UN-backed volunteers scan Ukraine's historical sites with high-tech laser gear to preserve them amid war - ABC News

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UN-backed volunteers scan Ukraine's historical sites with high-tech laser gear to preserve them amid war

ABC News - Posted Sun 2 Jul 2023 at 6:59pm
Volunteers setting up a laser imager to scan the All Saints Church in Kyiv.
Emmanuel Durand (left) and Serhii Revenko at work with their laser scanner.(AP: Jon Gambrell)

Under the plaintive painted eyes of the holy, two United Nations-backed volunteers watch as a whirling laser spins across Kyiv's All Saints Church.

The laser takes a series of high-resolution photographs of the church, part of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra historic monastery, at a rate of a million measurements a second.

The images will be stitched together with navigational data to create a perfect three-dimensional rendering of the holy site.

A critical moment in time

The imaging is part of a project to preserve historic places across Ukraine amid Russia's war on the country.

Chiara Dezzi Bardeschi, who oversees Ukraine for UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency, says the moment is critical.

"If it's not protected now, we really risk that this heritage is lost forever," she says.

Since Russia launched the war in February 2022, at least 259 cultural and historic sites have been damaged by the fighting, according to UNESCO.

Many statues across the country remain surrounded by sandbags or scaffolding to protect them from air strikes and other attacks.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is pouring money and the donations of Western nations backing it into its military, trying to claw back more territory as the summer fighting months begin.

That leaves little money for preserving historic sites.

Ukraine's heritage sites have already faced many past cycles of destruction. The country has been under the control of Tsarist Russia, the Nazis during World War II, and the Soviet Union in the decades after.

Two volunteers set an imager up on a tripod to scan the walls of the All Saints Church in Kyiv, Ukraine.
The extremely precise laser imager will capture every detail inside the church.(AP: Jon Gambrell)

'At least we would have this digitalisation'

That's where the work of Emmanuel Durand, a French engineer based in Geneva, and Serhii Revenko, a Ukrainian architect, comes into play.

The two UNESCO volunteers use a donated Zoller & Fröhlich Imager 5010X device to scan the All Saints Church, built between 1696 and 1698.

The device has two rectangular boxes connected by a high-resolution, rapidly spinning camera in the centre.

Together with required software and supporting equipment, the imager costs about $US70,000 ($100,000).

The camera captures the insides of the church so closely that even the textures of the brushstrokes will be recorded.

"If due to the war, the church would be bombed in the next week or next month, it would be terrible, of course," Durand says.

"But at least we would have this digitalisation and it would help a lot in rebuilding the church."

The danger of losing heritage sites is real, as Revenko knows too well.

He earlier shot 3D images of the Library of Youth in Chernihiv, about 130 kilometres north-east of Kyiv.

The 120-year-old library was targeted by a Russian air strike on March 11, 2022.

3D imaging shows the massive hole torn into the side of the building, as well as the depth and power of the bomb that struck it.

The images can be vital for historians, prosecutors or investigators who later want to see such scenes long after any repairs.

Destroying culture as a way of waging war

"This is important to preserve because what the enemy and the Russians are trying to destroy is who we are and what our identity is," Revenko explains.

"Our identity really is the heritage and culture that we can preserve and give to the next generation."

The men began their work at the All Saints Church in part because of its relative safety during the war.

The monastery's gates bear the blue shield emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention, in theory providing the site with the protection of international law.

But it is only a few kilometres from Ukraine's presidency and other buildings in Kyiv that could be targeted.

Kyiv has come under repeated missile and drone attacks by Russia in recent weeks.

Two men with a ladder wrapping an outdoor statue using tape and fabric.
Workers wrap a statue to protect it in case of possible shelling in Lviv in March 2022.(Reuters: Pavlo Palamarchuk)

Russia's embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment about its targeting practices regarding historical sites.

Durand and Revenko also travelled to the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, far closer to the front lines, to create images of other cultural sites.

"As an architect, it's like rediscovering your country, really, and rediscovering your culture," Revenko says.

Durand also volunteered at the 2020 Beirut port explosion and the recent earthquake that struck Turkey.

Doing the 3D scanning in Ukraine offers him a chance to use his skills when people are in need.

"I'm not a doctor. I cannot go to Kherson or places and heal people. That's not my skill," Durand says.

"I'm not a good cook. I cannot give food, but I'm an engineer. I have this 3D skill and other structural assessment skills that I give."


Posted 2 Jul 2023

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