Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression of Ukraine has destroyed and damaged Ukrainian cultural heritage and cultural institutions. According to UNESCO statistics, 240 cultural sites have been damaged as of 24 February 2023. In addition, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided on 25 January 2023 to inscribe the city of Odesa on the List of World Heritage in Danger. As the war lingers, Ukrainian cultural heritage remains under considerable threat of further destruction and damage, as well as prey to illicit trafficking. Preservation and protection efforts should therefore be supported.

As stated in the 2021 Council Conclusions on EU Approach to Cultural Heritage in conflicts and crises, cultural heritage can be instrumentalised as a trigger for and a target in conflicts and crises. Its protection should therefore be part of a conflict sensitive approach throughout all phases of conflicts and crises. The Council Conclusions also emphasise the importance of local ownership in that respect, which calls for the strengthening of Ukraine’s capacity and expertise in keeping with national, international and European norms. It should also be based on standard-setting texts and principles (such as the New European Bauhaus), lessons learned, and be consistent with the European quality principles for EU-funded interventions with potential impact on cultural heritage.

Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, the EU provided targeted support for the protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage, using all the financial tools at its disposal. By end 2022, the Commission had provided about EUR 10 million of support for the protection and preservation of Ukrainian cultural heritage. In addition, political support to Ukraine was voiced by EU Ministers of Culture in their March 2022 Declaration condemning the Russian aggression, as well as during exchanges held with Ukrainian Minister for Culture Mr Oleksandr Tkachenko in the framework of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS) in April 2022, and again in the November 2022 EYCS Council, where the protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage was discussed.

In light of the above, the Council Resolution on the EU Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026 (2022/C 466/01) includes an action to “preserve cultural heritage and empower local Cultural and Creative Sectors in Ukraine”.

Among the working methods foreseen is the setting up of a dedicated sub-group to the Commission expert group on cultural heritage (“Cultural Heritage Forum – E03650”). This sub-group shall operate in compliance with the terms of reference and rules of procedure of the expert group on cultural heritage and the Commission’s horizontal rules on expert groups (‘the horizontal rules’).

The sub-group’s tasks shall be:

  • to bring about exchanges of experience and good practices in the field of the damage prevention, preparadeness and recovery of cultural heritage after man-made or natural disasters that can be relevant to Ukraine. Such exchanges mayencompass the full spectrum of relevant activities and stakeholders, including (i) local, national and international expertise, (ii) actions and legislations, (iii) strategies, management and policies (iv) standards and principles. These exchanges will not aim at making an inventory of losses and damages of cultural heritage in Ukraine.
  • to advise and assist the Commission in compiling a set of lessons learnt and recommendations from recovery processes relevant for the prevention, preparadeness and recovery of cultural heritage in Ukraine. Such recommendations shall be operational and may include suitable methodology, principles and guidelines to guide relevant projects and initiatives in the future.

In light of the tasks described above, the work of the sub-group shall revolve around good practices to recover and increase the resilience of cultural heritage against disasters (‘how’), leaving aside the targets of such means and practices (‘what’). The Commission is calling for applications with a view to selecting members of the sub-group on safeguarding cultural heritage in Ukraine.

For more information, please visit the website of the European Commission.