Interview: Dr. Kateryna Goncharova, WMF Ukraine Heritage Crisis Specialist
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, World Monuments Fund (WMF) received an initial seed grant of $500,000 from Helen Frankenthaler Foundation to create the Ukraine Heritage Response Fund and hired a local professional to spearhead the organization’s response to the ongoing conflict. Kateryna Goncharova joined the team in April 2022 as Ukraine Heritage Crisis Specialist and quickly set about her work. A former Fulbright scholar with a Ph.D. in Museum and Monuments Studies, she brings the position not only expertise but a profound passion for Ukrainian history and culture. Working on the ground in Ukraine, Kateryna is in a unique position to build relationships and support local partners, fielding emails at midnight and calls at 6 am—all amid blackouts and air raids, which have become features of wartime life in the country.
This interview with Kateryna about her work and how she sees heritage fitting into the post-war future of Ukraine was originally conducted for our Watch magazine. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
World Monuments Fund (WMF): Tell us a little about your background. How did you become interested in heritage conservation as a career path?
Kateryna Goncharova (KG): History was something that I was interested in from my childhood, and fostering an appreciation of the past was seen as part of parenting by my family members. Living in a historic city also gives you a sense of heritage’s importance. You're always surrounded by historic buildings, follow certain traditions, and the comfort and quality of historic environments becomes part of your life.
And so when I decided what I wanted to be, I immediately thought of being a historian because that was a natural continuation of my interests. I went to Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, one of the oldest universities in all of Ukraine, and that also connected me to history. I received a master’s degree, and then I decided that protecting and safeguarding something that I really love—historic buildings, historic environments, historic communities—would be a good way to pursue my career. Then it was only a matter of time before I pursued my Ph.D. in historic preservation and monumental studies.
WMF: Can you talk about what you’ve achieved so far in your role at WMF? What are you most proud of so far?
KG: First of all, it's great that I can do these things despite the situation we're living in. The work at WMF allows me to be useful and contribute to my country. And hopefully the war will be over soon, and my children will have something to be proud of—meaning they will carry their identity as Ukrainians with pride.
The work has been really meaningful for the people that we're working with in various ways. First of all, of course, seeing that something they love is protected is really meaningful to local communities. It’s also important for those who have had to leave because when they return, they will have the continuity of a sense of place, a sense of belonging. And we are supporting Ukrainian professionals and experts and allowing them to earn a living.
Lastly, our work on the ground sets up a precedent for how to protect heritage in a situation of ongoing war. This experience of navigating a variety of challenges and successfully
safeguarding the irreplaceable could be leveraged as a framework for heritage protection in ongoing crises.
WMF: How do you see heritage preservation playing a role in the post-war rebuilding of Ukraine?
KG: The battlefields have shifted east; previously we were more tactical, responding to urgent needs that came to WMF from colleagues and institutions in the field of cultural heritage, but now the war is in a different stage, and we are working with our colleagues and partners to adapt to it strategically. For instance, WMF has partnered with HERI to conduct a damage assessment project. It's one of the major issues that we have because none of the registers and databases that we have at the moment is comprehensive.
We’ve already made plans in partnership with Cultural Emergency Response (CER) for projects in the medium term. The first is a winterizing project at three sites: the Khanenko Museum in Kyiv, the Library of Youth in Chernihiv, and the Local History Museum in Okhtyrka. All of these sites were severely damaged by missile attacks.
Through the protection of these sites, we're restoring the identity of those historic cities that were severely damaged by the war. Now, unfortunately, I have to name Kyiv, my home city, among them.
There are numerous initiatives and discussions of strategies and projects for post-war recovery that address the urgent needs of city management and communities. These discussions have a really important outcome: they give people hope for a future with no war. Even now, historic monuments and sites play the role of focal points and symbolic markers for local communities. We expect that they will continue to be focal points of community rebirth during post-war reconstruction.
Restoring a monument that was destroyed gives people a reason to withstand whatever the circumstances we have to face, whatever challenges may come. It gives us something to look forward to. So continue believing in Ukraine, continue believing in our future.
Last year, WMF launched the Ukraine Heritage Response Fund in the wake of the invasion. Since then, we have worked to support heritage professionals on the ground and aid emergency interventions. We continue to support crisis response through efforts like these ones and lay the groundwork for eventual post-crisis recovery.
The Ukraine Heritage Response Fund was created with leadership support from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. World Monuments Fund would also like to thank the other generous donors who have supported the fund, including Cultural Emergency Response (CER) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands; the Richard Lounsbery Foundation; the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation; the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation; the Flora Family Foundation; Christie's, and other supporters.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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