A blown-up Russian tank near Kyiv, a monument for Ukrainian writer Borys Hrinchenko, and an apartment building destroyed by artillery are among hundreds of landmarks, cultural sites, monuments and everyday things that Ukrainian civilians have 3D scanned on mobile phones through an app called Polycam.
CNN reports that the project, launched in April shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, aims to digitally preserve the country’s cultural heritage — far from the reach of Russian attacks. The app’s software generates a detailed model from 3D scanning data that will form a digital archive as part of an initiative called Backup Ukraine. The scans are high-quality, and can be projected in a physical space to explore for educational purposes and also be used to reconstruct destroyed cultural artefacts.
Backup Ukraine is the brainchild of VICE’s creative agency, Virtue Worldwide, which partnered with Blue Shield Denmark, a group that helps to protect global cultural heritage sites, and the Danish UNESCO National Commission.
“What we wanted to fight against was the wilful destruction of Ukrainian heritage as an act of terror, of national intimidation. That has been proven very, very real,” said Tao Thomsen, creative director at Virtue Worldwide and co-creator of Backup Ukraine.
Ukrainian cultural landmarks suffer fresh blows as another museum is hit
Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture has documented 367 war crimes against the country’s cultural heritage as of May 27, including the destruction of 29 museums, 133 churches, 66 theatres and libraries and a century-old Jewish cemetery, according to its website.
With Backup Ukraine, for the first time in history a country’s artefacts are being documented in augmented reality during an ongoing war, a precedent that has sparked conversations about how this technology can be used in other countries experiencing conflict or war. The team is also exploring the possibility of creating 3D models of destroyed churches and buildings that haven’t been scanned, using digital footage from the past.
“We’ve created a precedent here in terms of protecting cultural artefacts and a model, a system that people can use going forward as conflict develops,” said Iain Thomas, group creative director at Virtue Worldwide and co-creator of the project.
“One of the more amazing things is that people are scanning monuments, statues and sculptures, but they are also scanning small aspects of their lives — things they own, value and cherish,” Thomas said.
Backup Ukraine grows into movement
The Backup Ukraine team is onboarding local project managers to “slowly hand over ownership to the Ukrainians themselves,” and 150 people have joined as volunteers, scanning up to 10 pieces of culturally relevant heritage each day, Thomsen said. Since its launch, over 6,000 people in Ukraine have downloaded the Polycam app to access the digital archive.
The 3D scanning of Ukraine’s cultural heritage is a “fantastic educational tool,” said Yuri Shevchuk, a professor of the Ukrainian language at Columbia University.
“What is being done now is almost like making Ukrainian history undeletable, resistant to time,” said Shevchuk, a Ukraine native. “You can use this as education for students but also for Ukrainians themselves and the world. The project also causes us, as Ukrainians, to rethink and rediscover what has been largely unnoticed.”
See the full story at cnn.com.