Google Maps users are uploading dozens of photos of destruction, injured civilians, and captured Russian soldiers in Ukraine to the Google Maps listings of popular locations within Russia’s major cities.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has blocked or limited access to foreign news coverage of the war in Ukraine, including Facebook and Twitter, some of the few places people within Russia that citizens could get non-state sanctioned news. Google Maps allows users to upload photos of places—usually as part of a review of the spot—but people are using this feature to get images from Ukraine into Russia.
Many of the major landmarks and tourist attractions around Moscow now feature photos of the devastation happening in Ukraine in their Google Maps reviews. The Gulag History Museum is especially full of photos from the last week in Ukraine: Images of people standing outside of destroyed apartment buildings, captured (alive and appearing to be dead) Russian soldiers, and women and children injured in hospitals fill the “latest” photos tab.
Other locations around Moscow are similarly full of these images: a review of the Zoological Museum of Moscow University posted 10 hours ago says “you have dead animals,” with pictures of captured Russian soldiers; a monument to the 1971 Soviet film Officers now has dozens of photos of captive soldiers, screenshots of news clips, and photos of destruction in Ukraine. One of the images frequently posted for these locations is a screenshot of a phone that allegedly belonged to a Russian soldier, showing an apparent text conversation between himself and his mother, where he tells her they’re targeting civilians and being called fascists.
Some popular locations and cultural sites in Saint Petersburg are similarly full of images from Ukraine, including the State Hermitage Museum and the Erarta art museum.
In a statement to Motherboard, a Google spokesperson said: “Due to a recent increase in contributed content on Google Maps related to the war in Ukraine, we’ve put additional protections in place to monitor and prevent content that violates our policies for Maps, including temporarily blocking new reviews, photos, and videos in the region.”
It’s been reported that the families of many Russian soldiers had no idea their sons were heading into war in Ukraine, and said they were lied to about the danger ahead of them. “I was sent the video of my brother captured at 2am last night. I was completely shocked. I had no idea that he was fighting in there,” one soldier’s sister told the Guardian. “I knew Leonid was in the military, but I had no idea that he was sent to Ukraine. I don’t think he would have been aware of it either.”
Last week, Google disabled Maps features in Ukraine that showed live information for busy areas and traffic congestion, for the safety of the people there, after consulting with authorities in the region.
Updated 3/1/22, 5:47 p.m. EST with comment from Google.