“It is too early to talk about rebuilding Ukraine”

Kateryna Goncharova has been the representative of the NGO World Monuments Fund (WMF) in Ukraine since 2022. She is a specialist in heritage protection issues.

What were the activities of the WMF in Ukraine before February 2022?

There were already projects in Ukraine, as eight sites were included in the “World Monuments Watch” list, including the Odessa Synagogue, which is part of the Jewish heritage protection program. The WMF had also financed the rehabilitation of a synagogue in Lviv, but these projects were not part of an overall vision of heritage rehabilitation. At the start of the Russian invasion, the WMF put out a call for candidates to run the Kiev office because $500,000 had been raised for actions in Ukraine thanks to the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation (based in New York). I applied and was chosen for this position where I can continue my work in the service of heritage. And this foundation has just committed an additional $1 million over two years.

Who are your main international partners? Are these public or private institutions?

Our partners are most often international organizations and NGOs, or American foundations, but we also work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands through another NGO. And we are working above all with the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, an American public operator, on three projects: the Black House of Lviv in the historic heart of the city; the Teachers' House in kyiv which was the seat of the Ukrainian Parliament at the beginning of the 20th century; and a damage assessment mission. This mission is fundamental because, until now, institutions assessed the destruction remotely, using satellite images. We are now financing field evaluations by our Ukrainian partners, with experts from several disciplines. This mission concerns five regions (Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Dnipro). We had already intervened in the regions of Sumy, kyiv, Chernihiv and also Kharkiv with the Smithsonian Institution. This mission will make it possible to create a database on the destruction of heritage, and to write a manual with recommendations for assessing damage during a conflict and not after, which is unprecedented. Finally, this mission will make it possible to set priorities for rehabilitating certain sites. It was this type of assessment that allowed us to secure the youth library in Chernihiv after bombings, reducing costs by 20%. To date, the total amount of funds collected for Ukraine by the WMF is $2.5 million in two years, part of which has already been spent.

How do you define priority regions or sites?

The main criterion is that the site must be affected by military action, so sites in western Ukraine are fewer. However there have been at least two sites hit by missiles near Lviv, and we are in discussions with local partners. We are looking closely at sites in the Zhitomir region, and generally speaking, as long as the missiles are falling, we cannot focus only on sites near the front. Even in the so-called “liberated” areas of the center of the country, it is difficult to plan long-term projects because there are permanent risks. In Sumy we are working in a regional museum which must be stabilized, but given the situation we must not only protect the museum but also the people who work there. It is therefore not quite “decreeing priorities” but assessing the damage on a case-by-case basis in a country where the entire territory is in danger.

Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities and Youth Library of Chernihiv after the bombings in 2022.

© Oleksandr Kucherov

In Europe and the United States, we are starting to talk about rebuilding Ukraine: do you think this is premature?

Governments and cultural institutions are used to intervening in times of peace, so for the moment the WMF remains very cautious on this subject. In the first months of the war, we wondered whether we should start working on architectural projects, medium- and long-term projects, lasting at least six months. After discussions with Ukrainian experts, we concluded that, given the scale of the damage to heritage, we had to start intervening without waiting for the end of the conflict. This is what we did in Chernihiv, at the youth library which had to be secured for the winter period, in particular the roof and part of the walls. We consulted experts and local authorities to preserve the building's neo-Gothic style while strengthening its structure. It was the first project of this scale in Ukraine, and it was even cited as an example in the Ukrainian Parliament! We then intervened in historic libraries in Kharkiv and kyiv whose roofs had been hit by the blast of an explosion. But regarding complete reconstruction projects on cultural sites, I think it is still too early to talk about it: we need a long-term vision, over at least two years, of the situation in Ukraine and internationally . At the start of the invasion, we could only plan for one or two weeks, due to the intensity of the fighting. Then we moved to a month, or even two, and the projects multiplied: today we plan for around six months. For large-scale restorations, for example replacing all the wooden frames in a museum, you will have to wait until the end of the war.

Similar Posts