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February 23, 2023

FocusOne year of supporting Ukrainian museums and their professionals

On the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine, ICOM condemns the loss of life and damage to cultural heritage that has been caused by Russia’s aggressions and expresses its strong support for colleagues in Ukrainian museums and their efforts in extremely challenging circumstances.

Over the past year, the ICOM network has come together to promote and support the safety and security of museum professionals and cultural heritage across Ukraine. As numerous cultural sites across Ukraine have been – and continue to be – endangered and damaged, it is important to both reflect on and remember that which the ICOM network has achieved together, and to continue to promote and support the safety and security of ICOM members, museum personnel and cultural heritage across Ukraine.

National Committees, International Networks

On 24 February 2022, the day on the invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine, ICOM released an official statement condemning the destruction and threats to cultural heritage in Ukraine, calling for relevant stakeholders to support museums and museum professionals. In a second statement issued on 9 March 2022, ICOM further recalled  the role of museums, culture and international cooperation in building lasting peace between nations. ICOM reiterates its expectation that all countries in the region abide by their obligations under the international conventions, in particular the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which they States Parties. The obligations expressed in this statement continue to be relevant and ICOM strongly advocates for adherence to ethical and legal obligations under international law and continues to encourage international support for museum professionals and collections in Ukraine.

The ICOM network and Ukranian colleagues mobilised effectively and international support came quickly during first weeks of the invasion. In order to support these efforts, the ICOM Secretariat dedicated its efforts to providing active and immediate support to Ukrainian museums and professionals during the attacks and remained in close contact with members both inside and outside Ukraine in order to understand what support other museums and museum professionals elsewhere in the ICOM network could offer their Ukrainian colleagues. In an effort to help streamline and target efforts, ICOM France organised the well-attended webinar Current situation of Ukranian museums: Initiatives already taken | Needs and Future Actions (6 April 2022), at which representatives from the ICOM Secretariat and members National Committees from across Europe discussed and reviewed initiatives. The importance of such coordinating meetings and the power of international collaboration were demonstrated when ICOM Germany, ICOM France as well as ICOM Austria and ICOM Switzerland all succeeded to mobilise their museums to send trucks containing packing materials donated to Ukraine by museums and institutions in their respective countries. Materials included storage boxes and crates, and archival grade packing materials, and fire extinghuishers, among others, and were distributed between Lviv and Odessa.

Financial support from the ICOM Emergency Fund was  also provided to ICOM Poland (who also launched a call for support) in order to establish a Ukrainian speaking office and start to locate Ukrainian museum professionals in order to help them. ICOM Latvia also worked on enhancing cooperation between Latvian museums and Ukrainian museum professionnals.

In order to further promote international coordination and collaboration, ICOM also supported the Network of European Museums Organisations (NEMO) call to collect and monitor support activities for Ukrainian museums. Indeed, the support from the museum community for Ukrainian colleagues has been wide and diverse. It has included: donations, offers to send material and equipment, temporary jobs and housing for Ukrainian museum colleagues, and emergency storage in case of evacuation outside Ukraine. NEMO’s initiative was particularly  welcomed as it gave high visibility to the numerous actions from the museum community.

These examples of collaboration demonstrate not only the effective mobilisation of the global museum community in solidarity with Ukraine to protect its cultural heritage, but also the way in which the ICOM network, in particular, can provide expeditious, efficient and important support for its colleagues and museums across the world. The ICOM Secretariat will continue to support activities such as these, and is acting as a conduit for its members to other actors and international organisations that can offer support.

Gathering Expertise and Coordinating International Collaboration

The outpouring of support from the international museum community  for their colleagues in Ukraine has also included knowledge-sharing. The ICOM Secretariat has worked to effectively coordinate and diffuse the expertise offered from within ICOM’s wide network. A session dedicated to “Heritage Protection Responses in Ukraine” was presented at the 26th ICOM General Conference in Prague on 21 August 2022. The Conference theme, “The Power of Museums” came to the fore during this session, which was widely attended by international museum professionals both online and in person (the room in Prague was at capacity!).

