Ukraine's Territorial Defence Forces create new unit to inspect cultural monuments in combat areas

The press service for Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces (part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine) has reported that a new unit comprising both military personnel and civilians has been created to take care of the preservation of cultural heritage as part of a pilot project.

The unit will be deployed in areas where hostilities are currently underway and in grey zones, and will be tasked with monitoring damage to cultural heritage sites. The unit will be under the command of the Territorial Defence Forces. It will help implement the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

This pilot project aims to get experts involved in safeguarding and preserving cultural heritage sites and monuments located in areas that are currently overseen by the military, and assessing the extent of potential damage done to these sites. At the moment, museum workers, archaeologists, and cultural historians do not have access to such sites, while cultural heritage experts serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not currently have a mandate to carry out this work.

Cultural workers, who can accurately assess damage to cultural heritage sites and objects and take measures to preserve or evacuate such sites and objects, have been joining the new unit.

Ihor Poshyvailo, director of the Maidan (Revolution of Dignity) Museum and coordinator of the Headquarters for the Rescue of Cultural Heritage, is among those who have joined the unit. He explained the unit’s importance in a comment for Ukrainska Pravda.


"One of this unit’s goals is to gather evidence for the International Criminal Court. The military have to work with representatives of cultural institutions in accordance with their area of expertise," Poshyvailo said. He added that the new initiative gives civilians who have undergone appropriate training (in tactical medicine and handling firearms) access to the grey zone.

The latest numbers from Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture suggest that 1,702 cultural heritage sites have been damaged since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. "Collections that should be evacuated remain in many destroyed museums," Poshyvailo says. Civilian experts will now be able to help military personnel assess such sites and devise plans to safely transfer the collections to safer areas.

Poshyvailo adds that such units exist in many European armies: "NATO also has units like this. They’re called CPP [Culture Property Protection]. France’s equivalent of this unit is also active during peacetime, working alongside museum workers to devise emergency response plans. It’s also tasked with documenting events, recording the unfolding of historic events in the event of hostilities. They’re doing everything they can to preserve [cultural heritage]."

Experts from Heritage Monitoring Lab – a group of researchers, architects, historians and art historians researching crimes against cultural heritage during the Russian-Ukrainian war – welcomed the creation of this new unit. As of October 2023, its members have inspected 769 sites in 11 Ukrainian oblasts.

"We welcome this initiative as a group working to document war crimes. It’s very important not to stop at this but to grow this initiative and create a real CPP unit, so that [cultural] experts (architects, historians and archeologists) already serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces can transfer there. Civilian [cultural] experts would also be able to join this unit and carry out their work as part of the Armed Forces," says Mariia Zadorozhna, director of cultural criminology at the Heritage Monitoring Lab.

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