Friday 10 June 2022

Is Ukraine's cultural heritage under coordinated attack?

     Damaged church in Lukashivka, Ukraine
(Photograph: Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Tom Seymour in the Art Newspaper asks Is Ukraine's cultural heritage under coordinated attack? (10 June 2022 with additional reporting by Sophia Kishkovsky). We remember that on the eve of the unprovoked invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged in a televised speech that Ukraine had never held “real statehood”, and that Russia’s neighbouring country, independent since 1991, was an integral part of Moscow’s “own history, culture and spiritual space”. It is beginning to appear that such attitudes among the invaders are leading to the deliberate targeting of anything that promotes a Ukrainian identity, the places that provide them with a collective memory and shared histor, and anything that bolsters national pride. Or are Ukrainian heritage sites and historical artefacts being lost as collateral damage amidst the chaos of war? At the end of May, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) verified damage to 139 cultural sites, including 62 religious sites, 12 museums, 26 historic buildings, 17 buildings dedicated to cultural activities, 15 monuments and seven libraries. As of June 9, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture says 389 cultural heritage sites have been destroyed or damaged since the invasion began.
But the detailed work of proving this claim—of verifying how the damage came about and of providing evidence that the destruction was strategic—requires a concerted international effort.[...] A report, meanwhile, by international legal scholars and genocide experts released on 26 May by the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights concluded that there is a “very serious risk of genocide” in Ukraine, citing the “destruction of cultural and sacred sites” as an indicator. Ukrainian government sources claim religious and holy sites are being actively targeted above all else.
I find this article somewhat irritating, it concentrates on external efforts to protect Ukraine's heritage "for them", Ukraine is presenteed in this text as a passive victim that we, paternalistically, can help them with. The authors seem not terribly in tune with the situations they are writing about, quoting a comment on "Russky Mir" without really understanding it, they say "Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, once a Greek colony" completely oblivious to the actual history of the city and how, when and why it got its Greek- sounding name (clue: it was founded under Catherine the Great in 1779, those Greek-sounding names in Novorossiya and beginnings of interest in the relics of the region's Classical heritage had an important role in bolstering Moscow's self-image in the late eighteenth century). The attacks on churches should also be seen in teh context between the existing and now widening split between teh Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate - the latter being what underlies Russian self identity. Here the growing influence and arguments of the Ukraininan Church is seen as a threat to the latter which is why "revenge" is being exacted on Church buildings in the invaded regionb.

Anyway, something more to my liking:
Russia’s attack on Ukrainian culture is not limited to bombs falling from the sky; the trafficking of Ukrainian artefacts must be verified too. The efforts to track stolen artefacts is both professional and voluntary, from the highest levels of Interpol to spontaneous collectives gathering on Telegram, Whatsapp and Instagram. Interpol has uploaded 218 Ukrainian artworks on its ID-Art mobile application. Each piece is known to have been illicitly trafficked from Ukraine, either before or during the war.
and this is something we outside Ukraine can be reacting to... and of course that's precisely what is NOT happening, antiquities dealers freely offer stuff with made-up provenances to hide where they really come from, and nobody does anything at all about it. A destroyed church that served as a military shelter for Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian village of Lukashivka near Chernihiv. © Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

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