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Ukrainians Are In Race to Save Cultural Heritage
Ukrainians Are In Race to Save Cultural Heritage
Content ukrainians are in race to save cultural heritage

Saving cultural heritage under these circumstances becomes a task as important as armed resistance. The mayor of the Ukrainian city Melitopol Ivan Fyodorov demonstrated his attitude towards Russian invaders and their actions: “The orcs have taken hold of our Scythian gold”. This collection of highly valuable historical artifacts is part of Ukrainian cultural heritage and now Russians stole it intending to present Scythian gold as an element of Russian culture.

It is just one of the facts representing furious invaders’ attempts to destroy or steal cultural heritage belonging to Ukraine. Mariupol, the city that was completely destroyed by Russian attacks, invaders broke into the art museum and took multiple highly valued objects including paintings and sculptures.

Russian invaders destroy things and objects that they cannot steal, loot, and appropriate. Hundreds of churches were damaged or completely ruined by shelling and air strikes, and a 19th-century wooden church in the village of Viazivka, in the western Zhytomyr region is just one of these unfortunate religious objects that are lost forever.

Museums and other cultural assets face the same fate. Some of the works by the Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko were lost forever after Russian invaders bombed the museum’s building in Ivankiv, Kyiv region. The Kharkiv Art Museum was damaged after artillery and air strikes in March, resulting in 25,000 valuable cultural assets being exposed to harsh surroundings, humidity, dust, and further Russian attacks. How can all this madness be stopped?

Conventional Protection Methods

Ukrainians realize that the full-scale war, invasion, and temporary occupation of some territories will last months if not years. The majority of the nation and our allies mobilized to preserve the remaining cultural heritage and prevent further harm done.

Since the first day of the full-scale invasion workers of the cultural sphere and locals were trying to protect precious items. They moved properly packed pictures, manuscripts, and sculptures to the basements or other safe places.

Historical monuments were wrapped up with fireproof material and piled up with sandbags to protect them from bombs and debris. Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and other cities that faced the risk of air strikes hid multiple symbolic objects under protective covers. There will be time to see monuments to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, or Duke de Richelieu in all their glory. The wartime makes protection and preservation a priority task since Russia keeps destroying residential blocks, critical infrastructure, and historical objects.

All the efforts to keep cultural heritage safe are not in vain because the pace of events shows what happens with objects that lacked protection for a variety of reasons. The liberation of the city of Izium revealed not only the signs of the terrible massacre and mass graves of civilians and servicemen but also the Russian attempts to destroy the Ukrainian cultural heritage. The ancient stone statues near Izium representing Polovtsian women and dating back to the IX-XIII centuries were destroyed by the Russian soldiers during the occupation of the region.

Ukrainian Context and Innovational Approach

  • The 3D scanning of cultural artifacts. Ukrainians are using modern technologies to preserve multiple valuable objects as detailed 3D models in an online archive. Volunteers use an app on their smartphones to scan landmarks, buildings, monuments, and other objects. This app, Polycam, helps create high-quality models and preserve rich Ukrainian cultural heritage. VICE Media Group’s Virtue, the Blue Shield Denmark, and the Danish UNESCO National Commission launched the project called Backup Ukraine to gather the collection of models that could be used for educational purposes or help reconstruct the destroyed objects. Multiple artifacts now have a chance to survive this war.

  • Decolonization. For Ukrainians, saving their cultural heritage also means getting rid of the Russian cultural influence. Destruction of Russian and soviet monuments commemorating political leaders and figures of culture and art liberates the Ukrainian cultural space. Saving unique national traditions is possible only by eliminating factors oppressing them such as Russian prohibitions, propaganda, and the very fact of the Russian culture’s presence in Ukraine. This is the main reason why Ukrainians keep renaming all the streets and squares that have names related to the Soviet Union past or Russian famous personalities. The new names are commemorating Ukrainian heroes, famous people, cultural phenomena, or historical events that helped shape the Ukrainian nation.

  • Liberating the way. There must be a holistic approach to decolonization since Ukrainians need to destroy the enemy’s influence in every cultural aspect including literature, music, cinematography, and architecture. After that, Ukrainians will have more possibilities to not only preserve and promote the existing cultural heritage but also create something new with a deeply rooted Ukrainian identity. The Eurovision Song Contest 2021 held in Rotterdam can illustrate this tendency. Ukrainian electro-folk band Go_A represented Ukraine with the song “Shum” (“Noise”) which belongs to the dark-techno folk genre. Is it modern and unique? Yes, indeed. Is there a distinctive connection to Ukrainian cultural heritage? Definitely, because “Shum” is the adaptation of the traditional vesnianka folk songs and rituals. Why does this phenomenon exist? Because Ukrainians finally refused to fill their cultural space with overwhelming Russian music, which created the demand for authentic Ukrainian artwork and created opportunities for many Ukrainian artists to be heard.

  • Global awareness. Saving the nation’s cultural heritage is much easier with international acknowledgment. UNESCO’s decision to recognize borscht as a traditional Ukrainian dish was another victory in the Ukrainian way to safeguard their cultural assets on all levels including the culinary one. The Ukrainian chef Ievgen Klopotenko once said: “I don’t really like to call it a war for borscht, but in fact, that’s what it is”. This phrase became truly prophetic because Ukrainians defended yet another cultural phenomenon that Russians wanted to steal and present as part of their tradition and identity. Russian propagandists were extremely disappointed by the fact that Ukrainians managed to prove that the tradition of cooking this dish has deep links to their identity. Nowadays, this fact is recognized on the global level.

Can we expect a happy ending?

Ukrainians already won. Even though the war is going on and Ukraine suffers from multiple losses, the entire nation is united around the idea of preserving and developing the unique Ukrainian identity while the only Russians’ wish is to ruin and plunder. Moreover, their desire to destroy the sovereign nation and reincarnate the totalitarian empire provoked unprecedented global support for protecting and popularization of Ukrainian culture.

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