ICOM continues to partner closely with international foundations and organisations to steward support for its network in Ukraine. The Secretariat is in regular contact with the ALIPH Foundation and  UNESCO Secretariat in Paris to exchange information and develop and enact aid activities. ICOM has also been present at virtual meetings organised by Blue Shield International, Europa Nostra, and UNESCO, including the UNESCO coordination meetings and the specific Workshop on urgent needs for museums in Ukraine and the Workshop on the protection of documentary heritage in Ukraine (on 16 September and 3 October 2022).

The Disaster Risk Management Standing Committee (ICOM-DRMC) has also taken part in meetings in order to exchange available information about the situation in Ukraine, as well as some actions taken by the Ukrainian museum community such as the Heritage Rescue Emergency Initiative (HERI), which aims to preserve cultural heritage in warzones and its post-crisis recovery.

The participation of ICOM at these international meetings is essential for ensuring that the voices of the museum community and heritage protection are heard, understood and recognised as an important and necessary part of aid for Ukraine. To complement these international meetings, several national virtual conferences were also hosted by National Committees such as ICOM UK, who organised the Talks-Heritage in crisis: Ukraine – a forum that offers the possibility to share updates and information about new operations.

ICOM Emergency Red List – Ukraine

In April 2022, ICOM Ukraine expressed interest in the preparation of an Emergency Red List, and on 24 November 2022, ICOM launched the highly anticipated Emergency Red List – Ukraine. Brought to fruition in record time, ICOM Ukraine and Heritage Protection Department worked hand in hand with experts from 11 museums across Ukraine to produce a comprehensive list that will endure as a valuable tool in the fight against looting and trafficking of cultural objects from Ukraine. The list was welcomed by academic, museum professionals, law enforcement, governments, and private citizens alike, and ICOM continues to actively promote and work on the diffusion of the list.  To aid the global fight to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage, particularly as looted cultural objects begin to circulate, the Red List is currently being translated into Ukrainian and Swedish (the latter generously funded by the Swedish Varldskulturmuseerna (National Museums of World Culture), and these versions will be released imminently, both in print and online.

ICOM emergency red list Ukraine

It is important to maintain momentum and continue to amplify and diffuse the information that this Emergency Red List brings together. As such, ICOM, its members, journalists and academics are continuing to circulate the Emergency Red List, which has thus far been profiled by numerous news outlets, including The Art Newspaper, Heraldo, El Diaro, Le Quotidien de l’Art, France Info Culture, and most recently, Beaux Arts (January 2023). The Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods Twitter account is regularly updated with news on the reception and diffusion of the Emergency Red List, as well as other news pertinent to the situation of museums and collections in Ukraine.

ICOM Special Grants: Call for Projects to Support to museums and museum professionals in/from Ukraine

ICOM is offering a Special Grants round in response to the war in Ukraine and its impacts on neighbouring countries.

In August 2022, ICOM’s Strategic Allocation Review Committee (SAREC), opened a special call for projects to designed to support museums and museum professionals in and from Ukraine. After careful evaluation, six projects were selected for ICOM funding:

Through this initiative, ICOM has been able to provide support for projects that contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine.

 The Role of Museums, Culture and International Cooperation in building lasting peace

As the conflict sadly enters its second year, ICOM wishes to once again recall the role of museums, culture, and international cooperation in building lasting peace. In support of this, ICOM continues to amplify calls for support and coordinate international efforts to assist museum colleagues in Ukraine and urges the global museum community to join the efforts to protect heritage and advocate for culture as a means in building lasting peace. The ICOM network has demonstrated its solidarity for the Ukrainian people, as well as its capacity to react quickly, providing professional assistance to professionals in need.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Department of Heritage Protection at the ICOM Secretariat should you wish to advise the ICOM Secretariat about any contributions from ICOM Network to the solidarity efforts for Ukraine.


Note: this article does not present an exhaustive list of initiatives undertaken by ICOM National Committees but rather shows examples of different actions developped for in support of the Ukrainian museum community. For more information, please consult the websites of the various National Committees directly.