Russian military bases. Satellite monitoring.

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Ukraine

Publishing organisation: TEXTY.org.ua

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-01-01

Language: Ukrainian, English

Authors: Anatoliy Bondarenko, Yevhenia Drozdova, Illia Samoilych


Anatoliy Bondarenko: co-founder and head of data journalism at Texty.org.ua. Physicist by education. Author of the course about data visualization for Prometheus (Ukrainian MOOC platform) and visiting lecturer on data journalism in UCU, Lviv
Yevhenia Drozdova: data journalist at Texty.org.ua. Works with R, Python, JavaScript, specializes in creating interactive graphs and maps.
Illia Samoilych: data analyst at Texty.org.ua, joined the team in 2021. Python developer; specializes in programming and satelite images processing. Has experience with EOS Data Analytics, where he processed satellite images to find natural disasters.

Project description:

This is a visualization that allows you to monitor Russian military equipment around Ukraine (before the invasion on February 24). The monitoring was conducted by analyzing satellite images.
On the interactive map we showed all the locations of the military equipment known to us from open sources, where changes have taken place recently. And the most interesting thing is at the bottom of the map: we use Sentinel-1 satellite data to estimate how much equipment there is on a particular military base.

Impact reached:

In March 2021, Russia began a significant increase in its forces on the borders of Ukraine and in the occupied Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. After US involvement and Biden’s talks with Putin, the Kremlin withdrew some of its personnel and equipment from the borders, but not all of it. In the autumn of 2021, the second phase of escalation began. Our project helped to fact-check news in media and speaches of politicians about build-up of Russian fores around Ukraine. With the help of indirect tools we created an interactive map and evidence base that prove Russian preparatoryactivities to full-scale invasion to Ukraine.

Our work will be helpfull for journalists/analysts/experts in monitoring of Russian military bases near Ukraine’s border and on occupied territory.

Project was presented on several events in Ukraine, lots of publications in Ukrainian and international media, as well on Italian Television, and also at Data Fest Tbilisi (May 2022). We continued to update the project after Russia’s invasion, so for the moment we have historical data with satelite images for about 9 months.

Techniques/technologies used:

We build interactive map to show, with the help of points and polygons, all the locations of the military equipment known to us from open sources. After clicking on the spot on the map, you will see images created by us based on Sentinel-1 data, which can be used to monitor the presence of military equipment.

The satellite images which you see in this visualization are not actual photos but rather composite images that we create with the help of our computer program based on data from Sentinel-1. Each image under the map is based on data obtained by satellites during their passage of the same orbit.

We used the Python programming language and Google Earth Engine to search and process new satellite images from Sentinel-1 on a daily basis.

Context about the project:

The work on the project (from October-November 2021 till the January 2022) helped us to make sure that Russia’s military move around Ukraine is not a show or intimidation action, but preparatory work to military actions against Ukraine. This fact gave the TEXTY team a push to prepare to possible war and even reflected on our editorial work, especially on chosing topics for articles.

From the other hand, it was a new, non-conventional experience with satelite images processing.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

We are grateful to OSINT experts The_Lookout_N, Mike Eckel, C O U P S U R E, Michael J. Sheldon, Konrad Muzyka for their examples of satellite imagery analysis. We used some of their research to create this project.

Project links: