Mariupol: Documenting a medieval siege in the 21st century
Entry type: Single project
Country/area: United Kingdom
Publishing organisation: The Times and Sunday Times
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-04-09
Authors: Venetia Menzies, Michael Keith, Matthew Campbell
Michael Keith is a data and visualisation journalist. He specialises in creating bespoke charts, maps and interactive graphics to tell data-led stories.
Venetia is a data and digital journalist and photographer specialising in multimedia long reads. She has a background in economics and photojournalism, and was a finalist for the Amnesty Media Awards in 2021.
Matthew Campbell is a roving correspondent who, in over 30 years at The Sunday Times, has covered numerous wars, natural disasters and major political stories while serving as the paper’s bureau chief in Moscow in the early 1990s and later in Washington and Paris.
The siege of Mariupol, which left hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians sheltering in the city’s theatre, left the world horrified. We aimed to walk the reader through what happened, placing them at the location and recreating the destruction of the theatre by bringing together satellite maps, photography from the ground, drone video footage and case studies from those in the city.
Based on our internal metrics, the piece had above average engagement, meaning that most readers took the time to read the entire piece, despite its length, and spend a considerable amount of time doing so. In a world where we compete for a reader’s attention, this is an example of the power of visual storytelling in helping us keep the audience reading. This story, as well as many more by other news outlets, will serve as a historical record as to the war crimes committed by Russia against Ukraine, and the tragic example of Mariupol as a city that was put under siege in the 21st century.
The base 3D map was made using the Open Street Map building layer and extruding the building profiles upwards to give them height. Images were then georeferenced and aligned with the base map to show the approximate locations. To identify the exact locations of key areas, photographs and bomb drops, we used general OSINT techniques to match the exact coordinates. This involved using satellite images, photographs from on the ground, drone footage, and archive imagery. In the parts of the story where the map fades into photographs from the scene, our developer created detailed 3D structures and trees to allow the reader to feel that they were placed in the location, and then see how it looks following the Russian attack.
Context about the project:
Our website has technical obstacles that required pivoting how we presented the piece, and time constraints also helped us to limit the detail we were able to present. Accessing satellite imagery and speaking to case studies required cooperation from Maxar and those on the ground. Our correspondent in Russia had been expelled from the country and this meant our reportage needed to rely on publicly available data such as satellites, the generosity of those on the ground taking the time to speak to us remotely, and the work of photographers deployed to the region providing real time imagery that allowed us to reconstruct events.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
It showed the value of investing time in examining one event within the conflict in detail, allowing time for the reader to understand what happened and place themselves at the scene and fully digest the damage done to the city and its population. It’s an example of how writing, video, maps and graphics and photography can be utilised to make a story more informative, accurate and engaging.