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Ukrainian heritage is in peril. The Smithsonian hopes to rescue what it can

Rubble and a damaged vehicle is seen across the street from the Kyiv TV Tower on Wednesday.
Chris McGrath
Getty Images
Rubble and a damaged vehicle is seen across the street from the Kyiv TV Tower on Wednesday.

As more than one million people flee Ukraine during Russia's invasion, they leave behind cultural and historical touchstones at risk of being destroyed. The Smithsonian has announced an initiative to help save and preserve them.

"The beauty of Ukraine's art, architecture, literature, and music has flourished for decades; its museums are some of the most revered in Europe," said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch in a statementThursday. "If we are to attain a time when people of all cultures, faiths, and nationalities can peacefully coexist, we must first understand ourselves and each other."

Ukraine is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Saint-Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. Also in the city is the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, dedicated to the nearly 34,000 Jews killed by Nazis in 1941. A TV tower next to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center was struck by a projectile earlier this week, reportedly killing five people.

The Smithsonian says its Cultural Rescue Initiative is in touch with people in the country who specialize in preserving cultural heritage in times of crisis. The program has worked in Iraq, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, rescuing and restoring cultural items after natural disasters and military occupations.

"When we lose irreplaceable history and culture, it is a profound loss to us all," read the statement from Bunch. "If we instead work together to celebrate, share, and protect cultural heritage, we are ensuring the triumph of our humanity."

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.