Witnessing the Destruction of Mariupol from Space

 Witnessing the Destruction of Mariupol from Space

Before the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, the city of Mariupol was a steel and machine-building centre stretching along the Sea of Azov, at the mouth of the Kalmius and Kalchik rivers.

Today, Mariupol has become the hottest spot in the Donetsk region and is one of the most tragic pages in the chronicle of the war in Ukraine. The world is watching the blockade, destruction, death and the heroic defence of the city, almost live. The stories of this destruction are brought to us largely via satellites.

Digital imaging technologies from space and other sources have been used in Ukraine for the rapid transmission of information, 3D scanning of historical and cultural sites, the assessment of destruction, and the collection of evidence of war crimes. We wrote about this evidence gathering from space earlier.

Shocking stories of destruction

We have talked about the fact that satellite images help to assess the effects of hostilities. We have seen many shocking stories happening almost daily in Mariupol and throughout Ukraine. One of the most striking examples was the bombing of the Mariupol theatre, where hundreds of civilians were hiding from shelling. Satellite images captured its destruction.

Mariupol Theatre before the bombing / Image credit: Maxar Technologies
Radio Svoboda: Destroyed Mariupol Theatre with the words “Children” clearly visible on the square in front of the building, March 29, 2022 / Image credit: Maxar Technologies

The results of satellite imagery become public almost in real time. Journalists use images in their reports and investigations, and it for fact-checking reports from the ground. The collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists in Bellingcat provides very useful guides to journalists and anyone interested in using satellite imagery for fact-checking.

Also check out the following articles about the use of satellite imagery in the war in Ukraine:

Eyes on Ukraine: Satellite observations of the war in cities

Satellite Imagery as Evidence in War Crime Investigations

5 Tips for Interpreting Satellite Images

Mass Graves Visible From Space

Recently, Ukrainian journalists published satellite images of mass graves near Mariupol. With the help of satellite data, it is possible to trace how these burial sites grew on an almost daily basis (and some still continue to expand today).

Radio Svoboda: Comparison of Planet satellite images for March 24, 2022, and April 24, 2022, of mass burial sites in the village of Stary Krym near Mariupol

The first excavated trenches in the Old Crimean cemetery in Stary Krim appeared on March 24, after the village was occupied by the Russian military. A Planet-supplied satellite image shows that trenches are 60-70 metres long.

The April 24 satellite image (right side of the image above) shows new trenches. The length of the mass grave site had now increased to 200 metres.

Satellite images reveal the horrors of war

Azovstal from Space

The Azovstal steel plant remains the last Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol. This large steel production plant covers an area of 11 square kilometres, including multi-level underground tunnels and bomb shelters. Over the past weeks it has become a shelter for civilians and the last remaining defenders of the Ukrainian army.

According to various sources, the Azovstal plant, despite the bombing and blockade, has been holding the line for more than two months.

UNIAN news agency: “Azov” showed how wounded soldiers survive in a field hospital on the territory of the Azovstal plant / Image credit “Azov” Telegram channel

Satellites can see into the most inaccessible places to show what is happening there. Journalists and Earth Observation professionals are collecting pictures of Azovstal to show the scale of the most dramatic battle in Ukraine now.

Specialists at The New York Times share Maxar’s satellites images of Azovstal:

An animation, created from a series of images, allows you to watch the course of hostilities.

How Can Space Help Ukraine?

One of the best opportunities for space data companies and specialists to help the Ukrainian people is to join the EUSPA #EUSpace4Ukraine initiative. #EUSpace4Ukraine is a new open platform which aims to match innovators with NGOs and other aid workers, to provide technological solutions for humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people.

NGOs and aid workers share their needs and ways they think EUSpace platforms and technology could support their efforts. These needs address some of the key challenges that people fleeing from Ukraine are facing.

Innovators and developers on the other side share their space-based products and services, that they believe may support NGOs in Ukraine.

#EUSpace4Ukraine: Call for Aid Workers and Innovators


At Groudstation.space we express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We keep informing you about the latest news and insights on satellite data technology applications during the war. To see all our articles please visit our dedicated page.

Space for Ukraine

If you want to share your expertise, topical research results, or let people know about your event, check out the article where we describe these opportunities.

Featured image credit:  Maxar Technologies

Author: Vincet Veritas. Edited by Remco Timmermans

Vincet Veritas

Related post