By TAKUYA MIYANO/ Staff Writer
May 5, 2022 at 07:10 JST
Volunteers from around the world are working on a project initiated in Japan to visually map out the evolution of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They are establishing the locations of photos that depict the ravages of the war and adding the images to an online 3-D map to visualize how the armed conflict has progressed over the past two months or so.
New photos continue to arrive from the war-torn nation for the project, titled “Satellite Images Map of Ukraine.”
Some of the images were photographed by local residents at the risk of their lives. A Ukrainian photojournalist who was contributing to the project has been reported killed.
The project was initiated by Hidenori Watanave, a professor of information design with the University of Tokyo graduate school’s Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, and Taichi Furuhashi, a professor of spatial information with the Aoyama Gakuin University School of Global Studies and Collaboration.
“Numerous photos are available that convey the terrible state of things in Ukraine, but they would only drift away and end up forgotten unless they are sorted,” Watanave said.
Organizing the images in the map format allows viewers to understand how different sites that were attacked are located relative to one another. Viewers can also follow the sequence of events based on the dates the photos were taken.
Watanave said the 3-D visualization allows more diverse viewpoints that help explain why a specific site was targeted and how houses, which are not military facilities, were attacked.
The map shows how a theater in Mariupol looked after it was bombed despite the presence of civilian evacuees inside it or how damage expanded toward central Irpin as the city outside Kyiv became engulfed in flames.
A 3-D image of a high-rise apartment building that came under attack in the capital is worked out so elaborately that pieces of furniture are visible inside the apartments.
The Satellite Images Map of Ukraine presents 3-D images created from video footage shot by residents as well as satellite photos released by U.S. satellite operators and other parties.
Watanave and Furuhashi established the locations of those images by looking them up on Google Earth. They also tweaked the images for their width-height ratios and distortions before putting them on the map to coincide with where they were shot.
The mapping project has been joined by volunteers around the world, including a German researcher who made 3-D images from photos of damaged buildings. The members continue visualizing the war by combining satellite photos with ground-based images and preserving them in their digital archive.
Residents have contributed images, including one that shows the interior of a basement where a project contributor was taking shelter. The number of images on offer for public access has reached about 240 as of April 21.
The map offers a 3-D image of high-rise apartment buildings and trucks destroyed by artillery attacks in Borodyanka, some 50 kilometers northwest of Kyiv. Photos of one of the apartment buildings with its central portion collapsed sent a shock wave throughout the world.
Maks Levin, the Ukrainian photojournalist who took those images, contributed video footage that he was shooting in the country by using a drone and by other means.
Watanave sent Levin a message on Twitter to thank him on March 6, immediately after the group released Levin’s 3-D image. The message was “liked” by the photographer, which was the last time they ever corresponded.
Media outlets, including The New York Times, reported on April 2 that Levin was found dead outside Kyiv. He had remained unreachable after he told a friend in mid-March that he was going to take photos of a battle.
Levin was likely shot dead by Russian troops, the reports said.
“Flames were still visible in some of the images that he shot,” Watanave said. “He photographed them at the risk of his life immediately following an attack. They are invaluable. I want to preserve the photos so they will be shared long into the future.”
Watanave and Furuhashi had worked on a similar project for preserving photos, survivors’ accounts and other information related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 in map format.
Watanave said he hopes the current project’s archive will allow people to look back on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine five or 10 years down the road.
“Wars and massacres have recurred in the past,” he said. “I hope conveying the realities of Ukraine on this map will help deter further escalation of the invasion and put the brakes on wars in the years to come.”
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