Project Mariupol: A record of evil
Atrocities committed in Ukraine, especially by the Russian military, are on a scale not seen in recent decades, leading to one of the largest war crimes investigations in recent history, using new methods and sources of investigation.
The first casualty of war is truth, and the main casualty of war is innocence; war crimes exist where these two casualties meet. Each day, new information and imagery of war crimes in occupied territories and combat zones around Ukraine emerge in the online OSINT (open source intelligence) domain. Since the revelation of the Bucha Massacre at the beginning of April 2022, there have been various (official and private) efforts to document war crimes in Ukraine. However, as part of southern and eastern Ukraine remains occupied, traditional modes of investigation have not been successful in gathering information from those regions, unlike OSINT investigation methods.
Open-source information is information in any format (audio, visual and/or metadata) that is available to be accessed online without restrictions. Popular examples are photos from social media apps and pages. In the context of Ukraine, OSINT has been utilised vastly for many purposes. During the first few weeks of the war (and still today) OSINT pages and channels on Telegram and Twitter have been tracking the war (uploading troop movements, tallying unit casualties from photos and videos, tracking planes via the ‘flightradar’ app). In mid-March, the first OSINT information on war crimes emerged with MAXAR satellite imagery of corpse covered roads in occupied Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin (towns near Kyiv). From then on, various OSINT investigation efforts have been conducted by both governmental and private organisations to document war crimes in Ukraine.
OSINT FOR UKRAINE was created in this vein. It is an independent (non-profit) collective of university students and young professionals dedicated to documenting war crimes in Ukraine through Project Mariupol. The project’s mission is to present to the world the atrocities committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The collective was founded by Ukrainian students studying abroad who have a personal motivation for the advancement of this mission. It was made possible thanks to a multinational team of colleagues at universities and volunteers who possess knowledge and experience in OSINT research/investigation and a developed understanding of international criminal and humanitarian law.
Project Mariupol uses OSINT and SOCMINT (social media intelligence) information , for example publicly available video recordings, photographs, audio, eyewitness accounts, news stories and official documents/announcements such as information and evidence of confirmed or potential violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law on the territory of Ukraine. The sources include social media posts by individuals and groups and OSINT collectives/channels, international human rights organisations, nongovernmental organisations, and official government announcements. Moreover, the project closely follows published developments of other OSINT groups and organizations in order to keep up with current developments as well as help identify and prevent any possible mistakes and biases in our own methodology, reporting and mapping
The map database is available on ‘Maphub’ through a link on the website or social media channels. The database currently has hundreds of war crimes mapped and documented. Unlike other mapping efforts in relation to the war in Ukraine, Project Mariupol strives to focus its efforts on the violations of international criminal and humanitarian law as well as serious and underreported crimes unfolding in Ukraine: violations against prisoners of war (especially in the separatist regions), violations against LGBTQ people (to be published on the map soon), crimes against the environment, and rape/sexual assault of civilians (a category that is extremely difficult to document and verify using OSINT sources). Therefore, the project focusses on mapping 8 categories of crimes, where hopefully the map will be able to serve as an archive of verified and potential information. It can then be used in the interests of justice, accountability and research presently or retroactively by advocacy groups, academics, and most importantly for the average person to see for themselves the atrocities happening in Ukraine.
The Project Consists of individuals with various backgrounds in OSINT investigations, security studies and public international law, we are able to pool together our knowledge and experience in order to see the different aspects and perspectives of the war crimes committed in Ukraine. For example, being able to identify which potential violations of international law are present and the nuances in the law and in the information we gather, separating us from other similar groups and organisations. Therefore, to complement the map database, a section called ‘Crimes in Context’ has been launched where the focus is to connect documented atrocities to international humanitarian and criminal law, providing average readers and non-legal academics with a basic legal and analytical context of the atrocities committed in Ukraine.
Project Mariupol aims to expand its operations in order to increase the amount of information and potential evidence logged on the map, develop more in depth analyses of the crimes committed in relation to international humanitarian and criminal law, as well as increase its presence on social media and online publications to raise awareness and keep the war in Ukraine and the atrocities committed in Ukraine in the headlines.