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War in Ukraine sees destruction of cultural heritage not witnessed since WW2

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has resulted in a significant loss of human lives and the national and international displacement of many Ukrainian people.

The conflict has also seen the destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage, intent on erasing the public history and memory to install the Russian narrative.

In a statement issued on March 3 2022, UNESCO said it underlines the obligations of international humanitarian law, notably the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its 1954 and 1999 Protocols, to refrain from inflicting damage to cultural property, and “condemns all attacks and damage to cultural heritage in all its forms in Ukraine”.

As part of joint operation between a team of investigators from several Ukrainian and US institutions, an archaeological survey is being conducted to assess the level of destruction, the results of which are published in the journal Antiquity.

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“Given the ongoing conflict, it is not yet possible to assess the damage to the cultural heritage along the frontlines”, say the authors. “However, since the de-occupation of the Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv and Mykolaiv regions in June 2022, a preliminary understanding of the scale and nature of destruction in some areas has developed”.

Many historic buildings have suffered damage at the hands of the Russian military, including the UNESCO-listed Children’s (Youth) Regional Library (former Vasyl Tarnovsky Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities), the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, the Church of the Ascension, and the 11th-century church, citadel and graveyard at Oster.

Collections from museums in occupied areas such as Kherson, Melitopol, and Mariupol have been confiscated and sent to Russia, and in some instances, Russian soldiers have looted artefacts to keep or sell.

According to the study, the archaeological heritage is also being destroyed at an alarming rate. Extensive trench systems and missile strikes are causing significant damage to burial mounds and cemetery sites, resulting in the destruction of human burials at historically important locations such as Boldyni Hory – one of the largest 11th century necropolises in Ukraine.

“In this static ground war that is characterised by military trenches used at a scale similar to the Second World War, Ukrainian cultural heritage is being destroyed at a rate not seen since 1945,” state the authors.

Header Image Credit: Serhii Tarabarov

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