Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online: 1,000+ Librarians Digitally Preserve Artifacts of Ukrainian Civilization Before Russia Can Destroy Them

Before becom­ing a film­mak­er, Jean-Pierre Grum­bach par­tic­i­pat­ed in the French Resis­tance dur­ing World War II. It was then that he took the nom de guerre of Jean-Pierre Melville, under which he would lat­er inspire the French New Wave. Just as he nev­er made a film under anoth­er name, his work nev­er quite aban­doned the themes pro­vid­ed by his wartime expe­ri­ence in Nazi-occu­pied France, which comes through most clear­ly in his fea­ture debut Le Silence de la mer. Released just four years after V‑E Day, it tells the sto­ry of a Ger­man lieu­tenant bil­let­ed in a French house­hold, an admir­er of French cul­ture who holds forth night­ly of his antic­i­pa­tion of the “mar­riage” of the Ger­man and French civ­i­liza­tions.

The day comes for the Ger­man to make a much-antic­i­pat­ed trip to Paris. After wor­ship­ful­ly tak­ing in the sights of the cap­i­tal — the Arc de Tri­om­phe, Notre-Dame de Paris, the Mon­u­ment à Jeanne d’Arc — he meets with his Nazi supe­ri­ors. And so he dis­cov­ers, to his great shock, that what the occu­piers have planned is not a mar­riage but a demo­li­tion. “Do you think we’re so stu­pid as to allow France ever to rise again?” asks one of the oth­er offi­cers. “We have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to destroy France and we will do so,” says anoth­er. “Not only its might, but also its spir­it,” which requires the com­plete extir­pa­tion of all “works of cul­ture” — for “to con­quer, vio­lence is suf­fi­cient, but not to rule.”

81 years lat­er, the events of Le Silence de la mer have returned to mind. “Russia’s war on Ukraine has been an all-round dis­as­ter,” writes the Guardian’s Luke Hard­ing and Har­ri­et Sher­wood. “Its army has shelled dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed cities, killing hun­dreds. More than 2 mil­lion refugees have fled abroad in Europe’s biggest exo­dus since the sec­ond world war.” Ukrain­ian cities have set about hid­ing what pieces they can of their cul­tur­al her­itage: in Lviv, for exam­ple, these includ­ed “a pre­cious wood­en alter-piece show­ing Jesus, Mary and Mary Mag­da­lene. It was removed from Lviv’s 14th cen­tu­ry Armen­ian church and trans­port­ed to a bunker. The sculp­ture was last removed from its court­yard spot short­ly before the Nazis swept into the city in 1941.”

Such efforts are tak­ing place in not just the phys­i­cal realm, but the dig­i­tal one as well. Sav­ing Ukrain­ian Cul­tur­al Her­itage Online (SUCHO) describe them­selves as “a group of cul­tur­al her­itage pro­fes­sion­als – librar­i­ans, archivists, researchers, pro­gram­mers – work­ing togeth­er to iden­ti­fy and archive at-risk sites, dig­i­tal con­tent, and data in Ukrain­ian cul­tur­al her­itage insti­tu­tions while the coun­try is under attack.” This project involves “a com­bi­na­tion of tech­nolo­gies to crawl and archive sites and con­tent, includ­ing the Inter­net Archive’s Way­back Machine, the Browser­trix crawler and the brows­er exten­sion and app of the Webrecorder project,” and now has the help of more than a thou­sand vol­un­teers.

If you’re read­ing this, you may pos­sess the skill SUCHO needs. Though “we are cur­rent­ly at capac­i­ty for peo­ple to help with Way­back Machine / Inter­net Archive tasks or man­u­al Webrecorder tasks,” says their site, “you can still help by sub­mit­ting URLs” of sites con­tain­ing Ukrain­ian cul­tur­al con­tent. “If you can read Ukrain­ian or Russ­ian, or if you can run the Browser­trix crawler (check out our Browser­trix doc­u­men­ta­tion to see if it’s some­thing you’d be up for try­ing), fill out the vol­un­teer form.” (Even if not, have a look at their doc­u­men­ta­tion of their work­flow and ori­en­ta­tion for new vol­un­teers.) At some point, the vio­lence of the inva­sion of Ukraine will come to an end. When it does, the more of the coun­try’s cul­ture sur­vives, the less its invaders can rule.

Vis­it the Sav­ing Ukrain­ian Cul­tur­al Her­itage Online project here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ukraini­ans Play­ing Vio­lin in Bunkers as Rus­sians Bomb Them from the Sky

Pianist Plays “What a Won­der­ful World” for Ukrain­ian Refugees at Lviv Sta­tion

Russ­ian Inva­sion of Ukraine Teach-Out: A Free Course from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

Putin’s War on Ukraine Explained in 8 Min­utes

Why Rus­sia Invad­ed Ukraine: A Use­ful Primer

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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