Serhii Telizhenko is a researcher with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU) Institute of Archeology, who is currently based in Kyiv. He is one of many archaeologists from Ukraine forced to watch the nation’s history be destroyed by war.
Since Vladimir Putin’s Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the impact on the country’s archaeological heritage has been devastating—countless precious objects and sites have been damaged or destroyed and museums looted.
Pavlo Shydlovskyi, a researcher with the Department of Archaeology at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, is working to understand what has been lost and told Newsweek the full extent of the damage remains unclear.
“The goal of Putin’s war against Ukraine is not only the seizure of its territory and subjugation of the Ukrainian people, but also the destruction of their identity, history and public memory,” he said. “For this reason, objects of cultural heritage have become a special target for the enemy.”
The main cause of damage is direct military operations at the front—which include rocket attacks, artillery shelling and mortar fire. “Such actions cause the most terrible damage to landscapes, and with it, to archaeological sites,” Shydlovskyi said.
The construction of military facilities and infrastructure, such as dugouts and trenches, have also scarred the landscape.
Furthermore, ancient structures like hillforts and mounds have been utilized on both sides, given that they are outstanding points on the landscape—useful from a military perspective.
“Barrows—or burial mounds—from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages, were traditionally built on the highest parts of the terrain, and, accordingly, now they are a convenient place for modern military facilities,” Shydlovskyi said.
What has been destroyed?
Archaeological sites in Parutino, Khortytsia Island, Shestovytsya, Chernihiv, Vyshgorod and numerous others in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions have been wrecked, Fedir Androshchuk, director general of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, told Newsweek.
Telizhenko told Newsweek priceless collections in the cities of Rubizhne and Severodonetsk in the eastern Luhansk region, as well as in Lyman and Mariupol in the neighboring Donetsk region, have been seriously damaged or completely destroyed.
In one notable case of archeological vandalism, the Russian military shelled a group of stone statues near the city of Izium, in the Kharkiv region, that date back to the Middle Ages, destroying a thousand-year-old female figure. The statues were constructed by the Polovtsians, a group of nomadic warriors from the Eurasian steppes who were an influential force in the region during the 11th and 12th centuries.
Shydlovskyi said the biggest issue for domestic archaeology has been the looting of museum collections. “The losses are incredible. Hundreds of regional local history museums were looted. Among the most famous are the museums of Kherson, Melitopol and Mariupol.
“The collections of the Kherson Museum of Local History, together with other museums of the city, were systematically transferred to occupied Crimea, which testifies to the large-scale theft of our heritage by the Russians.”
The Melitopol Museum of Local Lore was particularly notable for the presence of a collection of Scythian gold artifacts, traces of which have now been lost, Shydlovskyi said.
The Scythians were nomadic warriors originally from Central Asia who migrated to what is now southern Russia and Ukraine in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., establishing a powerful empire centered on modern-day Crimea. Skilled in the art of war and horsemanship, these ancient peoples are also known for their distinctive metal artifacts, made from gold, bronze and iron, among other materials.
The Mariupol Museum, meanwhile, kept unique archaeological collections, including artifacts excavated from the Mariupol Neolithic cemetery in the 1930s. The cemetery contained more than 100 human burials dating to more than 7,000 years ago, accompanied by an array of objects including stone tools and bone jewelry.
“The museum itself suffered a lot as a result of the fighting that took place directly in the city, and those exhibits that survived were looted by the occupiers—it is reported that the remains were transported to occupied Donetsk,” Shydlovskyi said.바카라사이트
Importance of archaeological heritage
Experts said the risks to the country’s archaeological heritage amid the ongoing conflict have profound implications for the future.
“Ukraine is already losing its archaeological heritage, which, at first sight, may not be as spectacular as say the pyramids in Egypt, but is also extremely important for humanity,” Telizhenko said.
“Destroying an archaeological site now may distort some aspects of our knowledge in the future. Information is to some extent a weapon that countries such as Russia are aggressively trying to use to justify their territorial claims. Archeology, as a historical science, helps in refuting such intentions.”
Archaeological expeditions in the country have largely ground to a halt since the escalation of the war and many international projects—which researchers in the country largely depend on—have been canceled.
“Undoubtedly, the brutal aggression of the Russian Federation had a negative impact on the conduct of archaeological research,” Shydlovskyi said.
Many practicing archaeologists in the country have been internally displaced, have fled the country—in the case of women and older individuals (men aged 18 to 60 years are subject to military mobilization and prohibited from leaving)—or found other work.
Several archaeologists have joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or the Territorial Defense Service “and are now defending our lives in different parts of the country,” Shydlovskyi said.
Despite the upheaval of the war, archaeologists who remained at their workplaces continue to write publications, participate in scientific conferences—primarily online—and teach where possible, while a small handful of research expeditions have taken place in 2022.
As the war continues, the focus of archaeologists in the country has shifted to collecting information about damaged or destroyed objects and sites, as well as the preservation of the country’s heritage.
Archaeologists have been monitoring satellite images and social networks, as well as data received from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to keep track of archaeological sites and the degree of damage they have suffered, Telizhenko said.
Rescue excavations have also taken place at some locations during the war, Androshchuk said.
“In order to know at least an approximate effect of the war on the archaeological heritage, it is necessary to start the process of recording the destroyed parts of the landscape,” said Shydlovskyi, who is among the experts involved in a public initiative aimed at preserving Ukraine’s archaeological heritage.
Monitoring that heritage amid the war—or conducting other types of research—comes with significant challenges, though.
“The front-line territories of the Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions are currently inaccessible for any field work due to direct threats to life and health,” Shydlovskyi said.
But even in the de-occupied territories of the Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv and Mykolaiv regions, work is significantly complicated by limited access in areas where the military and security services are operating.
“When carrying out work in the de-occupied territories, there is a significant danger of encountering mine barriers,” Shydlovskyi said. “There is also the danger of artillery and mortar attacks, and the infiltration of groups of saboteurs. This especially applies to the border territories of Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions, which are constantly shelled from the territory of the Russian Federation.”
Despite the efforts of archaeologists in Ukraine, there is often little that can be done to protect many historic sites and objects as the conflict continues to rage.
“The ongoing war shows that archaeological sites can’t be protected against the Russian threat,” Androshchuk said. “Russia does not respect international laws and negotiations.”온라인카지노