As the tragic invasion of Ukraine unfolds before our eyes, the Smithsonian stands with the people of Ukraine during their most urgent time of need. As an institution, we are working on ways we can most effectively help, including developing plans with our partners to host displaced and at-risk scholars.
Compounding the humanitarian crisis is a threat to irreplaceable cultural heritage, abundant in a nation home to seven world heritage sites. The Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, including many works by noted Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko, has already been destroyed in the war. And a missile hit the site of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial outside Kyiv that honors the 33,000 Jewish people killed by Nazis there during World War II.
As a national and international cultural institution, it is the Smithsonian’s mission to help protect architecture, artifacts, and other objects of cultural and religious heritage from natural disasters, climate change, political instability, and wars. Our experts work with a large network of domestic and international museums, regional organizations, localized NGOs, and government agencies to preserve cultural heritage, resources we are bringing to bear on the ground in Ukraine.
Our Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI) is in communication with contacts in-country who have participated in previous First Aid for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis coursework. SCRI also continues its work with the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab, our research partnership with the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which is using geospatial information system data to assess damage to cultural sites. We remain in active contact with our interagency partners through the Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee chaired by the US Department of State and continue to facilitate the sharing of data and knowledge.
Cultural preservation is vital to the Smithsonian because culture itself is vital to our shared future. The beauty of Ukraine’s art, architecture, literature, and music has flourished for decades; its museums are some of the most revered in Europe. If we are to attain a time when people of all cultures, faiths, and nationalities can peacefully coexist, we must first understand ourselves and each other. Cultural heritage like that of the Ukrainian people helps us do so. When we lose irreplaceable history and culture, it is a profound loss to us all. If we instead work together to celebrate, share, and protect cultural heritage, we are ensuring the triumph of our humanity.
Lonnie G. Bunch III
Secretary of the Smithsonian
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