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As Russia destroys cultural sites in Ukraine, civilians are building digital 3D models to preserve them

Business Insider US
A woman dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian national flag holding greenery lights a candle in the Church of St. Andrew the First-Called on June 12, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian citizens are conserving national landmarks by using their phones to make digital recreations. 
  • The initiative, called Backup Ukraine, is the first of its kind. 
  • There have been 367 war crimes documented during the war by the Ukraine Ministry of Culture.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

The war in Ukraine has ravaged cities from Mariupol to Kharkiv and reduced many buildings to piles of rubble. But a first-of-its-kind initiative launched in April called Backup Ukraine is making sure the cultural sites lost in the war will never truly be lost. 

Backup Ukraine, which uses technology from the app Polycam, allows citizens to upload scans of monuments, art, and  buildings to a digital library of cultural landmarks. 

The archive includes everything from historical buildings to children's action figures and Lego sets left behind in the rubble.

"What we wanted to fight against was the willful destruction of Ukrainian heritage as an act of terror, of national intimidation," Tao Thomsen, co-creator of Backup Ukraine, told CNN

Thomsen also told CNN the initiative has 150 volunteers who scan 10 cultural pieces a day. The project already has thousands of submissions.

"We advise people not to scan in areas where there is immediate conflict ... yet, people still go out by the dozens every day to scan. That to me proves that the national pride of this is a really strong driving factor," Thomsen told CNN.

As of June 8, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization verified damage to 143 sites in the country, including religious sites, historic buildings, and monuments. The Ukraine Ministry of Culture estimates the number to be higher, at 367. 

Most of the destruction, the ministry says, is concentrated in the Kharkiv region. 

According to rules set during the 1954 Hague Convention, it is against international law to target "movable or immovable property of cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments of architecture, art or history." In 2017, the UN adopted a resolution that made the destruction of heritage sites during armed conflict a war crime.

In June, Zelenskyy pleaded with UNESCO to expel Russian president Vladimir Putin from its membership with the organization.



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