Wooden churches must be saved
There are approximately 2,000 wooden churches in Ukraine. They are unique monuments of national architecture, most of which have no analogues anywhere in the world. Eight of them are nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Many churches are in need of repair or restoration. Some are in a catastrophic state. But the state is reluctant to allocate funds for their renovation.
With every passing day, authentic monuments are becoming rarer in Ukraine. They are being destroyed by fires, parasites, and “restoration” with the use of plastic and other modern materials. Numerous instances of deliberate mutilation of ancient Ukrainian churches were also recorded. Thus, in churches belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), clergymen replace cupolas and other architectural details in order to make them look more like the Russian model.
Researchers of Ukrainian culture are very concerned about this situation. In order to look for solutions to the problem, the National Union of Local Historians of Ukraine has conducted two scientific expeditions to determine the current state of old wooden churches in Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk regions.
Based on these studies, scientists have developed a national program for the preservation and protection of sacred monuments in Ukraine. It envisages a complete inventory of wooden churches in Ukraine and ethnic Ukrainian lands outside the country; compiling individual preservation orders for each church; repair, restoration and conservation work on the shrines, their murals and icons by art experts; implementation of security-enhancing (including alarm systems) and fire prevention measures, and providing state support for the development of the nomination dossier for the joint Polish-Ukrainian submission of unique wooden churches of the Carpathian region of Ukraine [and an analogous region in Poland – Ed.] for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
According to Dmytro Stepovyk, a leading research fellow of the Maksym Rylsky Institute of Art, Folklore and Ethnology of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, we can not completely stop the destruction of wooden churches. Therefore, in addition to measures aimed at their preservation, we should also try to document them. If we will have scientifically accurate images of these monuments, they will live on even after their physical destruction. Stefan Taranushchenko’s study Wooden church architecture of Left-bank Ukraine, 1920s-1930s may be considered an example of such work.
Unfortunately, there are no eastern Ukrainian churches among those nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is despite the fact that the eastern regions, too, have many ancient wooden churches in danger of destruction. One of them is the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk region; in the past, Oles Honchar was among its defenders.
Heading for European integration, the Ukrainian government has to take better care of the nation’s shrines, experts say. After all, respect for the historical heritage of the nation and improving its international reputation is an important feature of a civilized country.
7 December 2010 The Day