An Appeal for the Protection of Life and Cultural Values in the Current Ukrainian Crisis

hrush protest
In the past few days downtown Kyiv has been turned into a battleground between pro-European protesters and government riot police (Berkut) supported by hired thugs who terrorize the protesters as well as the population of the city.

On the morning of January 22, ironically Ukraine's Day of National Unity, the riot police attacked the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine at no. 4 Hrushevsky Street, a building that houses the institutes of History, Literature, and Folklore, Ethnology and Art. Prior to the attack the first floor of the building had been occupied by the protesters, who had set up a makeshift hospital. Despite the earlier evacuation of the wounded along with the medical staff, the riot police and the thugs accompanying them felt compelled to break into the building, throw tear gas grenades, and subsequently trash offices on four of the seven floors of the building.

The institutes that endured this senseless attack possess unique collections of rare books and manuscripts, including manuscripts of the two most revered Ukrainian literary and cultural figures--Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko. Currently, the scholars working in the building have the support of the protesters in protecting the building. But with the clashes possibly resuming at any moment, and with fires burning in front of the building day and night, another attack or an accidental--or deliberate--fire in the building may result in additional loss of life and destruction of Ukraine's cultural treasures.

As scholars and administrators, working in the area of Ukrainian and East European studies, we mourn the loss of human life on the streets of Kyiv, condemn the use of force by the government of Ukraine against its population, and deplore the violence the official forces have unleashed. We urge Ukraine's political leaders to find a peaceful solution to the current political crisis, while addressing the underlying injustices and excesses that led to it. We appeal to all parties in the conflict to protect academic and cultural institutions as well as their libraries, archives, and art collections from damage and destruction. We hope that the political crisis will be resolved soon, and the political process restored. What cannot be restored are lost human lives and perished cultural heritage.

George Grabowicz, Dmytro Cyzevs'kyj Professor of Ukrainian Literature, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Lubomyr Hajda, Associate Director, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

Tymish Holowinsky, Executive Director, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

Michael Flier, Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Serhii Plokhii, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History, and Director, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

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