On 17-20 May 2023, the ICOM Head of Heritage Protection Department travelled to Lviv, Ukraine to represent the museum community at the conference Cultural Heritage Crime: In Wartime and Beyond.
The event was organised by the European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM) – Ukraine, with the aim of bringing together international experts to discuss and share ideas and experiences on best practices for the investigation and prevention of crimes against cultural heritage in Ukraine.
Delegates represented a diversity of fields – from security and judicial authorities to museums and cultural institutions – who discussed the legal frameworks, operational approaches, and international and local responses to cultural heritage crime. The conference aimed to alert and inform authorities from the political, security, judicial, and cultural spheres about the risks faced by cultural heritage in Ukraine, and highlighted the importance of cooperation, coordinated efforts and information exchange at national and international levels for its effective protection.
Significantly, the conference also took place during International Museum Day 2023. This year’s theme, “Museums, Sustainability and Wellbeing”, which centered on the transformative potential and essential role that museums play in the wellbeing of our communities, was particularly pertinent for the museum community in Ukraine. For the occasion, the national committee of ICOM Ukraine designed a poster “Museums and War: Disappear or Become Shield”, with the view to highlight the central role that museums play in “shielding their collections and communities” from the risks posed by the war.
Further underscoring the role that museums are playing in the Ukrainian communities and the protection of Ukrainian identity, the ICOM Head of Heritage Protection Department met with the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy, the Chair of ICOM Ukraine, the Vice-Chair of the ICOM Disaster Risk Management Committee and other board members of ICOM Ukraine. During the exchange, the group discussed actions that have been undertaken by Ukrainian museum teams to evacuate and save collections, secure museum buildings, and ensure the safety of their employees, as well as and ongoing actions for protecting cultural heritage both during and after the war.
The conference was also an opportunity for further awareness-raising and diffusion of the ICOM Emergency Red List – Ukraine, especially in the presence of international experts, Ukrainian authorities, and international partners, such as the European Union, INTERPOL and World Customs Organisation (WCO). Indeed, the continued diffusion of the Red List at events such as this further reinforces its importance as tool for the fight against the theft, looting, and illicit trafficking of moveable cultural heritage in Ukraine.
As underscored by both the EUAM conference and the concurrent International Museum Day museums and cultural heritage are essential elements of support for communities. ICOM firmly believes that both local and international cooperation is essential for targeting the illegal movement of cultural heritage and preventing the destruction and erasure of identities and memories and hopes that its tools and actions will continue to aid people from across all spheres to protect cultural heritage and act in solidarity to preserve the cultural heritage of Ukraine.