In early June, Earth Observation Group’s satellite images began to show activity within Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, two cities separated by the Seversky Donets River in the Luhansk region. The activity grew more intense as Russian forces made gains in Sievierodonetsk, and Zelenskyy described the pair as “dead cities” with as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers being killed each day.
Jun. 10 satellite images showed intense activities on the Donbas frontline, especially Sievierodonetsk.
In the following days, Russian forces worked to steadily demolish the two cities. In mid-June Russian airstrikes in Sievierodonetsk caused a fire in the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of Ukrainian citizens and soldiers were sheltering even after Russian forces demanded Ukrainian troops in the chemical plant lay down their arms and surrender.
On Jun. 22 activity remained in the Donbas region, moving south around Sievierodonetsk and Alchevsk.
In late June, after over a month of defending the city, Ukrainian troops retreated from Sievierodonetsk, and the city fell to Russian control in an important victory for the invading country. On Jun. 24 intense activities continued in the Donbas region near Sievierodonetsk , but by Jun. 26 the activities appeared to spread wider across the region.
While the most intensive fighting was in eastern Ukraine, attacks were also observed in other cities across the country. In northern Ukraine, Russia increased its shelling of Kharkiv, killing at least 15 civilians on Jun. 21. A month prior, Ukraine was able to push Russian troops back from the outskirts of the city, but Russia continued its long-range attacks.
A few days later, on Jun. 26, Russia launched air strikes in the capital of Kyiv, which had not been hit with major strikes since early June. One person was killed and six were injured in a Russian strike on a residential apartment building in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian officials. On Jun. 26 activity appeared in Kyiv.
On Jun. 27, after Sievierodonetsk was claimed as a Russian victory, activities around the city lessened but intensified along the previous frontline cities, such as Kharkiv to Sloviansk.
On Jun. 27 a missile strike hit a busy shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk in central Ukraine. The attack killed many civilians and left others missing, according to Ukrainian officials. Although Russia denied it, Zelenskyy described the attack on the mall as a “calculated” strike. Just a couple of days later, several Russian missiles struck a nine-story apartment building and a resort in the southern port city of Odesa, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more.
On Jun. 28 intensive activities continued in the Donbas region around Sievierodonetsk and the frontline from Kharkiv to Horlivka.
Attacks in the Donbas and beyond came as the annual G7 summit began in Germany. Leaders from the world’s seven leading Democratic economies re-emphasized their support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy also spoke with the G7 leaders over video and urged them to approve more military help for Ukraine.
Following their retreat from Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers turned their defense to Lysychansk, but just a week later, Lysychansk also fell to Russian forces. Lysychansk was the last remaining Ukrainian-held city in the Luhansk region, and by taking control in early July, Russian forces moved into a better position to capture their next target: the remaining Ukrainian-held parts of the Donetsk region.
On Jul. 1, intensive activities were observed in Donbas frontline, but in the days following the Russian capture of Lysychansk, the activities in Donbas died down and moved further west and south.
On Jul. 6, activities in Donbas area spread further into the southwest region, and areas around Donetsk city started to show more activity.
On Jul. 14, sporadic activities were observed along the southern frontline and in the Donbas area. By Jul. 19, activity increased in southern Ukraine and the Donbas area. Some larger clusters of activity were observed 60 kilometers north of Kherson.
On Jul. 24, intensive activities were observed in Kherson, along with sporadic activities spotted in the Donbas area near Donetsk city.
In July, activity began to pick up in southern Ukraine. While Russian advances have mostly been centered in the Donbas, Ukraine launched a counter attack in Kherson, a city that Russia captured early in the nation’s invasion and has controlled in the months since. The initial capture of Kherson, which sits upon the Dnipro River, allowed Russian forces to continue their westward push toward Odessa, a major shipping hub on the Black Sea. Now backed with Western-supplied arms, Ukrainian forces hope to retake the strategic city.
On Aug. 21, sporadic activities were observed in Donetsk.
Today, Russia continues its onslaught against Ukraine’s determined defenses, and Ukrainian officials have warned that the attacks are expected to worsen in the coming days. It remains to be seen how much longer the fighting will carry on, but with each day bringing more pain and suffering, it will be difficult to call the outcome a “victory” for either side.
ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY
The Payne Institute’s Earth Observation Group (EOG) has been capturing a unique view of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine using satellite data provided by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard a Joint Polar Satellite System co-operated by NOAA and NASA. The EOG’s VIIRS Nighttime Lights (VNL) product can display nighttime lights while the group’s VIIRS Nightfire (VNF) product can detect thermal anomalies on the Earth’s surface.
These maps were made with a composite of multiple sources to infer critical information regarding light activity in Ukraine. High moon nights and the location’s proximity to the prime meridian can interfere with the satellite images.
*A note about interpreting the images: The color base illustrates the observed radiance. Red indicates that no lighting was observed for the given night. Yellow indicates the night’s lighting is comparable to the monthly average, and green indicates that new lighting has been observed which was not seen in the monthly average. Blue indicates cloud cover, which may interfere with the observations.
Data from VNF are also added to the map to indicate observations of heat. In most cases the resulting VNF cluster polygons surround new light features in green, which means the observed new lights are resulted from combustion events, such as fires.
Brooke Bowser is a Communications Associate at the Payne Institute. She is an environment and science writer.
Fen-Chi Hsu is a researcher in remote sensing at the Earth Observation Group at the Payne Institute.
Christopher Elvidge is the director of the Payne Institute’s Earth Observation Group, and one of the world’s foremost scientists working in satellite data science.
Morgan Bazilian is the Director of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines. Previously, he was lead energy specialist at the World Bank.