a missile landed on its territory killing two people.

It came as Russia fired dozens of missiles at targets in Ukraine and Ukrainian forces tried to shoot them down with its own missiles.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Kyiv’s air defences were “most likely” to blame, but Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had received assurances from his top commanders that “it wasn’t our missile”.

The BBC’s open source investigations team has been analysing reports and studying images on social media to try to uncover more details about the incident.


Where was the blast?

The explosion was first reported in the Polish media on Tuesday evening, describing a blast close to the Polish village of Przewodow, about 6km (4 miles) from the Ukrainian border.

Initial reports said the missile had landed next to an area of a farm where employees load and weigh grain, destroying a nearby building.

We examined satellite images (which showed only one farm in the village) and cross-referenced them with photographs taken at ground level on Wednesday morning to locate the site – which has been confirmed by the Polish authorities.

Satellite image showing site of missile attack.

We also examined a video which was posted on social media late on Tuesday.

It claims to show the immediate aftermath of an explosion as a missile “fell on Polish territory”. A column of smoke can be seen (we’re showing a grab of the video on the left of the graphic below).

There are visual clues in the video that appear to match the site in Przewodow.

Graphic showing screenshot of video and map of area near explosion

A road seen in the video (highlighted by us in red) has a similar pattern to one seen in an aerial image of the area – it bends to the left, then to the right.

The road forks in front of a light-coloured building (highlighted by us in orange).

Photographs taken on the ground on Wednesday (seen in the first graphic) show a light-coloured housing block near the farm.

And the vegetation and lines of trees appear similar too.

We’ve tried to contact the person who posted this video in order to verify it further but haven’t yet had a response.

Images from the blast site also began circulating on social media late on Tuesday, showing a crater and a damaged tractor and trailer.

Missile crater

Image source, Reuters

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It was difficult to locate these on their own because of the dark and a lack of wider visual clues.

But an image posted on social media by Polish police on Wednesday morning shows officers examining the scene. The same trailer, spilled grain and debris can be seen in both images.

Polish police photo from the site, Wednesday 16 November

Image source, Getty Images / Polish police

Another picture circulating on social media on Tuesday night – which was widely shared – shows a fragment from a missile that it was claimed was found at the scene.

Missile fragment

Image source, Twitter

Based on this image alone, the BBC has so far been unable to verify that it was found at the same location because of the lack of wider visual clues in the photo.

On Wednesday, a BBC correspondent on the ground was unable to get close to the scene, which has been sealed off by the Polish authorities.

We have shown it to defence experts and asked them whether they can work out what type of missile this was from, and who might have fired it.

Mark Cancian, from the think tank CSIS, believes it may be from an S-300 system. This type of missile is typically used for surface-to-air attacks, and has been used by both Russia and Ukraine throughout the war.

Douglas Barrie, a military expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says there’s “credible but not definite” evidence that the missile came from an S-300 system.

He points out that the debris pictured shows an end casing with the little round holes, which is a similar pattern found on one of the main missiles fired from the S-300.

“Who fired the missile is unclear,” says J Andrés Gannon, a security expert at the US Council on Foreign Relations, who agrees that it may be from an S-300 system.

“We know Russia has been using the S-300 for ground attacks, even though it’s an air defence system, but Ukraine also uses them for air defence against cruise missiles.”

Dr Justin Bronk, a senior fellow at think tank Rusi, agrees that it may be from an S-300 system, but there isn’t enough evidence to identify it yet.

Map of blast location

Both Russia and Ukraine possess these S-300 weapons and accuse each other of causing damage with them in recent attacks.

Russia’s closest point to the blast site in Poland is about 580km (360 miles) away, far further than the range of the S-300 system which experts say is around 90km (56 miles).

Graphic showing S-300 air defence system launcher vehicle, explaining it has a range of 56 miles (90km) and that it is primarily used to intercept missiles or aircraft but has also been used to attack ground targets by Russia

The Ukrainians use them to shoot down Russian missiles, and the Russians have claimed these have fallen to the ground and caused civilian casualties.

It is very difficult to tell the origin of a missile from its debris, according to weapons experts.

There has been speculation that Russia may have been targeting sites in Ukraine close to this stretch of the Polish border.

About 10km (6 miles) from the village, just across the border into Ukraine, is the Dobrotvirska power plant.

An active power line connecting Poland with Ukraine is also nearby.

Russia has been targeting infrastructure sites such as these and Ukrainian forces have been using anti-missile defences to counter them.

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