In response to the war in Ukraine, the EU has given way to its largest emergency operation since the creation of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. The mobilisation activated also in support of the country’s precious cultural heritage has highlighted PROCULTHER-NET (1) as a new player in the international chessboard for the protection of conflict-prone cultural heritage.

PROCULTHER-NET Partners have a long-lasting experience in the protection of the cultural heritage in disaster-prone areas. Recognising that cultural heritage is an invaluable source of identity, evolution and resilience of society, as well as a vector for peace and sustainable development, they have decided to respond to the request made by the Ukrainian Authorities for international support through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism- UCPM. With regard to this, the actions implemented and the approaches adopted by project partners in Ukraine prove that PROCULTHER-NET through the consolidation of a thematic community dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage prone to disasters can be a catalyst of capacity building and sustainable learning processes by promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing among civil protection, disaster management and humanitarian aid actors, cultural heritage experts, academics, scientific community and knowledge holders. In addition, thanks to these recent experiences, PROCULTHER-NET is already fostering dialogue and cooperation between national and international actors to better protect and increase the security of cultural heritage in the face of crises and conflict, as witnessed by its participation to the “Roundtable on the EU’s Approach to Cultural Heritage in Conflict and Crises” organised by the EU Institute for Security Studies – EUISS and culture Solutions in Brussels. In this framework, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism-UCPM and the Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network-KN could serve as a driver for the expansion and development of international exchange and support practices also in this field.

ICCROM’s response to heritage safeguard in Ukraine

ICCROM’s Council, which is its highest governing body, adopted a resolution on 4 May 2022 recognising the urgent need to protect and safeguard cultural heritage in Ukraine. The resolution upheld the actions taken by ICCROM through its flagship capacity development programme, First Aid and Resilience for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAR). Read the full resolution here.  Below, a snapshot of the actions undertaken by  ICCROM, some of which are still ongoing, to support heritage organisations and professionals in the country.

Joint technical mission with ICOMOS and ALIPH

A joint technical ICCROM-ICOMOS mission to Ukraine, joined by the ALIPH Foundation, took place between 9-17 July 2022. The objectives of this mission included: gaining a better understanding of the emerging on-the-ground needs, identifying gaps in capacities through consultations with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine and other local heritage professionals, field-testing the mobile and web-based app developed by ICCROM to conduct a damage and risk assessment led by the Ministry of Culture, as well as providing technical advice.

Online training on damage and needs assessment

In March 2022, ICCROM co-organized a two-day emergency online training workshop for 77 diverse professionals from 14 oblasts in Ukraine to develop a common methodology for carrying out systematic damage and risk assessments, documenting war damage, as well as estimating post-war recovery needs for cultural heritage.

Development of tailored damage and risk assessment forms and a web and mobile-based application

ICCROM, in collaboration with its local partner, Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative (HERI) (2), customized damage and risk assessment forms for movable, immovable and intangible heritage. The forms were transferred on a secure mobile and web-based application, which can be used both online and offline. The app, now available on android, iOS and web versions both in English and Ukrainian, is used and updated regularly.

Translation of key emergency response resources

To guide on-the-ground evacuations and emergency operations, as well as offer technical support to Ukrainian communities and institutions amid the armed conflict, ICCROM, in collaboration with UNESCO, Prince Claus Fund and HERI, translated key resources into Ukrainian:

  1. Endangered Heritage: Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections (Спадщина у небезпеці – Екстрена евакуація культурних цінностей). – Completed
  2. First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis Handbook and Toolkit – Ongoing

Training in 2023

ICCROM with the support of European Commission Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC) and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, Ukraine, HERI as well as Maidan Museum, will conduct in-person training on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis with the aim to prepare an advanced national team of cultural first aiders.

Creating strong partnerships with local actors

ICCROM has created a strong partnership with local bodies including the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, local NGOs and organizations such as ICOMOS Ukraine and ICOM Ukraine. Additionally, ICCROM FAR has provided advisory support to establish the HERI, a cohort of Ukrainian museum experts conceived by FAR alumnus and Director of Maidan Museum, Ihor Poshyvailo. HERI has supported emergency aid for over 78 institutions in Ukraine as of August 2022.

Italy in the front line for the defence and protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage

