Immediately following the events of 24 February, BSI supported Ukrainian authorities, together with UNESCO and other international organisations, in several areas relating to the protection of cultural property in partnership with the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. We have continued to provide support and participate in work at the request of Ukrainian authorities, in particular relating to the promotion and implementation of international humanitarian law, specifically the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols (1954/1999).
Most recently, between 18 November and 01 December, the BSI Secretariat visited Ukraine to evaluate the effects of the war on Ukraine’s cultural sector. Dr Michael Delacruz met with a wide number of Ukrainians working on heritage protection and visited sites in Kyiv, Odesa, and Kherson oblasts (regions) to deepen BSI’s awareness and understanding of the damage and looting of cultural heritage that has occurred during the current conflict, assess the impact on affected communities and institutions, and provide recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities for improving capability to document such occurrences and safeguard at-risk heritage.
In line with BSI’s mission to support the protection of all cultural heritage in crisis, the visit included several museums and their collections (including books), cultural sites, and religious sites, assessing the impact of their damage and destruction on local communities. The team surveyed damage during site visits, and met with a wide range of heritage institutions, non-governmental organisations, military personnel engaged in heritage protection, and other key actors in the community to discuss their experiences and their efforts to protect their collections. These included the Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Kateryna Chuyeva; the Director of the Maidan Museum and Heritage Emergency Response Initiative (HERI), Dr Ihor Poshyvailo; former Director of the National Art Museum and current head of the non-governmental initiative, The Movement for Cultural Heritage, Maria Zadorazhna; and the Chief of The Territorial Army Legal Assistance Detachment, Captain Vitaly Tytych; curatorial staff of the Odesa East-West Museum and the Odesa Literature Museum (which also manages several smaller, local museums throughout the oblast); along with key civil society organisations such as the 5AM Coalition and the National Platform for Resilience and Social Cohesion.
The visit documented damage to several sites; of particular note was the Kherson Museum of Art and the Kherson Local History Museum. BSI conducted extensive interviews with museum leadership and staff, and documented the apparent loss of almost their entire collections, discovered when Kherson was reoccupied in November 2022. Museum personnel recounted the enormous personal risks taken to protect these vital art, archaeological, and historical collections – which some had spent their entire lives curating. They conveyed the impact of these heart-breaking losses to the surrounding communities in the oblast, which represented thousands-of-years of artistic and cultural development, specific to the Kherson area, and embodying their unique regional identity.
The visit ended with a briefing for the Deputy Minister of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in Vienna, Austria to summarize initial observations and discuss potential next steps. Following this, BSI will present a formal report to the Ministry with recommendations for improving capacity across multiple sectors and organisations to protect cultural heritage during the ongoing conflict. At the conclusion of the visit, Dr Delacruz stated
Blue Shield International is a neutral, impartial, independent organisation, which remains committed to its mission – the protection of all cultural heritage in crisis and the promotion of international humanitarian law under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols (1954/1999). We call on all parties to the conflict to follow their obligations as signatories to this important Convention, and reiterate our willingness to meet with all those who are genuinely committed to the protection of cultural heritage. As part of this important work, Blue Shield International has been in contact with a number of other countries in the region to discuss improvements in the protection of their cultural heritage and the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention.
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