Ukraine: Smithsonian Joins Fight to Preserve Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage

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Ukraine: Smithsonian Joins Fight to Preserve Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage

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As the tragic invasion of Ukraine unfolds before our eyes, the Smithsonian has decided to stand with the people of Ukraine during their most urgent time of need. As an institution, they are working on ways that they can most effectively help, including developing plans with partners to host displaced and at-risk scholars.

The Smithsonian said its Cultural Rescue Initiative is working with people on the ground in Ukraine. The program responds to cultural crises sparked by armed conflict or natural disasters and provides disaster training for heritage specialists and first responders. Previously it’s worked in Haiti, Syria, Iraq, and Puerto Rico,

National Historical Museum of Ukraine

The Smithsonian is also working with the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which is using geospatial information system data to assess damage to cultural sites. 

“The beauty of Ukraine’s art, architecture, literature, and music has flourished for decades; its museums are some of the most revered in Europe,” Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch said in a statement last week as she announced an initiative to save parts of Ukraine’s rich and irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Compounding the humanitarian crisis is a threat to irreplaceable cultural heritage, abundant in a nation home to seven world heritage sites. The Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, including many works by noted Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko, have already been destroyed in the war. And a missile hit the site of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial outside Kyiv that honours the 33,000 Jewish people killed by Nazis there during World War II.

As a national and international cultural institution, it is the Smithsonian’s mission to help protect architecture, artifacts, and other objects of cultural and religious heritage from natural disasters, climate change, political instability, and wars. Their experts work with a large network of domestic and international museums, regional organizations, localized NGOs, and government agencies to preserve cultural heritage, resources that they are bringing to bear on the ground in Ukraine.

“Our Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI) is in communication with contacts in-country who have participated in previous First Aid for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis coursework. SCRI also continues its work with the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab, our research partnership with the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which is using geospatial information system data to assess damage to cultural sites. We remain in active contact with our interagency partners through the Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee chaired by the US Department of State and continue to facilitate the sharing of data and knowledge,” she said.

“Cultural preservation is vital to the Smithsonian because culture itself is vital to our shared future… If we are to attain a time when people of all cultures, faiths, and nationalities can peacefully coexist, we must first understand ourselves and each other,” Burch added.

“Cultural heritage like that of the Ukrainian people helps us do so. When we lose irreplaceable history and culture, it is a profound loss to us all. If we instead work together to celebrate, share, and protect cultural heritage, we are ensuring the triumph of our humanity.”


Feature image: by Tina Hartung on Unsplash

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