On 24 February, the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine raised strong reactions from all over the world.
Among them, the cultural heritage community strongly condemned this attack and expressed its concern for the threats to Ukrainian cultural assets. Cultural heritage is the patrimony of a community, it preserves and perpetuates its memory, values and identity. Destroying artworks, monuments, historic buildings and remnants of the past cancels with them the history and identity of the Ukrainians, adding an irrecuperable damage to the unacceptable losses of human lives and the distress of the population which is causing millions of refugees.
4CH, the European project in charge of setting up a European Competence Centre on the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, reacted rapidly and, after receiving a hearty approval from the European Commission, started an action to save the digital documentation of Ukrainian cultural heritage. Such digital documentation – consisting of digital texts, images, drawings, and 3D models – would be extremely useful to restore and, if necessary, reconstruct damaged cultural property and, in any case, to preserve and transmit to future generations the Ukrainian culture and history.
Considering the difficulty of operating in a war zone, we started setting up a network of direct personal contacts among members of EU heritage institutions and Ukrainian colleagues, still at home or in the EU. This way of silently acting was instrumental to overcome the difficulty of operating in institutions temporarily closed or busy with the physical preservation of artefacts and monuments, as witnessed by the famous picture of the Richelieu statue in Odessa covered by sandbags. We also wanted to avoid adverse interference in the data transmission and to protect the individuals involved in the action, both in Europe and in Ukraine.
On 3 March the network was operational, and the first transfers could start. Security system and a robust uploading procedure were in place. INFN (Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics), the 4CH coordinating institution, set up the necessary storage system, paralleled by a similar one in Poland at the Poznan Supercomputing Center and by analogous provisions at the University of Luxembourg.