LOCATION(S): Ukraine

Since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI) has worked with the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab (CHML) at the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Center for International Development & Conflict Management (CIDCM) at the University of Maryland to monitor and document the destruction of Ukrainian cultural heritage. The 1954 Hague Convention, to which both Russia and Ukraine are member states, categorizes the intentional destruction of cultural heritage during armed conflict as a war crime; credible documentation of such acts is crucial to eventually holding the offending parties accountable.

The team monitors over 28,000 cultural heritage sites in Ukraine, including museums, memorials, monuments, places of worship, libraries, and archaeological sites, and has identified potential damage to 1,595 of them as of January 2023. Potential damage to these sites is identified using remote sensing technology that recognizes unusual infrared signatures that are not in proximity to an agriculture fire, and are therefore indicative of armed conflict. Damage is additionally confirmed through the analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery, review of open-source news and social media, and site visits from a team of Ukrainian heritage experts trained in forensic documentation. Reports and findings are regularly published through the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Conflict Observatory, a central hub to capture, analyze, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. Between February 2022 and January 2023, analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery and open-source research have confirmed damage to 309a of the 1,595 cultural heritage sites with potential damage.