Since the war outbreak, Italy has been among the most involved players for the defence and protection of the Ukrainian cultural heritage: it was indeed the first country to respond to the request for assistance sent by Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture on 24 March 2022 through the Common Emergency Communication and Information System – CECIS of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism- UCPM. Soon after, the Carabinieri Command-Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, also known as the “Blue Helmets for Culture”, has made its skills, know-how and digital tools available  to facilitate the Ukrainian authorities in accessing the country’s cultural heritage at risk in the databases developed, thus providing an accurate census of all the most exposed sites. In addition, the Italian Ministry of Culture – MiC offered its wide-ranging expertise to prepare the dossier for the inscription of the city of Odessa in the UNESCO World Heritage List claimed by the Ukrainian Minister of Culture, Oleksander Tkachenko, and the Mayor of Odessa, Gennadiy Trukhanov. In parallel, the MiC-General Directorate for Cultural Heritage Security monitored the situation of artworks in order to help secure them. During this process, the Italian Civil Protection Department, as UCPM contact point, coordinated the support provided and ensured the flow of communication among the actors involved by forwarding to the MiC the updates that the Mechanism’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre-ERCC was receiving from the Ukrainian authorities who were fine-tuning their request of material for the protection and transport of cultural assets. The final step came in July when, thanks to these joint efforts, two trucks of the Italian Red Cross left the logistics hub of the MiC with final destination Ukraine, containing ten identical kits each with 51 items, including materials for the activities of securing, salvaging, first aid and packing of cultural assets damaged or at risk of damage, supplemented also with the necessary equipment such as vacuum cleaners and compressors and the main personal protective equipment for the operators.

Germany: An ongoing coordinated effort to deliver protection supplies to Ukrainian cultural institutions

The article “A German logistic network sends supplies to protect Ukrainian cultural heritage” (3) brought to light the broad competence and interdisciplinary skills that the German Archaeological Institute – DAI and the Federal Agency for Technical Relief – THW, PROCULTHER-NET partners, can share with the KN but also the fundamental role played by UCPM in facilitating the deployment of international aid.

Indeed, the points of strength of this German network, which coordinates the collection of packaging and aid materials and organises their shipment to Ukraine, rely both on the THW considerable logistical experience in the field of humanitarian aid and on DAI expertise in the protection of cultural heritage, as well as on the embedding of this logistic network in the UCPM, which ensures its deployment in a reliable and sustainable way.

Several shipments have taken place since June 2022, delivering 242 pallets/35 tons of material to 13 cultural institutions from Kyiv, the Donetsk region, the Sumy region and Chernihiv. The supplies were distributed on-site through the HERI. The operation Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Ukraine currently continues and more shipments are planned, with a special effort in providing material for the protection of built heritage.

In November 2022, the DAI also started offering free online training courses to Ukrainian cultural heritage experts, focusing especially on damage mapping of monuments using the iDAI.field software.

Pathway to a stronger comprehensive approach for the protection of cultural heritage from natural and/or human-induced risk of disasters

In this rapidly changing international context characterised by the increase of threats against cultural heritage and peace thus posing new challenges for the stakeholders and actors involved, PROCULTHER-NET took up and consolidated the advocacy actions to promote the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in disaster risk management processes already initiated by the PROCULTHER project also feeding the debate on EU actions in the field of cultural heritage protection in crisis contexts.

As a result, PROCULTHER-NET was invited at the Roundtable on the EU’s Approach to Cultural Heritage in Conflict and Crises organised on 12 October 2022 by the EU Institute for Security Studies – EUISS and culture Solutions in Brussels. The event discussed the importance of a more coordinated and cross-sectoral strategic approach to cultural heritage protection in crisis management, taking into account the relevant actors involved in all phases: prevention, crisis response, stabilisation, long-term peacebuilding and recovery processes.

In conclusion, as stated by Damien Helly, Co-founder and Chair of Culture Solutions, the independent social innovation group that co-organised this roundtable:

“Ukraine’s heartfelt plea for help in protecting the country’s heritage has led to the recognition that the safeguard of cultural heritage, often object of deliberate attacks, is also a form of protection and resilience for affected communities.  The actions of PROCULTHER-NET Partners in support of Ukraine might be perceived from the outside as drops in the ocean compared to the huge needs of this country. However, they are valuable components of the new – and still to be strengthened and better coordinated– EU approach to cultural heritage in conflict and crises.”

Further reading cS Brief #12: Cultural Heritage Protection in crises: strengthening the EU’s role by D. Helly

  1. PROCULTHER-NET is co-funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations- DG ECHO under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism- UCPM and implemented by the Italian Civil Protection Department (Italy), as Consortium coordinator, the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property – ICCROM, the Ministry of Interior-Disaster and Emergency Management Authority – AFAD (Turkey), the German Archaeological Institute – DAI (Germany), the Ministére de l’Intérieur – Direction Générale de la Sécurité Civile et de la Gestion des Crises – DGSCGC (France), the Fondazione Hallgarten – Franchetti Centro Studi Villa Montesca – FCSVM, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Region Government of Castilla y León – JCyL (Spain), the Federal Agency for Technical Relief – THW (Germany), the Suor Orsola Benincasa University – UNISOB (Italy) and the University of Porto – UPORTO (Portugal).
  2. The Heritage Emergency Response Initiative has been set up in response to Russia’s aggression and encroachment on Ukraine’s national and cultural identity. The unit’s purpose is to promote the preservation of cultural heritage during wartime and its further post-crisis recovery. The HERI’s operation and activities are coordinated with UNESCO, ICOM-Disaster Resilient Museums, ICCROM and other national and international institutions and rescue initiatives.
  3. Published in the issue n. 1 of the PROCULTHER-NET Newsletter (June 2022), see pp. 12-13