The Story of the Newly Set-up Center to Rescue Ukraine's Cultural Heritage in Lviv

Natalia Filevych writes about the center's efforts to save Ukrainian cultural heritage

12 Apr 2022

 

The original article was written by Natalia Filevych in Ukrainian and is published here. The article has been translated by Myron O. Stachiw below.

 

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Humanitarian museum assistance from friends 

 

On 24 February 2022, Russia treacherously attacked Ukraine. After the first waves of stress, tremors and fear passed, everyone thought - what can I do? what can I do and how can I help on the way to our Victory?

We gathered almost spontaneously. We knew that our soldiers were already defending their homeland with weapons in their hands, and thousands of volunteers were joining them. We knew that there were people who cared for those who were forced to flee as refugees, and hundreds of people joined the volunteer ranks. 

But who should take care of what the enemy came to our land to destroy - historical and cultural monuments - the evidence of our identity, proof of antiquity, wisdom, high level of education and spirituality of the Ukrainian nation?  These values worry the enemy the most, and he directs the main blow at this - to erase and destroy our historical memory, as evidenced by priceless artistic and spiritual treasures, architectural monuments and places of worship. 

Certain movements have already begun in the city to protect our shrines - stained glass windows and windows in churches and cathedrals have been covered.  We began to think:

What can we do to help museums and cultural institutions to preserve and protect collections, monuments, and  sacred buildings in this unexpected whirlwind of war? 

 

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Natalia Filevych, Andriy Bokotey and Roman Metelsky receive the first shipment of humanitarian museum aid from Warsaw 

 

Therefore, on 1 March 2022 in Lviv, the public initiative "The Center to Rescue Cultural Heritage" was formed on the basis of NGO "Center for Historical Memory", headed by Roman Metelsky. The  initiators and founders included: 

  • Ivan Shchurko - Deputy of the Lviv Regional Council, Chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage; 
  • Andriy Klimashevsky - Deputy Director of the Institute of Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Head of the Museum of Ethnography; 
  • Roman Metelsky - Chair of the Board of the Ukrainian Photographic Society; 
  • Ihor Garmash - Chair of the Board of the Art-Space Center for Arts, Regional Representative of the Ukrainian Center for Cultural Studies of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy; 
  • Natalia Filevych - Chair of the Board of the Nahirny Foundation, a member of ICOM; 
  • Vasyl Petryk - Head of the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Department of Architecture and Development of the Lviv Regional State Administration, Scientific Secretary of the Ukrainian National Committee of  ICOMOS.
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Unloading of the second shipment of humanitarian museum aid from Warsaw 

 

The most important thing to do in times of war is to record the criminal destruction of monuments. This ​​work has been taken under the control of the Ministry of Culture and is being performed with dignity. The testimonies of human victims are terrible. The physical testimonies of our defenseless shrines are also terrible. 

The priority task of our "Center to Rescue Cultural Heritage" is assistance to museums, cultural institutions, archives, and sacred buildings in the preservation and protection of our cultural heritage.

We realized that we alone could not accomplish these tasks, and so we turned to international cultural organizations to help with equipment, packaging and conservation materials, and fire-fighting equipment to protect and preserve these priceless resources. 

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Unloading of the second shipment of humanitarian museum aid from Warsaw 

 

An emotional letter, translated into several languages ​​and sent with the help of Ukrainian and Polish colleagues, was the beginning of our communication and cooperation with foreign partners: 

"Dear colleagues,

Today there is a war in Ukraine. The war, which has already entered Ukrainian cities and villages, has taken and damaged the lives of many of our compatriots. It has entered our hearts, our heads, our blood. Ukrainians are a peaceful nation and our blood is not black, not filled with rage, and we do not want to shed anyone's blood. But when the enemy, who chose Moloch as his god, and trampled our God and came to our land, we were transformed. We became warriors. Those who are trained to fight like our fearless soldiers defend their land with weapons in their hands. Those who are not trained will soon learn, but we see that everyone -  from young men and women to the aged, with or without weapons, are ready to defend our land, our homeland. Everyone has their own front, everyone in their place wants to contribute to the Victory. And so are we. ” 

The information and requests presented in the letter reached an organization which was established in Poland at almost the same time as our Center - the Committee for Aid to Ukrainian Museums (Komitet Pomocy Muzeom Ukraińskim). 

We immediately established cooperation with the Committee and with the wonderful Ms. Anna Drozd from the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising (Anna Drozd, Head of the Outdoor Exhibitions Department). It was agreed that large deliveries of volunteer assistance from other European countries would arrive at the hub owned by the Committee and be delivered to us from there. Smaller cargoes will be delivered to the city of Lublin, where Mr. Grzegorz Józefczuk, President of the Lublin Bruno Schulz Society, will receive the goods by their own efforts and with the help of their colleagues and transport them to Lviv. The first aid that came to us was actually packaging materials collected through the efforts of colleagues and patrons from the city of Lublin. 

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Unloading of the second shipment of humanitarian museum aid from Warsaw 

 

A page for the Center to Rescue Ukraine's Cultural Heritage was immediately set up on Facebook. Very shortly, staff at the Ukrainian Photographic Society shot and posted videos with recommendations from experts on the professional preservation and storage of artifacts. Videos provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA) were also valuable.

It was necessary to develop a methodology for working at the Center, in order to receive, store and transfer the humanitarian shipments to museums and cultural sites and places of worship. Therefore, an office hub for working out logistics was set up on the premises of the Scientific and Technical Library of the Lviv Polytechnic National University. 

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Improvised storage facilities at the Center to Rescue Cultural Heritage in the lobby of the Scientific and Technical Library of the Lviv Polytechnic National University

 

Financial aid also began to arrive. The Nahirny Charitable Foundation has long collaborated with the USA-based Foundation to Preserve Ukraine's Sacral Arts  (FTPUSA), chaired by Ms. Khristina Lew. One of the members of the Board of the Foundation,  Myron Stachiw, an architectural historian and preservation specialist and a member of both the American and Ukrainian National Committees of  ICOMOS, provided information about our activities to Icon in the UK, and international organizations and museums around the world began to contact us. Thanks to these contacts, as well as the information we have sent using other sources, we now have extensive correspondence and receive real help for our museums, both financial and in terms of supplies.

Thanks to the efforts of the Polish Committee for Aid to Ukrainian Museums, the Center received railway assistance. The first car was filled with supplies thanks to several Polish museums, and the second with materials and funds received from Denmark (Blue Shield Denmark & ​​Museumstjenesten) and Norway (The University Museum of Bergen, Norway). 

In Lublin, Poland, a cargo from Slovenia and England is waiting to be sent to us. Packaging materials from Riga and the National Library of Hamburg were also transported by separate vehicles. 

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Packaging materials for museums are received in the city of Dnipro

 

We continue to receive inquiries from many museums in Ukraine, the priority being the needs of those in the East and South, in areas threatened by hostilities. We send materials and financial assistance (we received more than 15,000 USD to date) to the museums in different ways: by volunteer buses and cars, and through bank transfers. During the first month of our work, about 30 museums from different cities and towns of Ukraine, as well as Lviv museums, received assistance with packaging, security materials, or finances.  We also cooperate closely with the Ukrainian National Committee ICOMOS, and with the Institute "Polonika". 

We think the work we are doing now justifies the name of the Center we have created. The Center to Rescue Cultural Heritage helps to save our heritage which, just like human life, is invaluable. 

 

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Loading a car with packaging materials for a museum in Zaporizhzhia