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So I've encountered links to this 2023 Meduza publication on Politics.SE, which states:

In 2022, when the city was the site of a months-long battle between invading Russian forces and the Ukrainian army, 90 percent of Mariupol’s apartment buildings and 60 percent of its houses were destroyed, according to a UN report.

This is mirrored by another article saying the same (in Russian), to confirm that it is not a fluke but a claim made in earnest:

Во время боев за Мариуполь в 2022 году было разрушено 90 % многоквартирных домов и 60 % частных домов, сообщали в отчете ООН.

The problem with both of these claims is that they both reference the same OHCHR report, which states that

We assess that up to 90 per cent of residential buildings have been damaged or destroyed, as well as up to 60 percent of private houses.

This report does not contain actual evidence that all 90% of these buildings were actually destroyed, but it does not disprove that claim explicitly either.

Were 90% of Mariupol's apartment buildings destroyed?

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    It seems to me that you have answered your own question. Two publications make a statement, and provide a reference to a report, but it is a misquote/exaggeration of what the report actually says. Well done spotting it. The publications are only correct if every damaged apartment building the UN found was destroyed, and the report chose odd words to report it.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 27, 2023 at 2:03
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    What is your definition of destroyed? People will not argue that this is a destroyed house. But what about this or this? Examples I provided are not necessarily the houses destroyed by rushist army. They are shown to clarify the definition. Aug 27, 2023 at 4:39
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    @pinegulf I believe that is a part of an answer, not a part of question. I would imagine that an apartment building where people can live after the fact, and that is being repaired without being torn down and rebuilt, were not destroyed.
    – alamar
    Aug 28, 2023 at 10:45
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    @alamar yet there are condemned buildings (buildings deemed unsafe to live in) that squatters will go and live, and these condemned buildings can stick around for decades. Are condemned buildings "destroyed"?
    – Nelson
    Aug 30, 2023 at 2:49
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    I would say that condemned buildings count as destroyed, because these are being torn down anyway.
    – alamar
    Aug 30, 2023 at 8:56

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FWTW, I'm fairly confident that applying the UNOSAT standards for "destroyed" the 90% claim is almost certainly false. UNOSAT rated most of the buildings affected as "moderately" or "severely damaged" instead.

I'm not 100% that OHCHR only relied on this UNOSAT data, but it was probably a sizeable part of their source, since they've not been given ground access for inspections etc.

Here's what UNOSTAT said:

This map illustrates a satellite imagery based damage analysis within an area of interest (AOI) in the residential area of Mariupol City, Ukraine.

Based on imagery collected on 7, 8, 12 May 2022 and 14 March 2022, and 21 June 2021, analysts found that 5,647 structures sustained visible damage in the AOI. This represents approximately 32% of the structures. Out of these, 315 are destroyed, 2,132 severely damaged, 3,002 moderately damaged and 194 possibly damaged. Compared to the 14 March 2022 analysis, 5% of previously affected buildings sustained additional damage, and the total damage has increased by 28%, with 4,910 new damaged buildings. While no complete count of buildings for Mariupol is available, an open source dataset, which is visibly incomplete indicates at least 17,568 structures in the area. This analysis is based on structures visibly damaged as of 12, 8, 7 May 2022 and 14 March 2022 as seen in marginally degraded satellite imagery. This is a preliminary analysis and has not yet been validated in the field.

enter image description here

This analysis is not particular to apartment blocks though. However I strongly suspect that UNOSAT would similarly not count an apartment building with some destroyed flats as entirely destroyed.


I've done some further digging to see if the UNOSAT standards are particularly high, but according to one seminar (by the International Working Group on Satellite-based Emergency Mapping (IWG-SEM)) it looks like other satellite-image assessors use similar standards, at least far as having similar categories:

enter image description here

But there are also some caveats:

The analyses of the quality metrics (Overall, User and Producer accuracy) highlighted that distinguishing among different grades of damage leads to low per-class accuracies, especially for the lower damage grades. [...]

A crucial point is also the need to make the users aware that building flagged as “No visible damage” may anyway have suffered damages that can’t be assessed from vertical satellite imagery (i.e. from no to slight structural damage).

It's not clear to me if UNOSAT itself uses this particular (numeric) standard, but according to that seminar "Destroyed" status is:

assigned to structures that are total or largely collapsed (>50%).

And as example they provide this:

enter image description here

Whereas a partially collapsed roof (<50%) only counts as a damaged building:

enter image description here

As an obvious comment: if this also the standard that UNOSAT uses, apartment blocks are thus much less likely to be counted as destroyed. The larger buildings are less likely to suffer >50% roof damage from a single hit.

Oh, and if this UNESCO publication ("Five years of conflict: the state of cultural heritage in the Ancient City of Aleppo") is relevant, (p.26) UNOSAT might use an 80% (not 50%) destruction threshold. (The same page mentions UNOSAT-UNITAR.) Applying that threshold, even the Mariupol theatre might not count as destroyed. (From the same page/source, the threshold for "severe" damage is 40%, the one for "moderate" is just 5%.)

enter image description here

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  • If someone is curious, UNOSAT has done similar analyses in the past. The proportion of buildings they rated as destroyed in Kobane was much higher, for instance unosat.org/products/921 Of course, Ukrainians may not have holed themselves in very building in Mariupol, like ISIS did in Kobane. Sep 1, 2023 at 4:30
  • One caveat is that apartment building may sustain massive internal damage while having its rooftop still intact.
    – alamar
    Sep 1, 2023 at 8:43
  • @alamar: yeah, I've been thinking about that too. E.g. there's a lot of pictures of apartment buildings burned out to a large degree but structurally still standing google.com/… I'm not sure how UNOSAT evaluates those. Sep 1, 2023 at 8:54
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    This is not a criticism of your answer (as you have done a lot of work on a topic which is hard to properly cover), but a criticism of the categories described in source. A building (especially a tall one) is a complex structure and judging its integrity based on the roof damage is at least questionable. Auto industry has a definition of what it means for a car to be totaled: when the cost of repair is more than the cost of the car (car can look perfectly fine with no visible damage but be totaled). The definition of moderately damaged (up to 40% of structure damage) also sound ridiculous. Sep 1, 2023 at 22:43
  • As an example you can see a big video from blockaded Mariupol youtube.com/watch?v=ezZD7cOqsBs (the video is not focused on damages to building, but you see them everywhere). You will see buildings which probably do not have roof damage, but I doubt they are not totaled. Another question for you (as I am also thinking about an answer to show what devastation and despair russian world is bringing wherever it goes and collecting satellite images). The question is: does this source provides any links to actual satellite images? Sep 1, 2023 at 22:51

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