Six Ukrainian officers studied in the United States how to save cultural treasures during the war

Six Ukrainian officers studied in the United States how to save cultural treasures during the war

For the first time, six Ukrainian officers took part in a training program dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage during military operations, which the US Department of Defense conducts in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution and other partners. A graduation ceremony was held last Friday, August 25, at the Native American Museum in Washington, D.C., after which the program participants had a few more days of individual meetings before returning home.

This program is relatively new. Only at the end of 2019, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and the US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, signed an agreement to cooperate in training American soldiers to prepare them for military operations so that they do not damaged and did not destroy cultural values.

The program quickly expanded, it was joined by participants from other partner countries that signed the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Servicemen from the USA, Great Britain, France and Poland studied together with the Ukrainians.

“Damage caused to the cultural values ​​of each people is damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to world culture,” reads the preamble of the 1954 Hague Convention. More than 80 countries of the world, which have signed this convention, have pledged to make efforts to protect cultural objects during military operations. Ukraine and Russia signed the convention as part of the Soviet Union in 1957, and the United States in 2009.

Dean Thompson, a US Army Reserve general, shared details of the training with VOA. One of its elements is the creation of so-called lists of “objects prohibited for strikes” (no-strike list).

“These are territories that have cultural value, and we, as the military, do not want to destroy them. That would be the last thing we would do. They have to learn to create a list and use it, to determine the historical value of the locations, the cultural significance for the country,” said Thompson during the graduation ceremony on Friday.

Protection of cultural monuments and return of looted valuables

According to him, the tasks of the military are not exhausted by this, because the military can also inform their other colleagues if they work in a certain area and come across cultural values ​​that must not only be protected, but also returned to their rightful owners.

“If something is destroyed or something like looting happens, they are taught how to take care of it – how to help track down these valuables and return them,” the retired general added.

Officers participating in the program have a legal education, experience in the protection of cultural monuments and speak English.

Colonel Scott Dejessy, who worked directly with this issue, says that not only Ukraine, but also other participants benefited from the participation of Ukrainians in the program. Many elements of training were based on examples in Ukraine.

“We can look online at a website, at geospatial platforms and not really know the specific context. And they understand the environment better than we do. They can apply their experience to practical actions instead of abstract, academic talk,” he said. The colonel added that the presence of such partners as Ukrainians also raises the level of American experts.

According to him, he hopes that the main thing that Ukrainian officers will be able to take away from this program is the understanding that they have partners in the US and other countries, and they themselves have now become a link in the international network of specialists in the protection of cultural heritage.

“This is a war against our Ukrainian national identity”

But for Ukraine, this program is of special importance because of the essence of this war. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, according to the Ministry of Culture, Russian troops have destroyed or damaged 1,500 objects of cultural infrastructure and 600 monuments of culture and history.

Among them are the Grigory Skovoroda Museum in Kharkiv Region, the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa, the Drama Theater in Mariupol, where, according to estimates, about 600 people died under the ruins, many of them children.

“We understand that today Russia not only kills Ukrainians, not only destroys our homes and cities, but also purposefully attacks our cultural assets, our museums, our theaters. And she does it not just by chance, she does it precisely because this war is a war against our Ukrainian national identity,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the USA Oksana Markarova emphasized in an interview with Voice of America.

This officer training program at the Pentagon was dubbed “Monument People” after the name of the international group that was created in 1943. Its official name is “Monuments, fine arts and archives”.

A network of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians and others worked with Allied commands and local authorities to save cultural heritage sites from destruction and looting by the Nazis during World War II. Their work continued even after the war – they found art objects and archives taken away by German troops and helped in their return.

Robert Idzel– co-author of the popular book “Monument People: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History”, which was adapted into a 2014 film.

“We feel extremely grateful to the Ukrainians for taking part in this struggle, that American soldiers are not fighting there, we support the country in other ways. And one of the ways is to help implement the idea of ​​preserving their cultural treasures,” he said Idzel in an interview with Voice of America.

He says it’s “terrifying to see churches hit by rockets, to see sculptures and paintings destroyed and stolen.” But even their loss cannot be compared to the highest tragedy – the loss of human life.

“These things are as important as they are insignificant compared to the loss of lives, innocent lives,” the art historian added.

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