Ukraine’s Unlikely Fighters – OZY

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Attacks on culture

Is this the strategy?

Attacks on cultural heritage are identified as war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The term ‘heritage’ is meant to include both physical and more intangible markers of identity. Some experts have argued that the eradication of Ukrainian culture and its resources is one of the aims of the present war. As of May 30, UNESCO has verified damage to more than 139 pitcheswhile according to the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab, a collaborative monitoring project of the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, a total of 191 sites could have been potentially impacted.

History of the bombings

Targeted raids on cultural sites, public and private collections, even antique shops, continue to be reported by the Ukrainian authorities. Department of Defense, most recently in the occupied Kherson region in northern Crimea. As explained by Konstantin Akinsha, art historian and curator, the museums of this region house more than 150,000 artifactsincluding Scythian gold jewelry.

blue shield

UNESCO is working with Ukrainian cultural activists to identify and mark sites that must be protected from accidental and deliberate damage inflicted by war. The organization assesses satellite images and communicates across the border with heritage workers who monitor Ukrainian resources. According to Museum Crisis Center a grassroots initiative set up by Olga Honchar, director of the Lviv Terror Territory Museum — the Ukrainian government focuses on preserving objects that are over 50 years old and therefore legally considered be of “cultural value”, leaving the safety of more contemporary initiatives and smaller collections in the hands of their creators and custodians.

Emergency assistance

Help the artists

Shortly after the start of the Russian offensive in February 2022, the Kyiv Biennale, an international interdisciplinary initiative, launched the Emergency Aid Initiative. Focusing on the occupied and relocated arts community, this initiative provides financial support and a safe space for displaced artists to live and work. The platform, forging an impressive local and international network including the European Cultural Foundation and ERSTE Stiftung, put into practice the premises of the 2021 edition of the Biennale, which (somewhat prophetically) aimed to foster new international alliances in the face of to the growing dangers of authoritarian capitalism.

Talk about Mariupol. Shout about it.

The TU Platform operated in Mariupol until the destruction of the city by Russian forces. Initiated in 2015 after Russia’s aggression on Donetsk, it operated under the banner “Everything that works for culture, works against war.” Formed by Diana Berg and Konstantin Batozsky, the organization promotes critical thinking in Ukrainian society and combats xenophobia. The siege of Mariupol was directly reported by those who remained on the ground next to global news agencies. Members of the TU team who managed to escape to Lviv continue to support those who stayed in Mariupol.

Race against time

Assortmentna Kimnata is an initiative led by curator Anna Potyomkina, which oversees the evacuation of endangered artists, studios and archives. The platform, based at Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine established a network of safe places where, amidst the chaos of a war-torn country, contemporary art can be stored. The Instagram account of this independent institution offers insight into the physical and logistical effort required to save lives and preserve a working life during the current war.


Documenting war crimes

Declaration of citizens

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recognizing the value of citizen reporting, encouraged the submission of photographs and testimonials by Diia, an administrative services application. At the same time, the charity organization Vostok SOS, which has been working with war victims since May 2014, makes these reports public with its regularly updated information. Documentation Web page. Natalia Kaplun, Program Coordinator at Vostok SOS, previously co-authored a post titled “The city from where the war started», which collected testimonies from citizens of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region, occupied by Russian-backed rebels in 2014 and attacked again in 2022.

Sensitive material

In April, a group of 13 Ukrainian media, news outlets and human rights organizations submitted a letter to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, to protest the removal of images and posts documenting Russian war crimes, which they say could serve as crucial evidence in future trials. The letter also pointed out that many messages glorifying the Russian armed forces and including the symbols “Z” and “V”— criminalized in countries like Latvia – had slipped through the net and remained widely available on Meta platforms.

Frontline photographers

Yana Kononova and Stanislav Ostrous are two professional photographers who have turned their cameras into tools to document the fate of Ukraine. Through their lenses, viewers are confronted with the terror of bodies and buildings shattered by bombs or missiles. Kononova’s black-and-white photos were released from the Kyiv Biennale’s Instagram account, along with a artist statement, which is accredited by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to document war crimes. Ostrous, meanwhile, was previously a concept photographer and continues to document the destruction of his hometown Kharkiv while wearing a bulletproof vest.

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