Human suffering and threatened cultural heritage

Nothing about war is as terrible as the human tragedies caused by the outbreak of violence. Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine in recent days has already left several thousand dead and injured. Hundreds of thousands are on the run. However, destroyed cultural heritage is also an irreparable damage that wars bring to the world.

On the initiative of the organization European Heritage Volunteers, the Fortified Churches Foundation and other international partner organizations have now issued a joint statement on the situation in Ukraine.

Among others things, the statement reads:

” The European Heritage Volunteers Network and its partners stand in absolute solidarity with the population and the civil society in Ukraine, especially with our partners and friends in the country, who are currently enduring the unbearable onslaught of a senseless war that has befell upon their sovereign nation. We include in our solidarity our friends and the civil society activists in Russia, who are bravely opposing the vicious actions taken by their government against European peace.”

Institutions dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage – such as the Fortified Churches Foundation and European Heritage Volunteers – see their work as a contribution to international exchange and intercultural cooperation, and thereby also as peace work based on shared European values.

“We as the Fortified Churches Foundation regard the fortified churches landscape as a common European cultural heritage and regularly work with international partners to preserve it. When monuments are destroyed and the people who own and use them are threatened, no matter where, we are all affected,” Sebastian Bethge, Representative for Monument Preservation in the Foundation’s team, shows his concern. The preamble to UNESCO’s statutes, written in 1945, already states: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, the defense of peace must also be built in the minds of men.”

Foto: Uwe Seidner

St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev / photo: Uwe Seidner

Cultural heritage in great danger

Ukraine, which joined UNESCO before the collapse of the Soviet Union, is currently home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, including six World Heritage sites and one World Natural Heritage site. The ensemble of St. Sophia Cathedral and the Lavra Pechersk Cave Monastery in Kiev are among them, as are, for example, the historic center of Lviv and the residence of the Bukovyn and Dalmatian Orthodox Metropolitans in Chernivtsi (part of the Chernivtsi University campus since 1955). In these and many other Ukrainian places of the highest cultural and historical value, irreparable damage and losses are now threatened by the war. A sad phenomenon also known from other armed conflicts, which is also clearly pointed out in the declaration of European Heritage Volunteers: “[We] would like to commemorate on the occasion of the current war also other armed conflicts in Europe and beyond, which caused countless victims among civil society and and dramatic losses of cultural heritage, such as the destruction of Armenian heritage during the war in autumn 2020.”

The complete joint statement on the situation in Ukraine can be downloaded here in PDF format: Heritage is universal – Peace is universal