Satellite imagery shows Ukraine going dark

As Ukraine defends against a Russian invasion, lights across the country have dimmed

Before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, nighttime satellite imagery captured the bright lights of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Rivne and other urban areas. Now that same imagery shows a country that has gone dark, steeling itself against a brutal and unprovoked military attack.

We compared the average nightly lightscape of Ukraine in January to February 25, the night after the invasion began, and found a dramatic reduction in lights across the country.

This is what Ukraine looked like from space on a cloudless night in January.

The night lights from February 25 show a nation gone dark.

Source: Earth Observation Group, Payne Institute for Public Policy/NOAA JPSS VIIRS

Part of this is strategic — in Lviv, authorities issued a city-wide lights out as a security measure against the full-scale invasion.

Comparing night illumination can also reveal where unusual ground activity is occurring. Satellite images from February 28 show new light sources directly west and north of Kyiv, which can likely be attributed to the 40 mile Russian military convoy that was assembling and preparing to approach the city.

In modern combat, light can play a critical role in military strategy.

“I think it’s crazy that the Russians have lights on,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “The image is remarkable — it seems to suggest the Russian forces have very poor light discipline.”

That may be due to a lack of equipment or lack of training at night, Lewis suggested.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is the largest conventional military attack the world has seen in the nearly 80 years since the end of World War II, according to US military assessments. Modern technology like satellite imagery will continue to play a critical role in understanding how the war unfolds.