Cultural treasures threatened with destruction in Ukraine

The bombardment of cities during the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns about the destruction of ancient treasures. Historic squares in Kharkiv and Chernihiv were attacked and missile strikes targeted a local history museum in Ivankiv and the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv. Russia targeted buildings near historic complexes in the city of Lviv and St. Sophia’s Cathedral in kyiv. Among the heritage already destroyed is a museum that housed works by the famous Ukrainian painter Maria Prymachenko, whose art was admired by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. In a recently recorded video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow razed a 19th-century wooden church in the village of Viazivka in the western Zhytomyr region. Volunteers race to cover and save the incredible stained glass windows of the Latin Cathedral, Church of the Dormition and St George, atop the hill above Lviv with plywood and aluminum sheets.

These are just a handful of the vast cultural heritage that risks being bombarded into oblivion by Russia.

The scavenger hunt

Recently, global institutions like UNESCO called for a joint effort to save Ukraine’s priceless cultural heritage. Volunteers in Ukraine packed books, ancient manuscripts, paintings, artifacts like a 1,000 year old Bible decorated with gold thread. No one expects specialized packaging materials, any wooden crate and even cartons originally intended for transporting bananas to supermarkets are used in the race to save the treasures. It is planned not only to hide them, but also to evacuate some of the precious works of art from the besieged cities.

UNESCO is mobilizing international partners in an emergency response coordination meeting with UNITAR, the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), Blue Shield International, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and ALIPH, among others. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said in a statement that cultural heritage “must be safeguarded as a testimony to the past, but also as a catalyst for peace and cohesion for the future, that the international community has the duty to protect and preserve”. ”. The organization is in contact with the Ukrainian authorities to mark cultural sites and monuments with the distinctive “Blue Shield” emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in order to avoid deliberate or accidental damage.

The Smithsonian has also joined the fight to preserve Ukraine’s cultural heritage. “The beauty of Ukraine’s art, architecture, literature and music has flourished for decades; its museums are among the most revered in Europe,” the secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch. The Smithsonian’s Cultural Rescue Initiative works with people on the ground in Ukraine. The program responds to cultural crises triggered by armed conflict or natural disasters and provides disaster training for heritage specialists and first responders. Previously working in Haiti, Syria, Iraq and Puerto Rico, The Smithsonian also works with the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which uses Geospatial Information System data to assess damage to cultural sites. As Bunch said, “When we lose an irreplaceable history and culture, it is a profound loss for all of us. If we instead work together to celebrate, share and protect cultural heritage, we ensure the triumph of our humanity. .”

Among the places under threat are the following UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

Kyiv: Saint Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra

St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv Ruslan Lytvyn, Shutterstock

Designed to rival Saint Sophia in Constantinople, Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv symbolizes the “new Constantinople”, capital of the Christian principality of kyiv, created in the 11th century in a region evangelized after the baptism of Saint Vladimir in 988. These heritage monuments date back to the Middle Ages and early modern period (Kyivan Rus and Hetmanate periods). UNESCO has listed two components – the Saint Sophia Cathedral and its related monastic buildings and the kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastic complex with the Church of the Savior in Berestovo. St. Sophia’s Cathedral stands in the historic center of kyiv and showcases the brilliant architecture and monumental art of the early 11th century. According to UNESCO, the cathedral was built with the participation of local builders and Byzantine masters during the reign of the Grand Prince of kyiv, Yaroslav the Wise, as the main Christian church in the Kyivan Rus’ capital. The cathedral has preserved its ancient interiors and the collection of mosaics and frescoes from the 11th century is unique in its integrity. His masterpieces include the Pantocrator, the Virgin of Orans, the Communion of the Apostles, the Deisis and the Annunciation. The huge pantheon of Christian saints represented in the cathedral has a multiplicity unmatched among Byzantine monuments of that time. The cathedral murals also include a complex of unique secular frescoes in the stair towers done in the tradition of Byzantine art.

The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra ensemble is a masterpiece of Ukrainian art that was definitely formed during the Baroque period. It incorporates unique surface and underground buildings and structures from the 11th-19th centuries combined with a rich landscape.

L’viv – the entire historic center

The ancient city of L’viv was founded in the late Middle Ages where a settlement had existed since the 5th and 6th centuries. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the National Museum houses the country’s most comprehensive collection of sacred medieval art and rare religious manuscripts. The property, “L’viv – the ensemble of the historic centre”, consists of two elements: the main area, encompassing the castle, its surroundings and the town centre, and to the south-west, a smaller area on the St. Yuri hill. for the whole of St. Yuri’s Cathedral. L’viv was a flourishing administrative, religious and commercial center for several centuries. The medieval urban topography has been preserved virtually intact (in particular, there is evidence of the different ethnic communities that lived there), as well as many beautiful Baroque and later buildings. “If we lose our culture, we lose our identity,” said Lilya Onyshchenko, head of the Lviv City Council’s heritage protection office. Guardian in an interview.

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