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Polish doc on Russian destruction of Ukraine’s heritage screened in Berlin

“Erase the Nation” is a documentary depicting the brutal and deliberate destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage by the Russian aggressors. It was screened in Berlin by the Polish Embassy in cooperation with the Embassy of Ukraine, the Polish Institute in Berlin, and the Pilecki Institute, as well as in partnership with the recently created office of the Ukrainian Institute in Germany.

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The event opened with a minute of silence to honor the two civilian casualties who died on April 25 as a result of Russia’s attack targetting an ethnographic museum in the city of Kupiansk, in the eastern Ukrainian Kharkiv Region.

The official part of the event followed, with Poland’s Deputy Ambassador to Germany Paweł Gronow, Ukraine’s Deputy Ambassador Maksym Yemelianov, and the director of the Polish Institute in Berlin Marzena Krępowicz among the speakers.

The screening was followed by a discussion on the threats to cultural heritage in war zones. Participating in the discussion were Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Kateryna Chuyeva, the documentary’s director Tomasz Grzywaczewski, Deputy Director of the Pilecki Institute in Berlin Mateusz Fałkowski, and Director of the office of the Ukrainian Institute in Germany, Kateryna Reitz-Rakul, Ph.D.

The role of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in supporting Ukrainian cultural institutions was heavily stressed during the meeting.

Furthermore, dozens of Polish museums, culture centers, libraries, and NGOs have extended assistance to their Ukrainian counterparts, as well as organizing cultural events, and exhibitions, and extending educational offers to Ukrainian citizens who found refuge in Poland.

Particular attention was paid to the Polish Support Center for Culture in Ukraine, which since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion has been engaged in organizing necessary assistance in safeguarding and protecting the cultural heritage of the beleaguered country from destruction brought about by the war.

Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Culture Chuyeva underscored the importance of Polish-Ukrainian cooperation, as well as the need to shift the current policies from crisis management to ones that would provide protection to people as well as artifacts and monuments when speaking about daily reports coming in about killed and wounded employees of cultural institutions.

According to Chuyeva, 1,200 Ukrainian heritage sites have been destroyed or damaged by the Russians according to recent estimates, and protecting archeological sites, especially those that remain to be excavated, poses a particularly daunting challenge.

She also said that the deliberate destruction of Ukrainian culture is meticulously documented in order to later serve as evidence, once Russia is prosecuted for the crimes against the Ukrainian nation before an international criminal tribunal.

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Tomasz Grzywaczewski, the documentary’s director, pointed out that the deliberate destruction of heritage sites and institutions of culture by the Russians is in no way different from what the Soviets practiced during World War II. He stressed, that the Russian forces are intentionally and some cases irrevocably destroying the multicultural heritage of eastern Ukraine.

Multiple times during the discussion, the destruction of Warsaw during World War II was referenced, as was the importance of testimonies given by the witnesses after the war.

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“Since the moment the war [in Ukraine] broke out, the Pilecki Institute established a center for documenting Russian crimes in Ukraine named after Rafał Lemkin,” said Deputy Director of the Pilecki Institute in Berlin Mateusz Fałkowski.

Rafał Lemkin was a Polish-Jewish legal scholar who coined and defined the term genocide.

“Witness testimonies are collected by our field staff in Ukraine, as well as in Warsaw, and even here in Berlin, from people who were forced to leave their homes,” he said.

“Erase the Nation” was produced by the Warsaw-based National Heritage Institute and financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

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