Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy Kateryna Chuhuieva has urged journalists and activists against disseminating information about efforts to protect cultural heritage properties in the country out of fear of exposing them as targets for Russian troops and opportunists.
“We ask journalists and activists not to share information about current protection measures, imposed by museums and local residents, the location of these goods, and the places for their relocation during the war,” Chuhuieva said during a briefing on Thursday, March 17. “Publication or sending such data to unknown individuals and unchecked organizations might endanger people as well as museum exhibits.”
Objects of immense cultural significance “can become attractive targets for both the enemy and looters and thieves,” the deputy minister explained. She also said that Ukrainian officials were working with UNESCO to distinguish cultural heritage sites with the Blue Shield emblem to afford them with enhanced protection status. If such sites are granted this status, their destruction would constitute evidence of a war crime.
Attacks in Ukraine have already decimated several churches, and many Ukrainians are scrambling to evacuate treasured artifacts that are at high risk of destruction in future strikes. Earlier this week, on March 16, a theater in the eastern port city of Mariupol that sheltered at least 1,000 civilians was bombed by Russian forces; it remains unclear how many were killed in the attack. A museum in the town of Ivankiv near Kyiv, housing a number of works by the artist Maria Pryimachenko, was bombed on February 28. Many Ukrainians see such callous neglect of its heritage as part and parcel of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic campaign to deny Ukraine of its cultural specificity, and hence sovereignty. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has contended that the Kremlin is intent on the “erasure” of Ukraine as an independent sovereign state.
With the prospect of a coordinated assault on Ukrainian cultural treasures on the horizon, civilian documentation of the destruction of cultural heritage is encouraged. Despite its cautionary statement on broadcasting information on efforts to salvage Ukrainian heritage properties, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy recently rolled out a website where those who have witnessed cultural crimes across Ukraine are asked to submit photo and video evidence. Lazare Eloundou, head of Unesco’s World Heritage Centre, reported that the agency was increasingly receiving reports about the destruction of cultural heritage in several cities, and that its officials were working closely with local cultural professionals to develop an “action plan.”