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Making maps of the war in Ukraine

Databewijst June 21, 2022

On February 24th the Russian-Ukrainian war began. A horrific conflict. The war changed journalism from that day on. Journalists are on high alert to cover all news about the war. In the journalism landscape, the making of maps became more important, because how many people know where Ukraine lies? And what major cities are being attacked?

DataBewijst, a Dutch data journalism company, makes maps with the Mapcreator tool for the online platform Reuters Connect. Reuters Connect could be described as a large database with photos, videos and more that are uploaded every minute of the day. The maps made with the Mapcreator tool are presented on Reuters Connect for media outlets to use right away. Before the war, the maps were mostly of natural disasters or big accidents. However, when Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24th, this changed. DataBewijst began to focus on making maps that show the situation in Ukraine.

The beginning of the conflict

One of the first maps was one about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. This pipeline is a project worth billions of dollars and goes from Russia, through the East Sea, to Germany. On the first day of the invasion, Germany decided to shelve the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. A perfect opportunity to make a map of the pipeline. And with success. After many downloads, the map became the most downloaded one on Reuters Connect that week.

Following this map, DataBewijst made a map that shows where the Russians invaded Ukraine. This picture visualizes the location of Ukraine, together with the nearby threats. In this graphic, the three fronts are visualized. One front on the Belarussian-Ukrainian border, another on the Crimean Peninsula and a third one on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

From context to more specific maps

The first maps were to contextualize the war. Nevertheless, after the first days of the war, it became world news. And so began a need for more specific maps. An example of the focus on more zoomed-in news was the attack on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

Satellite view of Zaporizhzhia - war in Ukraine

Soon, as the maps became more in-depth, the expertise of checking news became important: Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) had to be used. OSINT is the use of data and online information that is available to the general public. This expertise is commonly used to specify news and to separate news from fake news.

The DataBewijst-team also made some maps with these OSINT skills. One map was about the bombing of the children’s hospital. It was not clear what the exact location was in Mariupol. The team of DataBewijst used multiple videos to find the exact location of the hospital: fact checking. Frame by frame and by using Yandex Maps, Google Maps and Google Earth, the location was found and the map was made.

In March, a large Russian convoy was headed to Kyiv. This was the so-called “invasion force” that should have captured the capital city of Ukraine. The DataBewijst-team made a map of this convoy. To find the exact location, the usage of OSINT was necessary to compare satellite images to various locations in the area of Kyiv.

Worldwide picture with thematic maps

For creating a worldwide picture, thematic maps were used to zoom out. Most notably were the maps of the sanctions imposed on Russia by countries all over the world. A lot of research went into these maps.

One of the recent thematic maps was of president Zelenskyy. The map shows the countries of parliaments the president spoke to. Zelenskyy is currently making an online ‘world tour’ to speak about the distressing situation in his country to gather worldwide support.

The war moves more to the background of the news

More than 100 days. That is how long the war is going on in Ukraine. Because of Russian losses the focus of the war has shifted to the Donbas region. This region was a reason to attack Ukraine in the first place, because of the self-proclaimed independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. This conflict also had a massive impact on global politics and highlighted the importance of the European Union and NATO for security reasons. Even Finland and Sweden, who were neutral during the whole Cold War, have applied for membership to NATO.

Also European membership became a hot topic because of this war with Ursula von der Leyden pushing to give Ukraine European Union candidate status. However, a number of countries don’t agree with this speed-up process, such as The Netherlands, Germany and France.

Conflict shifts to the Donbas region

The war in Ukraine has shifted to the Donbas region, because of Russian losses. One of the objectives for Russia is now to create a land corridor from the Krim to Russia through the Donbas region. This region lies in the east of Ukraine on the border of Russia. DataBewijst made a map of the possibility of more false independence referendums in the oblasts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

To clarify where the Donbas region actually is. DataBewijst made the following map with the Mapcreator tool:

The main places where the intensity of the battle is the worst, are at the Azov-factory in Mariupol (Russian have now taken this facility) and Sievierodonetsk (Russia is slowly gaining in this city). For both these places DataBewijst made maps with the Mapcreator tool.

Map of Azov-factory in Mariupol - war in Ukraine

And:

Map of Sievierodonetsk - war in Ukraine

These times are challenging for everyone, especially the Ukrainians. Journalists have the important task to paint the most accurate picture of the situation in Ukraine to the world. The making of maps can be seen as important work in the journalistic field, as these maps create an actual image of the news. DataBewijst has worked with the Mapcreator tool on a daily basis since the beginning of the war to visualize as much as possible. The maps above are some examples of the maps that are showcased on Reuters Connect.

Are you interested in this tool for your company? Click here to find out more and create your first map!

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