The guys grabbed a drink, and decided to make some noise

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: Novaya Gazeta

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 24/08/2021

Credit: Katya Bonch-Osmolovskaya, Antonina Asanova, Artem Shchennikov, Arnold Khachaturov


Katya Bonch-Osmolovskaya is working in the data department of Novaya Gazeta for the past two years. She is also a co-teacher of data journalism in the Higher School of Economics. In November 2021 she was awarded the “Redcollegia” prize for the data story about false propaganda on criminal activity among migrants in Russia (made in collaboration with IStories Media).

Antonina Asanova started her career in the regional media Fontanka.ru from St. Petersburg, Russia. Since 2021 has joined the data department of Novaya Gazeta.

Artem Shchennikov, MA in data journalism, Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Since 2019 he is a part of the data team in Novaya Gazeta, working both as a data engineer, developer, and designer of infographics. As of 2022, he became the editor of the new department of infographics in Novaya Gazeta and co-teacher in HSE on data visualization course.

Arnold Khachaturov is the data editor at Novaya Gazeta. He is also studying for a PhD in sociology at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Project description:

The project presents a massive overview of the Ukrainian conflict. After the last escalation, which took place in spring 2021, we came up with an idea to make an analysis of the conflict based on data of the number of ceasefire violations provided by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. By matching the timeline of ceasefire violations with the social and political events and media propaganda we found out that the conflict has transformed from real military operations into infowar. We concluded that at the moment this so called hybrid war is endless because of the benefits it brings on for

Impact reached:

We have created a unique tool that demonstrates the real dynamics of the conflict in Donbas over the past 5 years. Research was shared with many media, including Ukrainian. Global Investigative Journalism Network included our material in the top 10 best investigations of August 2021 in CIS countries.

Techniques/technologies used:

Unfortunately, OSCE doesn’t have an open access to the data of ceasefire violations, so we made huge work.

  1. We gathered more than 2000 daily reports in PDF format from the OSCE website using Python.
  2. These PDFs has different structure according to different publishing periods, so we created a programming tool to parse them and convert into large CSV files. This step also required some manual work to prove the recognition quality.
  3. Then we cleaned the data in Google Sheets, extracted number of ceasefire violations by day, grouped them by weeks and put them on the timeline.
  4. We also made massive research to establish events that could be causes or consequences of the escalations and truces.
  5. We decided that the best form to present the result of our work is scrollytelling format. It was very new for us.
  6. We built and embedded a new engine to run this visualization on our website by using JavaScript, React framework and D3 library.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Each step of the project was challenging, especially the work with parsed and recognized PDFs. It took many hours to prove them manually, fact-check, and ensure the high quality of the data we presented to our readers.

The scale of the database was ambiguous in terms of manual prooving, but we double-checked the result of parsing because over the past years, the OSCE mission has changed the structure of reports several times.

Also, we had very limited experience with such complicated front-end development and had no production team, so we learned on the go how to manage such a big project. Moreover, it took a while to develop the exclusive engine for our site to achieve the best performance of scrollytelling for better user experience neither using a desktop nor mobile devices.

On the other hand, we spent a long time figuring out how to make an interesting story and comprehensive analysis based on these data. We hope we achieved this goal.

What can others learn from this project?

This project had two interesting aspects: technical implementation and data interpretation. The conflict in Ukraine has been going on for more than 7 years and we have come across a huge amount of information on this topic. Despite this we have combined all our analytical findings and expert abstracts into a single structured data-driven story.

Project links: