Before-and-after satellite imagery will track Ukraine cultural damage, UN says | United Nations

The United Nations is using before-and-after satellite imagery to systematically monitor the cultural destruction inflicted on Ukraine by Russia’s war, announcing it will launch its tracking platform publicly within weeks.The platform, to be launched by the UN’s culture agency Unesco, will assess the impact on Ukraine’s architecture, art, historic buildings and other cultural heritage.An initial list found damage to 207 cultural sites since the Russian invasion began eight months ago, including 88 religious sites, 15 museums, 76 buildings of historical and or artistic interest, 18 monuments and 10 libraries.The worst-affected regions are in eastern Ukraine and around the capital, with Donetsk region having 59 verified damaged cultural sites, followed by Kharkiv with 51, Kyiv with 30 and Luhansk with 25.Satellite image provided by Maxar satellite imagery analysis via Unosat, shows the ‘Korabelny Palace of Culture, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on 4 February 2022, left, and the same site on 21 July 2022, right. Photograph: AP“Our conclusion is it’s bad, and it may continue to get even worse,” Unesco’s cultural and emergencies director Krista Pikkat told reporters at a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.“Cultural heritage is very often collateral damage during wars but sometimes it’s specifically targeted as it’s the essence of the identity of countries.”Unesco – the UN educational, scientific and cultural organisation – has joined forces with the UN satellite centre Unosat to produce the platform.Based on reports from the field, alerts from Ukraine’s culture ministry and findings from social media and other sources, Unesco sends a list of potentially damaged sites to Unosat. It then asks for satellite images from commercial suppliers.Unesco pays for the very high resolution images bought from Maxar and Airbus, costing about €10 ($10) a square kilometre.A small team of Unosat experts study the difference in before-and-after pictures.“We conduct daily analysis on Ukraine using satellite images in order to have a better understanding of the situation on the ground,” Manuel Fiol, the senior imagery analyst, told Agence France-Presse.The team matches up the images, analyses the degree of damage and is able to give a time window in which the damage took place.Whether an image can be obtained depends on the weather, with the work expected to become harder during the coming winter, as cloud cover sets in or snow blankets sites.This satellite image provided by Maxar satellite imagery analysis via Unosat, shows an Orthodox Christian monastery in Sviatohirsk, Ukraine, on 7 September 2020, left, and the same site on 25 June 2022, right. Photograph: APThe affected locations are marked on a map and the platform has a searchable database. The platform does not attribute blame for the damage.“We are not in the business of saying who did what and why,” said Pikkat. “Our primary responsibility is to make sure that we have information available about the sites and the situation they’re in, to be ready for recovery.”“But we know that in previous circumstances this documentation has been used also by the country authorities if they want to look into allegations of war crimes.”So far in the war, none of the seven world heritage sites in Ukraine have been damaged.