As of October 2023, Ukraine's Ministry of Culture and Informational Policy has documented 835 instances of destruction or damage to cultural heritage sites owing to the Russian invasion. These sites include the historic center of Odesa, which was inscribed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger, and the Historic Center of Tchernigov, which is on Ukraine's Tentative List for UNESCO World Heritage site status, as well as numerous historic buildings, museums, and educational and cultural institutions throughout the country.
With an initial seed grant of $500,000 from Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, World Monuments Fund's (WMF) Ukraine Heritage Response Fund is supporting Ukrainian heritage professionals and providing supplies necessary to protect Ukrainian heritage places. Where safe to do so, WMF is also supporting the stabilization and rehabilitation of damaged structures. Looking to the future, we are preparing for post-conflict needs by building a strong foundation of financial support that can be deployed for conservation work at cultural heritage sites.
Left: Chernihiv Regional Library for Youth, which was severely damaged by Russian shelling. Right: Damage assessment of Ukrainian heritage sites.
WMF has launched several new projects as part of the fund to address the immediate, critical needs of heritage professionals in Ukraine and to lay the groundwork for the future rehabilitation and long-term recovery of cultural heritage in the country.
The Black House is a sixteenth-century structure in Lviv’s Market Square. In 2019, the Lviv Historical Museum completed an AFCP-supported project to preserve the Black House, including its main facade, courtyard, lobby, and collection of stone sculptures. The inner courtyard of the Black House was also excavated, and an exhibition of stone architectural and sculptural fragments from Lviv buildings was created. Today, the building facade, festooned with intricate sculpture, is particularly vulnerable to damage from nearby explosions from ballistic missiles.
With support from the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, WMF is working with the Lviv Historical Museum and Friends of the Lviv Historical Museum to build a strong external structure to protect the decorative façade while reflecting the history and aesthetic of the Market Square.
Fire Extinguishers to Protect Ukraine’s Wooden Churches
Ukraine is home to more than 2,500 wooden churches, or tserkvas, the largest number in the world. Eight of Ukraine’s wooden churches are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List of Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine. They are often located in remote rural communities and are particularly vulnerable to fire, especially in extreme conflict situations.
In response to requests from professionals on the ground, WMF partnered with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) International, the Foundation to Preserve Ukraine’s Sacral Arts (FTPUSA), Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative (HERI), the NGO Tustan, and the Center to Rescue Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage to deliver 440 water-mist fire extinguishers that will serve to protect up to 200 tserkvas throughout Ukraine. The extinguishers were sourced from the fire safety provider Safelincs in the UK, who in providing the equipment below cost price, donating accessories and covering transport costs to Poland, allowed the delivery of a significantly larger number of extinguishers than would otherwise have been possible. The Polish Committee for Ukrainian Museums, through the Warsaw Rising Museum and the Instytut Pawła Włodkowica, supported transport logistics, provided warehousing in Poland, and organized onward transport by truck to Ukraine. The extinguishers will be distributed by Ukrainian partners, the Center to Rescue Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage, the Heritage Emergency Response Initiative (HERI), and ICOMOS Ukraine.
Provision of Supplies to Monitor Damage to St. Sophia of Kyiv
The St. Sophia of Kyiv Cathedral dates back to the eleventh century and is part of the St. Sophia of Kyiv National Sanctuary Complex. Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the cathedral and its surroundings are susceptible to severe damage.
As a result, WMF has partnered with Cultural Emergency Response (CER), with local support from the Heritage Rescue Emergency Initiative (HERI) and personnel from the St. Sophia of Kyiv National Conservation Area, to deliver monitoring equipment to the St. Sophia of Kyiv National Sanctuary Complex.
Installation of a Temporary Cover for the Holy Trinity Church in Zhovkva
The Holy Trinity Church in Zhovkva dates back to 1720 and was under restoration when the war in Ukraine began. As a result, work abruptly halted. To prevent further damage to the church, the upper parts of the building were temporarily covered with plastic sheeting.
In order to provide additional protection for the church over an extended period of time, WMF committed to funding the installation of a temporary waterproof membrane to protect the interior spaces of the church. It was installed in locations where the roof was removed prior to the start of the conflict to protect Holy Trinity from inclement weather. This project was undertaken in partnership with the charitable foundation International Cooperation for Zhovkva and the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery.
On June 21, 2013, during the 37th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Cambodia, the Holy Trinity Church was added to the UNESCO World Heritage UNESCO World Heritage List of Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine.
