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Japan researchers create online maps with satellite images to expose damage in Ukraine

A map indicating fires that occurred over a one-month period in the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, is seen in this image taken from a website created by a research team including University of Tokyo professor Hidenori Watanave.

TOKYO -- A research team led by a University of Tokyo professor has created digital maps utilizing satellite images and other photos to show the reality of damaged areas in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

    Hidenori Watanave, information design professor at the University of Tokyo's graduate school, said that by updating latest information online, internet users can observe the movements of troops coming in from Russia, as well as the state of the expanding destruction in eastern Ukraine following large-scale battles.

    A satellite image taken on April 9 showed an airport in the western Ukrainian city of Voronezh, located 270 kilometers from the major city Kharkiv, which is in the country's northeast. The photo showed dozens of military aircraft lined up. In another satellite image taken around the same time, a row of vehicles seemingly belonging to Russian troops could be seen stretching for over 10 kilometers on a main road in eastern Ukraine. Both images were uploaded online by a private satellite company.

    Together with Aoyama Gakuin University professor Taichi Furuhashi, Watanave identified the locations of the photos and revealed satellite imagery of these places via Google Earth. He commented, "You can actually tell (from the maps) that Russia is making arrangements within and outside the country to prepare for large-scale offensives in eastern Ukraine. This is learned not from statements of government authorities, but through the facts captured in the satellite images."

    The team used satellite images revealed by NASA to show the state of Mariupol in Ukraine's southeast, which was hit in violent attacks. By combining satellite imagery with red markings that indicated heat detected from the ground, the team was apparently able to indicate the range of areas where fires occurred in the month through April 3.

    A wide range of urban areas are marked red, including a theater in the city center where, according to local authorities, at least 300 people were killed in a Russian bombing. "Though Russia originally claimed that its attacks did not target places where civilians live, you can tell that the reality is different," said Watanave.

    The professor started creating the digital maps shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. He said he thought it was his duty to record and convey the war damage unfolding in real time during this age in which he lives. Although the information on the website is simple, like the places and times of photos, "there is no room for fabrication precisely because of this," he said. "As a result, people can see through any false information in a nation's propaganda, and use it as a fact-checking tool."

    Besides satellite imagery, Watanave is also working on making 3D models with drone photos in the public domain. When footage of a three-star hotel in northern Ukraine's Chernihiv was shared on April 9, he immediately transformed it into a 3D image conveying the raw reality of destruction from a bombing.

    Watanave commented, "In Japan, there might be people who view the crisis as something happening in a far-off country. But, looking at this, you can know in an instant that places which are no different from where we live have been destroyed mercilessly. I'd like people to sense the war-damaged areas from the point of view of someone living there, even from Japan."

    The research team's website can be reached at

    (Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Tokyo City News Department)

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