Heritage is generational memory. Summary of the first year of the operations of the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine

The year of operations of the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine is about dozens of transports and hundreds of hours of work by experts on both sides of the border, and it is about institutions that received aid and were involved in organising and delivering it. It is also the identification of the brutal truth about the bestial destruction of Ukraine’s heritage, it is the documentation of the heroic struggle of the depositors to save the cultural legacy, it is the rallying of Polish and foreign institutions and activists, and it is, finally, actions aimed at stirring the conscience of the world of culture about what is happening on Ukrainian territory. Russia is once again waging war on the Nation.

On 24 April 2022, Professor Piotr Glinski, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, established the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine within the National Institute of Cultural Heritage structures. The first activity of the Center was to coordinate governmental assistance to the cultural sector in Ukra The Center is the operational backbone of the Task Force for Monitoring and Analysing Threats to Cultural Heritage, established in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. It carries out various activities to support the protection of cultural heritage in Ukraine.

The experience of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage and long-standing Polish-Ukrainian cooperation provided the basis for organising effective support for cultural heritage located on Ukrainian territory from the first day of the war onwards.

Before the war on the territory of Ukraine, there were more than 5,000 museums, 65 historical-cultural reserves, and about 170,000 registered monuments, including seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. After a year of war, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine registered more than 1,200 (as of January 2023) incidents of destruction by the troops of the Russian Federation on Ukraine’s cultural heritage. This number is growing daily and still does not include all areas and destruction, especially in occupied and mined areas.

Less than half of the destroyed properties in Ukraine are religious sites, with ethnographic museums and memorial chambers accounting for another significant proportion. Precious sites under threat are archaeological monuments, which account for more than half of the monuments in Ukraine. The targets of attacks by the Russian army are historic properties, archaeological sites, libraries, schools, and museum collections – in essence, all that is the carrier of Ukrainian identity – not only people but also properties and sites. Some of this is European and world heritage. Russia is once again at war with the civilised world.

In 2022, Poland provided support worth more than two million euros from the state budget at the disposal of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The Center made 25 deliveries of dedicated material support. More than 800 pallets of protective and firefighting materials were delivered to 111 cultural institutions to preserve the collections.

The Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine also organises material assistance to cultural institutions in cooperation with Polish cultural institutions, museums, state archives, and libraries, including the POLONIKA National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad, the Ossoliński National Institute, the Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Polish National Foundation, heritage conservators and other institutions. The Center dispatches materials per orders received from Ukrainian institutions, which reach the National Institute of Cultural Heritage directly and through other institutions, such as the National Institute of Music and Dance, the National Library in Warsaw, museums and cultural institutions, and local government institutions. Due to the international cooperation of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, aid prepared in partnership with 13 international partners, e.g., from Finland, Sweden, Hungary, France, and Spain, has also been delivered to Ukraine.

In cooperation with the Government Agency for Strategic Reserves, transports containing, among others, generators, fire extinguishers, sandbags, fire blankets, materials for securing artefacts, and many other necessary items requested by the Ukrainian side were delivered to Ukrainian cultural institutions. Further shipments are being coordinated with the Ukrainian administration and cultural institutions. Currently, orders are being completed for more than 60 institutions, with a value of more than PLN 2 million. These are both materials to secure the collections in situ and to enable their safe evacuation.

The National Institute of Cultural Heritage, using its many years of experience and the expertise of its staff, monitors the state of destruction in Ukraine and identifies threats to its cultural heritage. In addition to providing resources for physically rescuing cultural heritage and carrying out substantive activities, the Institute supports Ukraine at international institutions, particularly in providing information and evidence of the deliberate destruction of Ukrainian cultural property. In cooperation with UNESCO and other international organisations, the Institute also initiates new projects supporting Ukrainian cultural heritage, such as the UNESCO Workshop: “The Warsaw Recommendation – Introduction to Heritage Recovery” or a regional training event on countering the illegal export of monuments from Ukraine.

January 2023 saw the film Erase the Nation premiere, directed by Tomasz Grzywaczewski. Coupled with the report Zachować dziedzictwo Ukrainy (Preserving Ukraine’s Legacy), the film presents a shocking picture of the destruction wrought by Russian troops on Ukrainian territory. These documentaries were produced as a summary of the Center’s activities. The Polish premiere of the film “Erase the Nation,” directed by Tomasz Grzywaczewski, occurred on 17 January 2022 during a UNESCO workshop session. A ceremonial film screening with the participation of the Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, Oleksandr Tkachenko, was held on 22 February in the memorial hall of the Holodomor (Great Famine) Museum in Kyiv.

