When the invasion of Ukraine started, these images started popping up on social media and in the news so often that it seems like most of us have access to advanced satellite imagery intelligence in real time. […] But the role of commercial providers in acquiring and sharing so many images with such regularity is unprecedented. Their rise has made military-grade intelligence available to pretty much everyone who wishes to look into it.
What’s notable is that because the satellites are commercial, the images aren’t classified.
Yesterday, reports that Google Maps had stopped obscuring satellite imagery of sensitive Russian military facilities spread like wildfire across Twitter. Only there was no official announcement from Google saying they’d done so, and while Ukrainian Twitter was seriously running with it, I wanted to see some confirmation from the mapping side. In the event, an update to Ars Technica’s story says that Google hadn’t stopped blurring the imagery—the imagery hadn’t been blurred in the first place. “A Google spokesperson told Ars that the company hasn’t changed anything with regard to blurring out sensitive sites in Russia, so perhaps none of us were looking closely until now.”
In Geographical magazine, Doug Specht and Alexander Kent examine some of the design choices made by media organizations mapping the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Cartographic design choices over colour, layout, lettering and symbology, for example, all influence our attitudes and feelings towards the war in Ukraine. […] [B]y understanding how these choices (e.g., regarding the selection and classification of features as well as their colour and symbology) mask the nuances of reality, we can be better at reading the stories they are trying to tell.”
Relatedly, in a Twitter thread, Le Monde’s cartographic team explores the decisions behind one of their print maps (in French).
Bellingcat has launched a map showing civilian harm in Ukraine. “Included in the map are instances where civilian areas and infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed, where the presence of civilian injuries are visible and/or there is the presence of immobile civilian bodies. […] We intend this to be a living project that will continue to be updated as long as the conflict persists.”
In a Twitter thread, Levi Westerfeld explores how the New York Times graphics department changed its map symbology as the Russian invasion progressed.
In another Twitter thread, Nathan Ruser (see roundups passim) shares a variety of maps showing different ways of looking at the invasion, from momentum to front lines to territory held.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Mateusz Fafinski looks at maps of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, their disconnect with facts on the ground, and their use in propaganda. “Numerous news outlets and analysts produce maps of the war in Ukraine. These maps tend to follow a similar pattern. Areas of Russian advances get colored in red, sometimes augmented with arrows signifying the direction of Russian movements. Those areas are variously described as ‘areas occupied’ or ‘areas taken.’ At face value, these maps tell a story of significant Russian progress and control. But reports from the ground tell a more nuanced story.”
General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been carrying a map of Ukraine with him everywhere he goes, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports in a piece that looks at U.S. intelligence gathering and work with its allies during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Milley’s map is a compendium of U.S intelligence about Russia’s pitiless assault on Ukraine. The paper version isn’t actually big or particularly fancy, just a foot-square chart showing the locations, numbers and likely assault paths of the vast Russian force battering Ukraine. But the map documents what Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his top aides believe might be the most comprehensive operational intelligence in the history of warfare. […]
Milley ordered aides to begin assembling the map in late October, when startling intelligence reports signaled that Russia was gathering an invasion army on Ukraine’s border. The Russian forces were no exercise; intercepted messages showed that Russia was actually planning an attack.
Of course we can’t get a look at Gen. Milley’s map. Classified.
Where hot spots are literally hot spots. In a Twitter thread, Sotris Valkaniotis shows how military operations in Ukraine show up in Landsat spectral imagery: weapons fire turns up as hot spots showing “very high temperature in short-wave infrared band.”
Where the trains are still running. Ukraine’s rail operator Ukrzaliznytsia has posted a map (above) showing which stations are still operating—at least at that particular moment. [Christopher Miller/ТРУХА]
AppleInsider looks at how online maps (Apple Maps, Google Maps), especially their traffic layer, inadvertently revealed Russian troop movements at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The sheer volume of mapping data now available at our fingertips means it was possible for civilians half a world away to see when Russian forces began moving. Specifically, that data pinpointed a traffic jam starting on the Russian side of the border, actively moving into Ukraine in the first few minutes of the Russian and Ukraine conflict.
Just as with any cartography, this information required interpreting. Google Maps did not specifically say that it was troop movements, nor was its satellite imagery up to the minute. During the process of researching this story, we’ve confirmed that Apple Maps presented similar inbound troop movement information—but it wasn’t setting out to do that either.
What these services did, though, was register all of the smartphone users whose driving was slowed or halted by unusual traffic conditions. Wherever the majority of the data came from, it was possible to determine what was happening when coupled with known details of Russian troop locations.
The Russia-Ukraine Monitor Map “is a crowdsourced effort to map, document and verify information in order to provide reliable information for policymakers and journalists of the on-the-ground and online situation in and around Ukraine. […] The pins on this map represents open source material such as videos, photos and imagery that have been cross-referenced with satellite imagery to determine precise locations of military activity.” It’s produced by the Centre for Information Resilience. [Boing Boing]
After Mitsuo Fuchida commanded the air attack on Pearl Harbor, he drew a map to report on the damage his planes inflicted on the U.S. ships. That map, held by the Library of Congress, is the subject of an interactive story map from the Library: “This is the story of how Fuchida made the map, the history surrounding it, and an opportunity for the reader to interactively explore the map’s contents.” [Maps Mania]