Heritage Under Siege: Safeguarding Ukraine’s Cultural Legacy

This analysis was conducted in-house by Pact under the extended mandate of USAID/ENGAGE Activity to identify, based on available evidence, the most relevant and impactful assistance interventions to be implemented in the field of protecting Ukrainian cultural heritage.

Research shows that there is a direct link between a nation’s cultural heritage and its ability to maintain a unique identity, independent statehood, and determine its future.

Since the onset of Russia’s aggression in 2014, external threats to Ukraine’s cultural heritage have emerged, and their seriousness, frequency, and geographic extent have escalated significantly following Russia’s full-fledged invasion in 2022. Documenting Russia’s massive physical damage to Ukraine’s tangible cultural heritage and countering the Kremlin’s propaganda strategy to eliminate any manifestations of the Ukrainian intangible cultural heritage remains a challenge.

These external threats have exacerbated long-standing internal challenges: despite progressive reforms initiated after Euromaidan, the state system of cultural management often finds itself plagued with outdated Soviet-era practices, corruption, a lack of strategic vision and preparedness for the conflict, limited policy development capacity, as well as gaps in human resources and funding.

Protecting Ukrainian cultural heritage from Russia’s military and information warfare, safeguarding it against internal challenges, and promoting it abroad is critical for achieving Ukraine’s victory in the war, preservation of sovereignty, and advancing the country’s European aspirations.

While the role of international actors, led by UNESCO and EU-funded initiatives, in helping Ukraine protect its cultural heritage has increased since 2014, existing external support tends to focus on monitoring damages, providing emergency relief to cultural institutions, training heritage professionals, supporting peer-to-peer contacts, as well as digitizing inventories and archives.

Sectoral actors should turn their attention to the development of sound, transparent, and accountable state policies designed to manage and protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage, document Russia’s war crimes in a systematic and coordinated fashion and engage citizens in the process of safeguarding and promoting Ukraine’s unique identity at home and abroad.

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