Top European award for experts’ work to preserve vulnerable Ukrainian heritage

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Experts in Ukrainian history and culture at the University of St Andrews have been awarded one of Europe’s top heritage awards for their work to preserve vulnerable archive collections in Ukraine.

The ‘Un/Archiving Post/Industry’ project, led by Dr Victoria Donovan and supported by PhD student Viktoriia Grivina from St Andrews’ School of Modern Languages, in partnership with the Centre for Urban History in Lviv, Ukraine, was the only UK-Ukraine collaboration to submit an entry in the Europa Nostra Awards 2023.

Dr Donovan’s collaborative work led to the creation a vast digital archive of endangered industrial heritage materials from the East of Ukraine, including the partly occupied Donbas region. This important work has proved timely and invaluable, as originals of many of the digitised materials have since been looted or destroyed by Russian armies waging war against the country.

Digitise images

The work to digitise the materials, which include press photos, family albums and home movies, involved close collaboration with Ukrainian communities. The collections are now preserved for future generations and have been returned to local museums from Mariupol, Donetsk and Pokrovsk.

Dr Donovan said: “We digitised collections from the Mariupol Local History Museum (now looted and displaced to Donetsk), the Pokrovsk Local History Museum, and the Donetsk Regional Museum of Local History (displaced to Kramatorsk already in 2014), all of which are now under existential threat.

“Approximately 30,000 photo negatives and 82 film reels were digitised, encompassing press photo collections from the Soviet 1940s to the post-independence 1990s, company archives, family albums, home movies and amateur films.

“We worked with local communities in Ukraine and the UK at every stage of this project. We engaged high-school students, former and current industry workers, educators, artists, and refugees.

“Digital copies of the materials were returned to local museums and individual contributors in Ukraine, while local communities actively participated in contextualising and presenting their materials, shaping the way that their family archives were understood by outsiders.

“This unique historical archive will help future generations of educators, filmmakers and activists tell the story of this historically rich and conflicted region.”

The project also helped create connections between Ukrainians facing the destruction of their cultural heritage and communities in post-industrial regions of the UK, namely Ebbw Vale, Durham, and West Lothian in Scotland, through workshops that addressed their shared challenges and experiences.

Dr Donovan, together with St Andrews colleagues Dr Diana Vonnak and Dr Leyla Sayfutinova, worked in these former coal, oil shale mining, and steelmaking communities to explore historic connections between the UK and Ukraine. By highlighting the shared experiences and challenges faced by these regions today, the researchers succeeded in telling the history of industrialisation and post-industrial transition in European rather than narrowly regional or national terms.

The Europa Nostra Awards 2023 recognise the outstanding achievements of 30 groups from 21 countries. Judges from the European Commission and Europa Nostra awarded funds in five categories: Conservation and Adaptive Reuse; Research; Education, Training and Skills; Citizens’ Engagement and Awareness-raising; and Heritage Champions.

Of the ‘Un/Archiving Post/Industry’ project, judges said: “This smart and multifaceted project has achieved remarkable success in preserving industrial heritage in Ukraine’s East. With an incredible amount of digital data, the ‘Un/Archiving Post/Industry’ project has developed an excellent archive that stands out in terms of its structure, data quality and searchability.

“The availability of this archive in Open Access ensures accessibility to a wide range of users. This is of even greater significance in the current context of the war.”

Dr Donovan and her colleague Dr Emily Finer have also recently been awarded UUKi funding to bring scholars and their children from Ostroh Academy, Ukraine, to St Andrews.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.


Project materials for digitisation at the Centre for Urban History, Lviv. Photo: Centre for Urban History

Oles Makhanets at the Centre for Urban History, Lviv, digitising materials for the project. Photo: Centre for Urban History

Ukraine delegation from University of St Andrews marches together with Durham Miners Association at Durham Pride, 2023. Photo: Victoria Donovan

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