BSI returns to Ukraine

BSI returns to Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine approached its’ first anniversary, the Blue Shield International Secretariat conducted its second exploratory mission to Ukraine from 13 to 27 January 2023. At the request of the Ukrainian authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Culture, BSI continues to promote the 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).

BSi Director of Operations stands with two people in a field: the Ukrainian woman points to the damaged monument

The initial visit in November 2022 evaluated the effects of the war on Ukrainian cultural heritage, and provided a number of recommendations to the Ministry of Culture to improve implementation of international humanitarian law relating to cultural property protection. Building on this, the Secretariat’s second visit focused on evaluating the barriers and challenges to effective implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention during the conflict, and the documentation of information related to international heritage crime.

To support the protection of heritage and implementation of IHL, BSI met with representatives from the Ministry of Culture (Deputy Ministry of Interior), the Ministry of Defense, the Territorial Defense Forces Legal Assistance Detachment, the Chernihiv Regional Planning Department and the Heritage Emergency Response Initiative (HERI) in Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv.

A series of site visits took place across Kyiv, Chernehiv, and Kharkiv oblasts, aiming to assess impacts to cultural heritage sites. Kharkiv city offered insight into the impact of heritage destruction in urban areas, and in Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts BSI explored the impact on local communities near the front line. In addition, BSI sought to evaluate methodologies linking remote satellite imagery analysis and on-site assessment of damaged cultural heritage sites. Visits included: Ivankiv Local History Museum, Kyiv Oblast; Yatsevo Cemetery, Chernihiv Oblast; Izyum Local History, Museum; Skovorda Literary Memorial, Kharkiv Oblast; and Svyatohirs’k Lavra, Donetsk Oblast, also widely reported to be damaged.

Illicit trafficking of cultural heritage remains an ongoing concern. BSI met with the Ukrainian Book and Print Museum, Pechersk Lavra, Kyiv, to discuss challenges to protecting literary and print materials, and current trends in the illicit trafficking of heritage items, prior to and during the most recent conflict. A number of looted objects had recently been returned to them, and the situation was of great concern to the curators.

Following the visit, the Secretariat observed:

“It is vital to minimize the impact of the conflict on all communities affected by it. The widespread destruction of tangible and intangible cultural heritage only adds to losses engendered by the war. Parties to the conflict have committed to upholding the international laws protecting the cultural heritage of affected people, recognizing that its preservation is of great importance for all peoples of the world.

As a neutral, impartial, and independent NGO, Blue Shield International reiterates that under International Humanitarian Law and other relevant legal instruments, including Human Rights Law and UN Security Council resolutions, all parties involved in the fighting in Ukraine must take measures to protect moveable, immoveable, tangible, and intangible heritage at risk.

The Blue Shield stands in solidarity with all civilians, including ex-combatants, affected, or displaced by the conflict, whether they be in Ukraine, Russia, or elsewhere. We ask all those involved to abide by all relevant international law and to protect the civilian population and their heritage wherever and whenever possible. We stress in particular the responsibilities of all belligerent parties involved under the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and, if relevant, 1999.


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