There are still many uncertainties about the war in Ukraine, but whatever the state of the conflict, the long-term impact on its cultural heritage will be huge.
Quite rightly, many in the museum community have focused on the urgent need to support arts workers in Ukraine. While physical damage to cultural property is important, people must come first.
The challenge for many organisations and individuals has been finding the best ways in which to help in a chaotic and unpredictable situation. The Museums Association has been channelling funding through the national committee of the International Council of Museums (Icom) in Poland, which has set up a scheme to distribute grants to Ukrainian museum professionals.
Polish museums have been doing amazing work, with the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews staging cultural events and using the profits to provide meals for Ukrainian refugees staying in temporary accommodation in Warsaw. The museum’s restaurant has been preparing free hot food featuring Jewish specialities, and is delivering them to those in greatest need.
Icom Poland has also been acting to protect Ukraine’s heritage and culture. A statement from the organisation said: “The plundering and destruction of cultural property in our country assumed exceptional proportions during the second world war, culminating in the total looting and annihilation of Warsaw during the Warsaw Rising and immediately after its fall. No nation or state should ever suffer similar losses. Today, unfortunately, there is a threat of this happening to Ukraine.”
Icom Poland has been helping museums in Ukraine to keep their collections safe, as well as documenting the plunder and destruction of Ukrainian cultural property.
All this support for Ukranian refugees, museum staff and cultural heritage is fantastic to see, but we should not forget the plight of arts workers in other areas of the world that have been hit by conflict. How are those in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen being supported?
War devastates lives and destroys cultural heritage, and people deserve our support wherever they are in the world.