Ukraine’s rich heritage threatened by war

Protecting Ukrainian identity

On December 23, 2022, alone in my ghostly “Ukraine Hotel” in Maiden Square, I go down to the deserted reception. No one was there. I decide to walk through the snowy streets of Kiev’s sleepy historic district, confronted by the wrapped bodies of monuments…

Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, Ukrainians have been fighting to keep their territories but also to protect their Ukrainian identity. Faced with Putin’s desire to suppress the Ukrainian cultural heritage, everywhere in Ukraine cultural sites are destroyed (as for example Kharkiv, Chernihiv)

On this December afternoon, I discover the mummified city centre of Kyiv (Kiev) spared by the Russian bombings; volunteers have protected the monuments and especially the statues in anticipation of possible destruction. Many sculptures with symbolic meaning, testimonies of Ukrainian culture, are thus covered in the streets by sandbags or scaffolding. Sometimes I catch the heads of the statues emerging from the wrappings while their vulnerable bodies remain protected from the fury of war as do the soldiers in their bulletproof vests.

In order to preserve their cultural heritage, I become aware of the dilemma faced by Ukrainians: to keep their statues packed, even if they fall into Russian hands or are destroyed on the spot? Or to take them out of Ukraine and keep them, at the risk that they will be targeted by Russian attacks when they travel.

Christian Barbé
December 2022