Protecting CP in Ukraine is a wake-up call to the world

man stands at podium presenting to a seated audience
Professor Peter Stone addresses UK parliamentary briefing on safeguarding CP in Ukraine

On the 29th March 2022, Professor Peter Stone, BSI President and UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection (CPP) and Peace at Newcastle University, addressed a special UK parliamentary briefing at the IPU room in London’s Palace of Westminster on the safeguarding of cultural property (CP) in Ukraine.

Organised by the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations (UN APPG), the briefing provided an update on BSI’s, UNESCO’s, and others efforts to help protect monuments, sites, and cultural institutions in Ukraine. Current efforts include monitoring CP using satellite imagery, verifying damage to historic sites, and the marking of endangered CP with Blue Shield Emblems as proposed in the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols.

During his address, Professor Stone highlighted the crucial need to work together across the heritage, uniformed, and humanitarian sectors to put in place safeguarding measures in times of peace, as stipulated in the 1954 Hague Convention, which is part of International Humanitarian Law. He noted that “with a few notable exceptions” most countries, including Ukraine, did not believe that Russia would invade, and thus Ukrainian colleagues had “made few preparations” for protecting any of their CP prior to Russia’s 24th February invasion. He stated how: 

This is a wake-up call to the rest of the world. If we do not prepare in peacetime for the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict, that heritage will be at serious risk when a conflict breaks out.

Professor Peter Stone

He went on to praise the efforts of Ukrainians and the international heritage community, currently working under “appallingly difficult conditions”, to safeguard the country’s cultural treasures, whilst acknowledging that it was already “too late for some”.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Minister for Arts DCMS, Dr Olenka Pevny, Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies and in Medieval and Early Modern Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University, and Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director General for Culture at UNESCO, also addressed the meeting. Dr Pevny drew attention to Ukraine’s rich vernacular culture, noting that it was no less at risk than the rest of the country’s CP.

Mr Ottone stressed that, over the coming six months UNESCO will focus on three areas where it will request support from Member States for further safeguarding activities: The provision of emergency equipment — including wooden boxes and packaging materials for moveable CP, and fire extinguishers and fireproof cabinets for items too big or heavy to move — satellite monitoring, and the strengthening of support networks — including psychosocial support — for Ukrainian artists, performers, and heritage professionals inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. Some three million USD will be needed for the Culture Sector’s proposed emergency actions and 150,000 USD has already been mobilised.

The evening was hosted by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Chair of the APPG, and co-chaired by Dr Charlotte Joy Non-Executive Director for Culture at UNESCO-UK.

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