There’s a lot you don’t see on Ukraine invasion maps

He is right. All maps are inherently incomplete, focusing on certain topics and areas to the exclusion of others. These are crucial aspects of rhetoric, the field I study. Each map warps the world, whether it’s a local area or the entire Earth. No map can do otherwise except a map exactly as large as the territory it represents – although, as author Jorge Luis Borges has pointed out, this card is useless.

But card lies can be productive. Maps can simplify the world and make it easier to understand.

Geographers often speak of what they call the “silencesof the maps—what’s missing and what’s not seen, hidden in the margins. These silences are just as significant as what is on the page. It is important to ask what has been omitted.

This is certainly true when looking at maps illustrating aspects of Russia’s war against Ukraine. News agencies around the world have published numerous maps of the crisis, but their standard views aren’t the only way the maps can help people understand what’s happening in Ukraine.


Most typical news maps show Ukraine as a nation surrounded and besieged.

Even without other brands, Ukraine seems small, with Russia rules it from the north and east. Once annotated with arrows showing general directions of invading forces, icons showing specific attacks, and dots highlighting Ukrainian nuclear power plants and other strategic targets, these maps may signal the inevitability of the Russian advance. They also tend to exaggerate the idea that this is a coordinated, controlled assault – when, of course, warfare is notoriously chaotic.

These maps do not show the topography of Ukraine or its road network. They mostly show political borders crossed by lines and arrows representing the movements of Russian soldiers, some of the second most powerful army in the world.

Ukraine appears on these maps as a jigsaw piece among the rest of the jigsaw puzzle of Europe, a shape in the center surrounded by smaller pieces of the surrounding nations. It could be an open container waiting to be filled with chaos, or a container spreading chaos across the rest of Europe.

These maps often do not show the location or strength of Ukrainian resistance. They also do not represent the complex flow of refugees run away from fights, which are usually either simplified or completely ignored.

The daily experiences of civilians on the ground in this war remain elusive on these maps. The maps seem authoritative and absolute, but the reality is far more messy and uncertain.

This is not a criticism of the cartographers who describe the war against Ukraine. Their work has often been productive and insightful, helpfully simplifying an incredibly complicated situation into one or two clear statements. They use a familiar style of cartography, which took hold during World War II. The maps in the media were presented as documents that could help ordinary citizens connect with the war. President Franklin Roosevelt even asked Americans to “look at your cardas he spoke on the radio about the fighting in Europe and the Pacific.

the new maps of that time projected the anxiety and vulnerability of strategic areas for the United States and its allies. They directly signaled that US involvement was necessary. As the Cold War emerged and the maps shifted their anxiety to the Soviet Union, the simplicity and straightforwardness of many maps sought to sound the alarm about Soviet encroachment into the heart of Europe and Communist threats in Asia. and in Africa.

Maps of the war in Ukraine are often more sophisticated and sometimes interactive, but they still carry the alarm of the inevitable Russian advance and project the familiar concept of the battle between East and West.

Multiple Perspectives

There are, of course, other ways to map this war. Some global media feature a series of maps, rather than just one. AlJazeera, Reuters Graphics Divisionand the FinancialTimes offer great examples of bringing a series of maps together and creating a sort of narrative of the war – for example, putting maps of NATO members next to maps of oil and gas resources while outlining key military advancements.

Specific approaches

Groups other than news outlets show other ways to use the cards. The Center for Information Resilience, a British non-profit organization that seeks to expose human rights abuses, uses crowdsourcing technologies to populate maps of Russia’s war against Ukraine with civilian casualties, incidents of gunfire and explosions, and evidence of infrastructure damage. This method gives readers themselves the opportunity to choose where and what they want to see from the invasion.

the Universal Awareness Map Live is an independent journalism site that draws on news and social media from around the world and connects it to an interactive online map. Its map of Ukraine shows where reported incidents are occurring, with colorful icons indicating who is believed to be involved in each location. The icons represent many types of events, including speeches and rallies, refugee and hostage situations, and even hacking.

These alternatives to the more standard war news cards also have their pros and cons. Maps like the Live Universal Awareness Map rely on crowdsourced data that can be difficult to verify. But more importantly, they point out that mapping is a political and cultural endeavor that creates compelling and useful stories, even if it’s not necessarily an unvarnished truth. A critical eye and a sense of context can go a long way in keeping map lies productive.

Timothy Barney is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Communication Studies at the University University of Richmond.

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