The above-mentioned report was written in English and is one of the first studies to comprehensively address the issue of cultural heritage destruction and point out the need for the international community to protect culture more effectively in armed conflict.

The film Erase the Nation is being presented worldwide as part of the cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Polish diplomatic missions organise events on the destruction in Ukraine, during which the film and the report are presented. Thanks to this cooperation, events have been organised in more than fifty countries, and the film has already been translated into more than ten languages. It is also broadcast on foreign television stations. The meeting for the diplomatic corps in Warsaw, which was held on the initiative of Vasyl Zvarych, Ambassador of Ukraine to Poland, was attended by diplomats representing 50 countries. The documentary was commissioned by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage as part of the activities of the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine and financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The film is available on the Institute’s TV NID channel on YouTube with subtitles in 12 languages (Polish, English, Ukrainian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Persian – Farsi, Romanian, Italian, Slovenian, and Japanese), more translations will be available soon.

Within the cooperation framework between the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, the Center has carried out various activities to safeguard Ukrainian heritage.

In the field of combating the smuggling of antiquities, a compendium of knowledge on Ukrainian legislation regulating the international movement of cultural property has been prepared. Training courses for customs services are also being conducted in cooperation with Polish and Ukrainian services.

To protect intangible heritage, the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine has prepared a report on the problem of preserving the intangible cultural heritage of Ukrainian communities fleeing war and leaving the country. In addition, training courses on documenting architectural sites using 3D methods are held to enable the documentation of historical monuments.

The Center continuously monitors the losses of Ukraine’s cultural heritage and supports Ukrainian institutions in their inventory to enable reconstruction in line with the “Warsaw Recommendation” and to document the war crimes currently being committed against cultural heritage in Ukraine.

The Polish Government is providing institutional, comprehensive support for the protection of Ukraine’s heritage based on the experience of its institutions. Since 24 February, it has provided and will continue to provide multidimensional assistance to Ukraine. Before the outbreak of war, approximately 1 million 200,000 Ukrainian citizens were residing in Poland. From the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine until the end of 2022, almost 8 million people crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border. More than 3 million Ukrainians remain settled in Poland. Poland provides Ukraine with in-kind support, food, medical supplies, and logistical, IT, and military assistance. Poland spent more than €1 billion 170 million to aid refugees in 2022 – this only accounts for subsistence, medical care, and social benefits. In contrast, Polish military aid is estimated at over €2 billion.

In addition to the Center’s activities, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and its subordinate institutions, carry out many programmes to support Ukrainian culture. Poland supports artists and cultural workers who have found refuge in our country from the war. This support includes an educational offer, job offers – including almost 100 job offers in Polish museums, internship and scholarship programmes, dozens of free exhibitions offers, and the organisation of dozens of cultural events. Thanks to the cooperation of the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, the National Institute of Music and Dance, and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, in April 2022, the over 100-strong Kyiv Symphony Orchestra came to Poland to prepare for concerts. It was in Warsaw that the Orchestra’s European tour began. The Krzysztof Penderecki European Music Centre campus in Lusławice has hosted the Slobozhansky Youth Academic Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine from Kharkiv several times as part of its artistic residency. The headquarters of the Stanisław Hadyna Song and Dance Ensemble “Śląsk” hosted the “Veryovka” National Song and Dance Ensemble of Ukraine, named after Grygory Veriovka from Kyiv and members of the “Barvinok” Folk Dance Ensemble. The Grand Theatre – National Opera, together with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, established the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which has given concerts in the largest concert halls in Europe and the USA.

The POLONIKA National Institute for Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad has secured 230 historical objects and carried out the scanning of dozens more, including wooden orthodox churches from the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The activities of the institutions of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage use their full potential and are not limited to activities in the cultural sector. As part of the activities of the Witold Pilecki Institute for Solidarity and Valour, the Lemkin Centre was established to collect and research evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

For more on the activities of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, see:

Ukraine and the Russian Federation are parties to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954. In this international agreement, the parties undertook to protect cultural property from damage, destruction, theft, pillage and illegal seizure during war or armed conflict. The countries are also parties to the First Protocol to this Convention, which, among other things, regulates the preservation and movement of cultural property in the event of occupation and war. In addition, on 30 April 2020. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law “On the Accession of Ukraine to the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”, which details the implementation of the principles of the Convention. It addresses, among others, personal criminal liability for the destruction and removal of historic monuments and movable or immovable cultural heritage properties. It states that the intentional destruction of monuments is deemed a war crime. The Russian Federation has not acceded to the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention.

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