Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is an international volunteer initiative to safeguard the digital cultural heritage of Ukraine amidst the ongoing Russian invasion. Anna Kijas (Tufts University, US), Quinn Dombrowski (Stanford University, US) and Sebastian Majstorovic (European University Institute, Italy) launched the initiative on 1 March 2022. SUCHO quickly garnered the support of approximately 1,000 volunteers within the first week of its launch.
While the preservation of physical cultural heritage in Ukraine received considerable media attention, the vulnerability of digital cultural heritage became increasingly apparent. Digitized content and born-digital materials, including photographs and other files stored on servers, faced the risk of destruction or corruption during attacks or power outages. Even websites hosted outside of Ukraine were in jeopardy, if the websites owners were unable to meet their hosting expenses. Hence, the primary objective of SUCHO from the outset was to safeguard Ukraine’s digital cultural heritage, with the intention of restoring the preserved files and data to their original institutions after the war.
By June 2022, SUCHO volunteers successfully web archived over 50TB of data encompassing more than 5,000 websites. This vast collection offers a rich and diverse representation of Ukraine’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The archived websites span a wide range of institutions, from local museums, music academies and theatres to monasteries, archives, libraries and programmes dedicated to children’s and local history. In addition, SUCHO curated selected materials into a publicly accessible gallery, while also amassing a collection of war-related memes enriched with metadata for future historical research.
As a grassroots effort, SUCHO relies on the dedication of volunteers and the tools developed by the open-source community. The initiative has also forged critical partnerships with organisations and institutions providing technological and financial support. SUCHO also raised considerable funds to supply cultural heritage institutions in Ukraine with physical digitization equipment, addressing the urgent need to digitize objects at risk of damage or looting. Furthermore, it has facilitated the creation of training materials and compiled existing resources in Ukrainian or with Ukrainian subtitles, ensuring the effective use of digitization equipment during emergency situations.
Digital repatriation is a core value for SUCHO. The goal is not to create an archive of Ukrainian culture that can be studied safely in the west; we want to return this data to Ukrainian cultural heritage organizations in Ukraine when they are in a position to rebuild. SUCHO is only “data-sitting” for now while the war is ongoing. SUCHO is in touch with UNESCO and have been involved in early conversations around a future National Digital Library of Ukraine, which may be a good long-term steward for the data, if desired by the organizations whose websites SUCHO archived.