Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unleashed a major humanitarian and refugee crisis, with 4.2 million people fleeing into neighbouring countries and 6.5 displaced internally. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 18 million people are projected to become affected in the near future with the current scale and direction of the ongoing military violence. In addition to the threat to human lives, Ukraine’s culture is also at risk, as cities and historic buildings are being destroyed. In March, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed concern over the damage caused to historic landmarks in Ukraine and called for the protection of its cultural heritage. The following are some of Ukraine’s most prominent architectural landmarks, which are now in danger of being destroyed amid the conflict.
The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv dates to the 11th century and is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ukraine. The landmark is one of the few surviving buildings of the Kyivan Rus, the first eastern Slavic state and a testament to Byzantine art and architecture. The interior preserves a unique collection of 11th-century frescos and mosaics. Monastic buildings constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Ukrainian Baroque style surround the Cathedral making up the architectural ensemble of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, integrating underground buildings and structures of the 11th-19th centuries. Together, they are a testament to the cultural interaction between the Kyivan Rus’, the Byzantine Empire and Western Europe.
The Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans in Chernivtsi is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in the 19th century by the Czech architect Josef Hlávka is an example of historicist architecture combining Byzantine, Gothic and Baroque elements. The site comprises the former Residence of the Metropolitans with its St. Ivan of Suceava Chapel, the former seminary and Seminary Church, and the former monastery with its clock tower within a garden and landscaped park. The ensemble of buildings is now part of the city’s university.
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Ukraine is also home to numerous 16th to 19th-century wooden churches known as Tserkvas. While many are still located in rural areas across the Carpathian region, some have been relocated to outdoor folk museums near Kyiv and Lviv. These structures are a reflection of Orthodox ecclesiastic tradition and vernacular building knowledge. Featuring a tri-partite plan with octagonal domes and cupolas, the tserkvas are characteristic of the Carpathian region within Ukraine and Poland and an important aspect of the region’s architectural heritage.
Derzhprom, or the Palace of Industry, is a Constructivist building dating from 1928 and is currently on UNESCO’s tentative list of future heritage sites. Located in Kharkiv’s Freedom Square, the sprawling structure of 9 H-shaped, radially placed buildings is one of the largest structures in the world and the largest constructivist project ever built. The project features sky bridges and interior streets and is an expression of the avant-garde architecture. Freedom Square was bombed on March 1st, and the adjacent Kharkiv State Academic Opera, Ballet Theatre and Kharkiv Philharmonic were either destroyed or severely damaged.
The war threatens Ukraine's culture not only through the danger it poses to its artistic and architectural heritage but also through the disruption of education. The Kharkiv School of Architecture made the decision to continue its programmes and relocated its staff and students to Lviv. The school is determined to create a framework for the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and is seeking for international collaboration with European academic institutions and intellectual support from experts who could help consolidate knowledge and professional expertise within the country. At the moment, the university's goals is to equip the young generation of architects with the tools to properly address the post-war landscape.
Update April 7: World Monuments Fund announced the launch of a Ukraine Heritage Response Fund that aims to address the immediate needs of heritage professionals in the country in terms of equipment and supplies and lay the groundwork for future rehabilitation. With an initial seed grant of $500,000 from Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, the fund will help conduct damage assessments and on the long term finance restoration projects.
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