An analysis of changes in night illumination in Ukraine, used as a proxy of economic growth, reveals the economic successes of decentralization and economic downfall of occupied Donbas.

The Ukrainian media Texty compared nighttime satellite imagery of Ukraine before the Russian invasion of 2014 and five years after it. They found that the Donbas region got darker under Russian occupation and the economic downfall it brought. Meanwhile, more light sources emerged in the rest of Ukraine with the economic growth associated with the introduction of decentralization policies.

Texty used the accumulated data from for 2012 and 2019, which displayed artificial light sources recorded the Visible Infrared Imaging Suite radiometer aboard the Suomi National Polar-Orbital Partnership (NPP) satellite platform.

Luminous Ukraine…

According to the research, Ukraine is getting more and more night lights not only thanks to the improvements of street lighting infrastructure in most settlements. The overall revival of economic activity in the country contributes to the rise of illumination, as new industrial, agricultural, and tourist facilities convert to additional light sources at night.

“This is a clear indication in favor of one of the most successful Ukrainian reforms, decentralization, which allows local councils to receive more money and powers,” the study reads.
Night illumination of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in 2012 (lime) and 2019 (blue). ~

Night illumination of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in 2012 (lime) and 2019 (blue).

In their comments, representatives of local authorities in several cities told Texty that they have been actively reconstructing and improving the lighting infrastructure, often replacing old street lamps with LEDs.

…with a darkening Donbas

As most of Ukraine improves its lighting infrastructure and gets more illuminated at night, the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are getting darker year by year, literally. Once illuminated areas of Donetsk and Luhansk sink into darkness.

Shrinking lighting infrastructure of Russian occupied Donetsk Oblast: artificial lighting as seen from space in 2012 (red) and in 2019 (blue).

Shrinking lighting infrastructure of Russian occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts: artificial lighting as seen from space in 2012 (red) and in 2019 (blue).

For example, this is the case for the area near the Luhansk Airport, which saw fierce fighting in 2014. All the airfield and terminal infrastructure of the facility was destroyed, and the Russian-run occupation administration had no ability or desire to restore what once was an international airport.

The same is true for Donetsk Airport, destroyed by the Russian-hybrid forces in 2014-2015, and left behind without any plans to rebuild anything.

Non-existent illumination of Luhansk Airport: illumination in 2012 (red) and in 2019 (blue).

Non-existent illumination of Luhansk Airport: illumination in 2012 (red) and in 2019 (blue).

However, not only the fighting that destroyed the local lighting infrastructure is accountable for less light in the Russian-occupied Donbas region.

Many settlements in the occupied territory are getting deserted as the local economy run by occupation administrations dwindles and people leave the areas.

This is especially true for the region’s rural areas. The Satellite imagery comparison showed many settlements that were illuminated before the occupation became dark five years into it.

“Most of them are located near the Russian border, stretched along it in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. These are Novokaterynivka, Osykove, Kolosky, Stepano-Krynka, Stepanivka, Dmytriyevka, Dyakove, Nyzhniy Nagolchyk, Khmelnytsky, Karpove-Kripenske and many others,” the study reads.

Some of these small mostly agriculture-dependent towns and villages were affected by the Battle for Ilovaisk.

Locals of these settlements anonymously told Texty, that in 2014 Ukrainian troops cut from main forces were seeking temporary refuge in these locations. Meanwhile now, according to Texty interlocutors, these villages and towns are suffering from economic troubles.

The fields are deserted and overgrown with weeds,” told one of them, “I know small villages where 30 to 40 families lived before the war, and now there is only one granny left or else the village is completely empty. What kind of illumination can we talk about here?

not lit lighting infrastructure in occupied settlements near the Russian border in Donbas

Dark border settlements in the occupied part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts: night illumination in 2012 (red) and in 2019 (blue).

There were also makeshift illegal coal mines near similar settlements in the Luhansk oblast, which also apparently stopped functioning, Texty says.

The imagery also shows that small Donbas settlements in the government-controlled territory have also become darker in the course of the war, though the change isn’t as striking as in the currently occupied territory.

With the darkening Donbas, Russian-occupied Crimea, however, improved illumination in recent years, the satellite imagery shows.

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