Tracking the Russian Invasion of Ukraine with Satellite Imagery

Bloomberg’s MapLab newsletter looks at how freely available satellite imagery has enabled widespread monitoring of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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.

Online Map Roundup: Apple Maps in iOS 16, Google Maps Displays Tolls, Yandex Erases Borders

Apple Maps in iOS 16 will gain multi-stop routing, which I thought was a long-established feature on other platforms, as well as transit fare/card/pass integration. Apple’s new maps will also expand to more countries, and its detailed city maps will expand to more cities in the U.S., Australia and Canada. 9to5Mac has a summary.

As announced in April, Google Maps now displays estimated toll prices when routing.

Russian search engine Yandex is sidestepping the Russian invasion of Ukraine, frozen conflicts and other contested national borders by simply removing national borders from its map. It’s being spun as a pivot to local navigation. (Sure.)

Google Didn’t Stop Obscuring Imagery of Russian Military Sites Because the Imagery Hadn’t Been Obscured in the First Place

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.”

The Design Choices Behind Maps of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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).

Previously: How Maps of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Can Mislead; Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Roundup #3.

Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Roundup #3

The Financial Times has a storymap exploring how Russian mistakes and unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance changed the expected outcome of the war. [Maps Mania]

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.

How Maps of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Can Mislead

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.”

For context, see previous posts: Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: A Roundup; Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Roundup #2.

The Direction of Escape

I got lost in the map of an imaginary country.
The Baedeker told me to look for the palace of government
and I found my great-grandmother
renouncing the head of a state that was never hers.

This is how “The Direction of Escape,” a poem by Sonya Taaffe published at online zine Not One of Us, begins. It is a poem very much about the current moment. Taaffe says, “The title is a line of Le Guin’s. The stories it contains are real.”

Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Roundup #2

Content warning: Some of these links contain disturbing images: I’ve marked them with a †.

More on the question of whether theatre maps accurately reflect the ground situation. Nathan Ruser’s maps have been used to argue that Russian forces are controlling roads rather than territory, but Ruser complains that his maps are being misinterpreted: they were never meant to show territorial control, just troop movements. See also this Twitter thread from Jennifer Cafarella, in which she explains the methodology and reasoning behind her team’s maps.

3D models of bombing damage.† Satellite imagery and 3D photogrammetric data are used to create 3D models of bombing damage in Ukraine. [Maps Mania]

A map of attacks on civilian targets with photo and video documentation. [Nataliya Gumenyuk]

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.”

A Ukrainian map of alleged Russian casualties† and where they were deployed from. [Michael Weiss]

A map of checkpoint traffic. More than two million Ukrainians have fled the Russian invasion. Overwhelmingly, they’re fleeing westward. This map shows how busy each border checkpoint is: Polish border crossings are extremely congested. [Kyiv Independent]

Meanwhile, Kenneth Field has been working on ways to map Ukraine’s refugees. Here’s his most recent iteration:

Ukraine’s population density. More than 41 million people live in Ukraine. This map from Airwars shows the population density per square kilometre. Which shows how many people in an area are affected by a particular military strike.

Apple says Crimea is Ukrainian. Mashable: “Apple’s Maps and Weather apps now mark Crimea as part of Ukraine when accessed outside of Russia. It appears the company has quietly updated its stance on the territorial dispute.” Apple had marked Crimea as Russian in 2019, which pissed Ukraine off at the time. [TechCrunch]

Finally, this striking bit of art:

Mapping the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: A Roundup

Map of Ukraine showing Russian incursions from Nathan Ruser, Putin’s War: The Daily Ukraine Brief, 2 Mar 2022.
Nathan Ruser, Putin’s War: The Daily Ukraine Brief, 2 Mar 2022.

Areas vs. lines. I’ve seen several reminders that the areas shown in some maps as being under control by Russian forces are not necessarily under Russian control. Since Russian columns have to stick to major roads and cannot, under current conditions, move cross-country, the argument is to visualize Russian incursions as lines rather than areas, as Nathan Ruser does in maps for his Daily Ukraine Brief (above).

The New York Times maps the Russian invasion. This regularly updated New York Times page includes their maps of the on-the-ground situation in Ukraine. Areas rather than lines though.

Map of operational train stations in Ukraine as of 2 Mar 2022
Укрзалізниця

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]

Captured maps and other documents carried by Russian troops are being posted to Twitter.

Previously: Traffic Data Inadvertently Revealed the Start of the Russian Invasion; Traffic Data Inadvertently Revealed the Start of the Russian Invasion; Air-Raid Shelters in Kyiv; A Crowdsourced Map of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.

Traffic Data Inadvertently Revealed the Start of the Russian Invasion

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.

A Crowdsourced Map of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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]

Monitoring the Arctic Heat Wave

Extreme temperatures in Eureka
ESA/Copernicus Sentinel (CC licence)

The European Space Agency has a post about monitoring the Arctic heat wave (mainly, it seems, through the Copernicus program). It’s illustrated by a few startling images from this summer: of Siberia’s wildfires, the record-low levels of Arctic sea ice, and (above) a map showing the land surface temperatures on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut on 11 August, when Eureka, Nunavut—80° N—had a record high of 21.9°C (71.4°F).

Antique Globes, Virtual and Real

British Library digital globes
British Library

The British Library is digitizing its collection of globes, with the first seven virtual globes scheduled to be released online next week.

The digital globes will be available to view on the British Library website—www.bl.uk/collection-items—from 26 March, via a viewing platform which includes an augmented reality function (available on phone or tablet via the Sketchfab app). This online access will allow unprecedented up-close interaction with the globes from anywhere in the world and means that for the first time, a variety of previously illegible surface features on the globes can be read.

A total of 30 globes are being scanned this way. [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Grabar Art Conservation Center is restoring the State Historical Museum’s badly dilapidated pair of Blaue globes. Work on the terrestrial globe has been completed; the celestial globe is next. This video (in Russian) documents the process. See also TVC Moscow (also in Russian). [WMS]