Mapping Putin’s war on civilians

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: The New Statesman

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-03-16

Language: English

Authors: Ben van der Merwe, Isabeau van Halm


Ben van der Merwe is a data journalist at Sky News, formerly the New Statesman.
Isabeau van Halm is a data journalist at Energy Monitor.

Project description:

Ordinary Ukrainians have borne the brunt of Russia’s invasion. We mapped out every Russian attack on civilians in the early months of the war. Each dot represents an attack on civilians or civilian infrastructure verified by the Centre for Information Resilience.

Impact reached:

Working with investigators from the Centre of Information Resilience and Bellingcat, we used their verified data on incidents and developments in Ukraine to map out attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and track potential war crime incidents in the first month of the war. Ours was one of the first data journalism pieces to visualise, in a multimedia piece, Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

We spoke to Ukrainians dealing with the consequences on the ground, risking their lives to document these atrocities, and to OSINT analysts about how gathering information on attacks can help war crimes investigations. As a result, the piece was also a very early contribution to the debate around whether Putin can be held legally accountable.

Techniques/technologies used:

The data from this visualisation comes from the Centre for Information Resilience’s Eyes on Russia Project. Using their database of verified Russian attacks, we examined all incidents involving civilian casualties. We also categorised these attacks ourselves, finding that the database included 22 attacks on nurseries, schools and universities; 11 on malls and markets; 10 on medical facilities; and 8 on religious institutions. After identifying which attacks to highlight to tell the story, we used StoryMapJS to make an interactive, scrollable map.

Context about the project:

The Eyes on Russia database consists of verified open-source information, which means there could be multiple verified sources for the same attack. To identify individual incidents, we manually reviewed each of the sources. At the same time, we also had to decide which images and videos we could not include in the visualisation due to the graphic content.

We decided to include a selection of images and videos in the visualisation to show readers the devastation these attacks cause and the impact of the war on ordinary civilians. We blurred several of the images ourselves when we judged that the contents were too graphic.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Because we worked together with OSINT analysts and organisations, we were able to provide accurate, verified information at a time of rampant misinformation around the war. It also allowed us to create and publish the project within a short time frame while including the latest developments and changes. It also highlights how social media and OSINT analysis can play a role in war crime investigations.

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