New ‘Monuments Men’ brave war-torn Ukraine to protect art from Mad Vlad

As Hitler’s tanks rolled across Europe, a band of Allied heroes was tasked with saving important cultural and historical objects from being stolen by the Nazis.

The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program – better known as the Monuments Men – saw servicemen and women join forces with civilians including scholars and museum curators.

Nazi thieves had been systematically looting artefacts, sculptures and priceless paintings to haul back to their evil leader’s planned “Führermuseum” or to fill the private collections of Hitler’s henchmen such as Hermann Göring.

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The World War Two mission to safeguard European history and art was brought to the silver screen in 2014 film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.

Some 80 years on from The Third Reich pilfering museums, galleries and castles, a new team of Monuments Men are protecting Ukrainian art, culture and history from “Mad” Vlad Putin and his rampaging Russian army.

Tech task forces Skeiron, based in Lviv, and Luxembourg outfit Artec 3D have teamed up to create “digital twins” of artefacts, statues and historical sites and buildings.

Ukraine is home to a treasure trove of more than 140,000 objects of cultural heritage, according to the Council of Europe.

Grim reports reveal that – in addition to the horrific toll of Putin’s invasion on Ukraine’s people – cultural institutions, landmarks and historical sites are being targeted and destroyed daily and are at constant risk.

But with the help of Artec’s cutting-edge 3D technology, brave members are travelling across the war-torn country – including the front-line battlegrounds of Ukraine’s bloody counter-offensive – to scan important exhibits, artworks and buildings in precise detail.

Using its Leo scanner, the project is creating an archive of 3D replicas, right down to the exact dimensions, contours and colours of every piece, which will enable objects to be fully restored if they are damaged or destroyed.

It’s also making Ukraine’s unique heritage digitally accessible worldwide, with hundreds of artefacts and structures already available for people to view through the Google Arts and Culture platform.

Artec 3D CEO and founder Artyom Yukhin says: “Culture is what makes us human. We’re very proud that our technology is used worldwide to save and popularise cultural heritage – for restoration and more.

“But it’s different in times of war when there is a risk that something could disappear forever and we could lose cultural heritage and part of our history.

“In particular in Ukraine, Unesco reports show that the invaders target and destroy heritage on purpose – to erase the historical memory and value of this culture.

“They target civic buildings including museums, monuments, archives, schools, universities and libraries. We believe it is very important to preserve them at least digitally – anything lost can then be restored, rebuilt or at least a digital replica will remain.”

A spokesperson for the project adds: “Many civilians felt they needed a way to save the landmarks reflecting their identity.

“Keeping these treasures behind scaffolding or sandbag shields was just the start.

“Since the eruption of the war, Artec 3D and its partners in Ukraine have rushed to protect churches, museums, libraries, monuments and paintings as they continue to suffer irreversible damage.”

The team is appealing for donations of materials and equipment, and support from 3D scanning and photography services, to aid its mission. Supporters can also help by spreading the word with the social media hashtag #SaveUkranianHeritage.

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