An IJ4EU-supported investigation into Russia’s use of Iranian-made Shahed drones in Ukraine has won a prestigious Sigma Award for data journalism. 

A year of the Shahed: How Iranian drones became a key tool in Russia’s arsenal was a central story in Russia’s War, Europe’s Burden, a cross-border investigation by German daily Der Spiegel and Airwars, a British-based transparency watchdog that monitors how conflict affects civilian communities.

“The increasing digitisation, mechanisation, and automatisation of warfare is a worrying trend that will likely accelerate in years to come,” the prize committee said.

“This story about affordable but highly effective Iranian drones (actually, pseudo-missiles) used by Russia in Ukraine is a good example of what investigative and data journalism can do to warn readers about such trends.

“The piece combines in-depth data analysis of attack patterns, first-person accounts of their consequences, and plenty of context of both the history of this weaponry and of the way it’s operated.

“The story weaves the narrative with photographic and audio evidence, along with a simple but effective series of data visualizations, scrollytelling sequences, and well-executed vector 3D renderings of the drones. In summary, it’s a rich multimedia experience.”

Now in its fourth year, the Sigma Awards celebrate the best data journalism from around the world. “A year of the Sahead” was one of 10 winners from almost 600 projects nominated by more than 300 news organisations.

The story was written by Sanjana Varghese, Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen, Iryna Chupryna and Rowena De Silva of Airwars, as well as Oliver Imhof and Alexander Epp of Der Spiegel. It was designed visually by Airwars’ Júlia Nueno and Azul De Monte.

Separately, Sanjana Varghese, who led the research with Nikolaj Houmann, is nominated for an Amnesty Media Award for young journalists — specifically for her role on the Shahed project. The winner will be announced on May 9, 2024.