Fact Check: Video Of Car Convoy Does NOT Show People Fleeing Belgorod, Russia After Pro-Ukraine Paramilitaries 'Invaded'

Fact Check

  • by: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Video Of Car Convoy Does NOT Show People Fleeing Belgorod, Russia After Pro-Ukraine Paramilitaries 'Invaded' Citybound

Does a video of a long convoy of cars show residents of Belgorod, Russia evacuating their homes after Russian paramilitary groups fighting for Ukraine crossed the Russian-Ukraine border on May 22, 2023, and attacked the Belgorod region? No, that's not true: Lead Stories compared the video footage with photos of Belgorod in Google's Street View and found that the cars were moving toward the center of the city of Belgorod, not out of the city. The local outlet Belgorod News, whose logo appears in the video, reported that the video showed a traffic jam caused by a car accident, not by an evacuation.

The claim appeared on Twitter in a video post (archived here) published by Jason Jay Smart @officejjsmart on May 22, 2023. The tweet's text said:


Residents of Belgorod fleeing the cit.

Russian soldiers, who are fighting on the side of Ukraine have
invaded the southern region of Belgorod, Russia to liberate it from Putin.

The 1-minute, 6-second-long video showed a lengthy traffic jam headed in one direction on a highway. This is what the post looked like at the time of the writing of this fact check:

(Source: Twitter.com screenshot taken on Sat May 27, 13:01:54 2023 UTC)

On the day the video was posted, May 22, 2023, two paramilitary groups, Freedom of Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps, which identify themselves as Russian volunteer fighters for Ukraine, said they crossed the Russian border into western Russia's Belgorod region to create a "demilitarized zone" there.

The tweet by Jason Jay Smart concerns the region's seat, Belgorod, a city of 333,931 people, according to official statistics.

The first part of the posted video shows multi-storey buildings and other structures on the side of the road where the traffic jam occurred. The cars are moving in the opposite direction of the vehicle with the camera.

Then, the buildings disappear and a green area with trees is seen, with only a Lukoil gas station visible at the 0:43 mark.

(Source: Twitter.com screenshot taken on Wed May 24 22:06:41 2023 UTC)

This can indicate that the video was shot on the outskirts of a metropolitan area and that the cars are driving into the town or city, not out of it.

Lead Stories analyzed Google Maps' Street View photos near Lukoil gas stations on the outskirts of Belgorod and found the filmed section of road near Lukoil gas station #31808.

(Source: Google.com/maps screenshot taken on Wed May 24 at 22:08:19 2023 UTC)

A structure seen in the video (at 0:17-0:19) before Lukoil, a brick building with a semicircular segment and the inscription "Рыбалка" ("Fishing"), helped us to identify the gas station's location. Click on the image below to enlarge it.

(Source: Twitter.com screenshots taken on Wed May 24, 2023 17:09:30 and 17:03:21 2023 UTC, respectively; collage by Lead Stories)

This is how the building appeared in Street View on Google Maps:

(Source: Google.com/maps screenshot taken on Wed May 24 ‏‎17:05:01 2023 UTC)

According to Google Maps, the filmed location is Studencheskaya Street in the north of Belgorod.

(Source: Google.com/maps screenshot taken on Wed May 24 ‏‎22:16:18 2023 UTC)

The traffic jam in the video is shown heading toward the city center, not out of the city. (The red arrow in the screenshot below shows the direction of the traffic.)

(Source: Google.com/maps screenshot taken on Wed May 24 ‏‎17:01:35 2023 UTC)

Highway 14K-1, which intersects with Studencheskaya Street, could be used to evacuate from Belgorod toward the city of Voronezh, roughly 155 miles to the northeast, but the highway to Voronezh does not run in the same direction as the traffic seen in the video. (14K-1 is marked in yellow in the Google Maps screenshot above.)

If the convoy were indeed evacuating from the city, it would have been driving in the lane in which the author of the video is driving.

The red circle on the screenshot below shows where the Freedom of Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps fighters reportedly came from. The red pinpoint marks the location of the Lukoil station seen in the video.


(Source: Google.com/maps screenshot taken on Wed May 24 16:57:40 2023 UTC)

The video's watermark reads "Belgorod News." A Telegram channel with this name refers in a May 22, 2023 post to a deleted video of a traffic jam in Belgorod caused by a road accident (translation from Russian by Lead Stories):

Friends, this morning we published a video of a morning traffic jam near Koper that was caused by an accident.

Now, fake news about an alleged evacuation is being spread online, with this very video.

Trust only verified sources.

The post has a 1-minute, 12-second-long video of the same traffic jam as the video on Twitter. The only difference is its duration: The video that went viral did not contain contain the beginning of the Belgorod News footage.


(Source: Belgorod News/Telegram screenshot taken on Wed May 24 22:10:30 2023 UTC)

Lead Stories did not find information about an accident on local websites or in a Google search. A search for "Koper Belgorod" revealed that this is the informal name of the Belgorod University of Cooperation, Economics and Law. The university is situated a little over roughly half a mile from the brick building with the sign "Fishing" that appears in the video.

On May 22, 2023, the Belgorod regional department of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations wrote on its Telegram page that evacuations in Belgorod "were not announced or carried out." However, evacuations were apparently carried out in the areas close to the Ukrainian border. In a May 23, 2023 video message on VKontakte, the Russian social media app, the governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, advised evacuated residents from the Grayvoronsky district, about a 90-minute drive to the west of Belgorod, not to return home for the time being.

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims about the Russian-Ukrainian war can be found here.

(This fact check was written by Evgenia Prodaeva. It is an adaptation of Prodaeva's May 26, 2023, Ukrainian-language fact check "
Відео колони машин НЕ показує втечу людей з Білгорода - це затор через аварію" for Lead Stories.)

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