Digitization of the the State Archive of Kyiv Oblast
WMF partnered with Archival Information Systems and the State Archive of Kyiv Oblast (SAKO) to preserve the latter's efforts to digitize parts of its collections in order to make documents available for researchers and safeguard the contents of vulnerable objects from potential damage during the war. Efforts focused on the State Register of Civil Status Acts and the Maps and Drawings of Kyiv Province collection.
Available registers of cultural sites affected by the war list up to 600 entries. However, none of these registers is complete. In order to better assess the situation on the ground in the wake of the invasion, WMF has partnered with HERI and the NGO Tustan to conduct a cultural heritage damage assessment in three particularly hard-hit regions of Ukraine. Analysis of the findings will allow for the development of strategies for emergency stabilization and mid-term preservation and lay the foundations for post-conflict recovery.
In November 2022, WMF and CER, with backing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, partnered to support the winterization of several historic sites in the Ukrainian oblasts of Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv. Having been damaged by Russian artillery during the war, these buildings were at further risk from ice and snow unless preventative measures were taken to shield the exposed interiors from precipitation and prevent the structures from further degradation and potential collapse. The following sites were selected for emergency winterization:
- The Okhtyrka Local History Museum
Over a century old, this regional museum in northeastern Ukraine suffered a major blow when Russian bombs hit Okhtyrka’s historic center in March of 2022. The blast severely damaged the roof, blew out the building’s windows, and affected the exhibits inside. To safeguard the museum from further damage due to winter weather, WMF and CER signed a memorandum of understanding with the museum and are partnering with Initiatives for Development, a local NGO, to implement a project to protect this important heritage site.
- The Chernihiv Regional LIbrary of Youth (formerly the Museum of Antiquities)
Housed in a striking Gothic Revival Building, Chernihiv’s Museum of Antiquities possessed a rich collection of artifacts thanks to the work of founder Vasyl Tarnovsky. Prior to the Russian Revolution, it was the only museum devoted to Ukrainian culture in the Russian Empire. Though the collection was moved when the building was converted into a regional library in 1978, the site retained both its splendid ornamentation and its reputation for historic richness.
In March of 2022, Russian shelling resulted in the collapse of part of the building’s roof and walls. Experts conducted comprehensive onsite surveys, installed a protective fence, removed debris, filled the bomb crater, and installed a protective cover. WMF and CER supported the winterization of the site, including shielding the partly ruined building from further damage and medium-term stabilization, in partnership with the Chernihiv Regionel Military Administration and the LLCs K.D.K. BUD and Project Innovations.
- The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts
Originally comprising the private collection of philanthropists Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko, this Kyiv museum is one of Ukraine’s most important artistic institutions, featuring works from across the globe. The nineteenth-century buildings in which the collection is housed are also of great architectural value.
The Khanenko Museum was among a number of important cultural institutions that suffered damage during a missile attack on the Ukrainian capital in October of 2022. WMF and CER have supported emergency actions to protect the museum, including its damaged metal roof tiles and roof lanterns, among other activities, in collaboration with the LLCs K.D.K. BUD and Project Innovations.
Identifying and Addressing Critical Needs
Following meetings with both regional and global partners, including UNESCO, ICOMOS, International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), the Smithsonian Institution, and Blue Shield International, among others, WMF has identified the following critical needs:
- Short-term: Equipment and Supplies. The most immediate needs for heritage professionals in Ukraine are supplies needed to protect sites from collateral damage.
- Medium-term: Documentation and Assessment of Damage. Once conflict subsides, heritage site managers will be faced with the challenge of taking stock of the damage and assessing the most urgent restoration needs. WMF created a Ukraine Taskforce within the organization, dedicated to monitoring the situation and coordinating with Ukrainian professionals and various international stakeholders. In support of the taskforce's work, WMF also recruited a Ukraine Heritage Crisis Specialist, Kateryna Goncharova, to help lead efforts to respond to the impact of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine on the country’s cultural heritage sector.
- Long-term: Restoration and Rehabilitation Projects. While the full extent of damage remains to be seen, we are already aware of dozens of heritage sites that have suffered varying degrees of destruction. We aim to develop projects that support recovery once the conflict subsides.
WMF continues to participate in UNESCO and other international emergency response coordination meetings mobilizing international partners to ensure the complementarity of all actions taken to address short-, medium-, and long-term needs at heritage sites around Ukraine.