War in Ukraine: The battle for culture

Almost a year ago, the Russian military launched a massive missile attack on the Ukrainian territory. According to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, during the 11 months of the war, the Russians destroyed or damaged 1,271 cultural sites in Ukraine. In order to strengthen the efforts to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage and enhance international cooperation in this field, the International Forum on Cultural Heritage Security was held on 8-9 February. The meeting was attended by the Director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, Dr Katarzyna Zalasińska.

On the morning of 24 February 2022, Russian troops attacked sovereign Ukraine. Museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions responded to the threat according to their capabilities and in line with the military situation. Due to the massive attack by Russian troops, international support was essential. The Director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, Katarzyna Zalasińska, Ph.D., presented Poland’s contribution to assisting culture in Ukraine.

– In response to the unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, Poland immediately committed all possible resources to support our neighbour. At the outset, spontaneous initiatives were the natural and quickest possible response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes. The response from civil society was immense, and it addressed the first-hand rudimentary needs of Ukrainians. However, in the long term, the war requires the mobilisation of all resources at every level of governance. (…) Ukraine is facing an attack on its sovereignty and statehood, the deliberate destruction of its heritage on a massive scale. In fact, to support culture in Ukraine – the culture that constitutes Ukrainian distinctiveness and identity – amounts to preserving the independence of the state – said Director Zalasińska.

The Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Professor Piotr Gliński, had already decided on 23 February 2022 to create a departmental team, and in the first month of the war to set up a dedicated executive agency – the Support Center for Culture in Ukraine, operating within the structures of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage.

Since its inception, the Center has focused on providing cultural institutions in Ukraine with the materials necessary to safeguard their collections. As Director Zalasińska emphasised, the Center also assists Ukrainian partners in planning for future restoration and recovery activities.

– The future of Ukraine largely depends on our actions today. Therefore, building on our past experiences, sharing knowledge, and discussing a new vision of security architecture for cultural heritage is now decisive for our future. (…) We believe that through our actions today we can become fully aware of our collective responsibility to save the cultural heritage of generations from deliberate destruction and loss.

The Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine functions within the structures of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, an expert institution that has been active in this field for 60 years. For decades, it has been a place for research and studies and a source of expertise on endangered cultural heritage.

The Director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage pledged continued support for culture in Ukraine.

Dear Ukrainian friends – we will continue to support Ukraine and its culture – until the victorious end of the war and throughout the challenges of reconstruction that we are also experiencing – stressed Director Zalasińska.

The International Forum on Cultural Heritage Security was organised by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, HERI and the Maidan Museum in Kyiv to take stock of cultural heritage preservation efforts since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to discuss necessary measures to protect cultural heritage.

On behalf of the event partners, their speeches were delivered by:

  • Teresa Patrício, President, ICOMOS
  • Aparna Tandon, Senior Program Leader, ICCROM
  • Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary General, Europa Nostra
  • Diana Pardue, Head, ICOM-DRMC
  • Sanne Letschert, Head, Cultural Emergency Response (CER)
  • Alexandra Fiebig, Project Manager, ALIPH
  • Chiara Dezzi Bardeschi, Liaison Officer, UNESCO Desk Ukraine
  • Dr hab. Katarzyna Zalasińska, Director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage (Poland)
  • Birgitta Johansen, Head, Cultural Heritage without Borders
  • Joan Weinstein, Director, The Getty Foundation
  • Kateryna Goncharova, specialist in the Ukrainian heritage crisis, World Monuments Fund (WMF)
  • Glenn Wharton, Chair of the Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)/Getty
  • Richard Kurin, Smithsonian’s Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador at Large
  • Brian Daniels, Director of Research and Programs – Penn Cultural Heritage Center, University of Pennsylvania Museum
  • Brett Egan – President – DeVos Institute of Arts Management
  • Linda Norris, Senior Specialist, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
  • Deborah Ziska, Chair, ICOM-MPR
  • Elaine Heumann Gurian, Senior Museum Consultant, USA
  • Glen S. Davis, Cultural Attaché, U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Kyiv
  • Laurie Hart, Executive Director, Center for European and Russian Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Olha Honczar, Museum of Terrror in Lviv
  • Olena Balun, Coordinator, Ukraine Art Aid Center (Germany)
  • Ihor Tymets, Director of History and Local Lore Museum in Vynnyky (Istoriko-kraevedcheskiy muzey), (Lviv Oblast)

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