“Any damage to cultural property, irrespective of the people it belongs to, is a damage to the cultural heritage of all humanity,”’– is stated in the Preamble of the 1954 Hague Convention.
According to this international document, culture is “monuments of architecture, art, or history; archaeological sites; groups of buildings of historical or artistic interest; works of art, manuscripts, books, etc.” Buildings and places where cultural property is housed or sheltered (museums, libraries, archives) and centers containing cultural property in large amounts are defined and protected as sites of culture as well.
The losses to the Ukrainian cultural heritage were not justified in terms of military necessity or military advantage gained by the aggressor and were not a legitimate military objective, which constitutes a war crime according to the Rome Statute and its enforcer – the International Criminal Court.
Along with assault on civilian population, targeted destruction of the cultural heritage is another war crime that Russia intentionally commits against humanity and the Ukrainian people. As international diplomatic and cultural pressure to isolate Russia grows, preservation efforts on the ground are yet another frontline where operational and psychological pressure is mounting.
The sites that have already been damaged or completely destroyed are: Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, which stored paintings of Ukrainian artist Mariya Prymachenko, Holocaust memorial, located on the grounds of Babyn Yar, at least a dozen historically and culturally significant churches like Sviatohirsk Lavra and Dormition Cathedral, historical urban districts in Chernihiv and Kharkiv, ETC.
The Ministry of Culture and Information Policy (MCIP) has started a public initiative to register cases of assault on cultural heritage sites and has already published 80 cases of destruction as of March 21.
UNESCO, International Council of Museums, the World’s Monument Fund, the European Voice of Civil Society, a number of global NGOs and art institutions, such as Getty Trust, the world’s biggest philanthropic foundation, have expressed their solidarity with Ukraine and concern for the Ukrainian cultural heritage. As a measure of preventing attacks, UNESCO is working to mark all significant objects of cultural heritage with the emblem of the Hague Convention and monitor the damages to Ukrainian cultural sites.
Thousands of cultural activists along with MCIP have already asked the international cultural community to impose cultural sanctions on Russia, including:
- canceling all projects that involve Russia (including ones funded by Russia);
- banning representatives of Russia from participating in international competitions (e.g., the Eurovision ban), exhibitions, forums, music and film festivals, and other cultural events;
- removing Russian citizens from the supervisory boards and cultural partnerships, canceling sponsorships, and withdrawing organizational support;
- eliminating coverage of Russian culture in the media.
The Ukrainian cultural institutions do everything they can, and spend the humble budgets they have, to preserve cultural sites and artifacts. Little can be done against artillery to save historical districts and street statues. Bronze statues of Greek gods in Lviv are carefully wrapped in film, and Odesa’s most loved monument, a statue of Duke de Richelieu, stands chest-high in sand bags. Local museums follow strict protocols to preserve art and to protect it from looters and vandals.
- Volodymyr Sheiko, director of the Ukrainian Institute
- Olesya Drashkaba, Ukrainian artist, editor at the UChoose critical thinking initiative of Ukraine Crisis Media Center
- Olha Honchar, director of the Museum of Terror. Lviv.
- Georgiy Kasianov, professor at Marie Curie-Sklodowska University. Lublin, Poland.
- Volodymyr Boiko, historian, expert on the local development strategies. Chernihiv.
- Serhii Lepiavko, doctor of historical sciences, professor, member of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Chernihiv.
UKRAINE IN FLAMES project is created by Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Ukrainian Catholic University’s analitical center and NGO “Euroatlantic Course”. We are aiming at searching a loud support for Ukraine in the war started by Russia on the 24th of February 2022.
If you want to support Ukraine against Russian aggression, check the link with recommendations by Ukraine Crisis Media Center – https://uacrisis.org/en/help-ukraine.
NGO Euroatlantic Course collects donations to support Ukrainian Army and civilians – https://eac.org.ua/en/main-page/.