‘Cultural genocide’: Ukrainian delegates speak to Palatinate about protecting their heritage

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Ukrainian delegates have spoken to Palatinate about strategies for the wartime conservation of their culture as part of a Cultural Heritage Management Symposium hosted by Durham University’s Business School.

The symposium, which took place last month, comprised of presentations from archaeologists, anthropologists and development specialists from the USA, Brazil, Thailand, the UK and Ukraine on the protection of culturally significant sites and artefacts in the face of human and natural risks. Specialists from Ukraine were invited to join a panel discussion co-chaired by UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham and Dr Mariann Hardey, and spoke to Palatinate in detail about their initiatives following the event.

The Ukrainian delegates included: Oleksandr Kulepin, Chief Digital Transformation Officer for the Lviv Region; Anhelina Starkova, an architect and engineer establishing the House of Ukrainian Architecture; and Nazar Podolchak, Director of the Scientific Park at Lviv Polytechnic and CEO of the TechStartup School of Lviv. They were joined by  Jaewon Peter Chun, President of World Smart Cities Forum (WSCF) and CEO of tech accelerator XNTREE. In the midst of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the delegates spoke to Palatinate about existing and upcoming strategies to protect and conserve their heritage, as well as plans for Ukraine’s architectural regeneration following the war’s end.

Oleksandr Kulepin, along with his fellow specialists, was quick to emphasise Russia’s aim as not only capturing land but also destroying Ukrainian culture. To this end, he stressed protecting culture as one of Ukraine’s biggest goals alongside the protection of its citizens. Specialising in the digitalisation of art and heritage in Lviv, Kulepin highlighted the city’s importance as a cultural hub for Ukraine. Not only is Lviv’s own architecture culturally significant, but the city is also home to archives of immense cultural importance, including the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine, created in 1939 to consolidate a multitude of state, corporate and private data and history.

Post-war architecture as functional in both wartime and peacetime, with defensive features, as well as healing spaces, as part of her design intentions

Kulepin explained the threats facing these archives, a substantial amount of which remains in its physical form, and how he and his colleagues sought to digitalise archival content in case of its physical destruction. The bulk of historical data in Lviv’s archives makes this a daunting task, but also one of urgent priority. To this end, Kulepin stressed the importance of aid in the form of sophisticated archive scanners to speed up the process of digitalisation.

Technology was also highlighted as a major asset in the protection of Ukraine’s historical monuments, particularly its churches. Ukraine’s churches are of both historical and symbolic importance; with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church having recently declared independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. As such, Ukraine’s churches have been particular targets of Russian rockets during the invasion; The Art Magazine recently reported that, according to the Ukrainian government’s culture crimes list, 144 of the 396 places classified as damaged by the war were religious sites, as of the 24th June. Kulepin’s initiative, therefore, was to create digital 3D models of Ukraine’s most prominent churches and historical monuments, so that exact replicas could be rebuilt in the event of damage or destruction.

Anehlina Starkova, who had recently been working in the Eastern part of Ukraine, elaborated further on the architectural destruction she had seen on the ground. She highlighted the destruction of the more modern buildings in Lviv, most of which were built in the Soviet Communist era. While she too spoke of her concerns about the invasion’s ‘cultural genocide’, her focus was on the threat to contemporary life and Ukraine’s regeneration after the war.

Starkova is working with the WCSF organisation to establish the House of Ukrainian Architecture, a structure which will use global resources and collaboration to rebuild post-war Ukraine. With a focus on sustainable values, carbon neutrality and urban security, the project would function as a platform and library to collect methods and resources for regenerating and reconstructing war-torn Ukraine. She outlined post-war architecture as being functional in both wartime and peacetime, with defensive features, as well as healing spaces, as part of her design intentions. She also highlighted the diversity of the cities in Ukraine and the corresponding need for each to have a unique plan for rebuilding and restoration.

Starkova emphasised, in particular, the importance of foreign aid, not just in terms of academic and financial resources, but also in offering environments in which Ukrainian architects and engineers can work safely and efficiently, away from the trauma of a war zone environment. Her projects, therefore, are intended to be located in London and New York.

Stressed the importance of business investment to mingle together with government grants during Ukraine’s restoration

Dr Jaewon Peter Chun, as head of WCSF and Starkova’s collaborator, stressed the importance of business investment to mingle together with government grants during Ukraine’s restoration. Support for local start-ups and companies, including collaborations between businesses in the UK (already a hub for Ukrainian support) and Ukrainian business remained equally as important as state aid and donations. Chun said that the recent war has opened up foreign eyes to Ukraine’s cultural importance and the need to invest in its future and potential — its recent candidacy to become an EU member being a firm example. He proposes a ten-billion dollar investment for Ukraine’s architectural and structural regeneration, with a focus on boosting technology and sustainability.

Nazar Podolchak, who is both the CEO and founder of the Tech Start-up School at Lviv Polytechnic and the chief and founder of the Department of Administrative and Financial Management in Lviv, emphasised the city’s importance as a hub for education.

With the Lviv Polytechnic University among the best in Ukraine, Podolchak emphasised its cross-national ties and its fostering of scientific and business talent. By providing an innovation system for business ideas to be modelled and implemented rapidly under expert mentorship, Podolchak’s Tech Startup is helping a new generation of Ukrainian businessmen, scientists, researchers and educators devise new ways to protect, rebuild and revitalise a post-war nation. The Scientific Park, recently implemented, allows a platform for research to be shared, commercialised and implemented in both the national and international markets. Thus, the rise to prominence and success of Lviv’s universities and research opportunities will be a key feature of its post-war recovery.

Image: Kitson Leighton

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