Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Monitoring Archaeological Sites & Monuments in a War Zone

Sergey Telizhenko

A project to monitor the condition of archaeological Sites & Monuments in the war zone of the Luhansk region (Eastern Ukraine) was organized by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) and the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). Our team was composed of myself,  Sergey Telizhenko (Institute of Archaeology NAS of Ukraine), Olexii Bida (UHHRU), Dmytro Koval (Odessa National Academy of Law), and Natalia Kaplun (Luhansk regional museum). The team was augmented by two members of the IPHR group. Together, we worked to gather evidence of artillery shelling of Ukrainian cultural assets and catalogue other damage such as the digging of military trenches, and assess from which group of combatants (Russian or Ukrainian) were responsible for particular damage.

For our mission, we chose three districts of the Luhansk region – Stanichno Luhanskii, Novoaidarskii, and Popasnianskii. Also we visited the city of Lisichansk where a large barrow (6m in diameter) is situated in the heart of the downtown area.

Our team has examined some 30 different archaeological sites. Of these, 15 had sustained some form of damage, including nine that were the direct result of military actions. For example, in the districts of Novoaydarskii and Popasnianskii several barrows were used as shooting ranges, and in some cases fresh pits were visible in the tops of the barrows. A number of barrows near the city of Toshkivka were partially destroyed by the insertion of military trenches and scarps. A number of these barrows were hit with a variety of projectiles, including missiles fired from BM-21 “Grad” truck-mounted rocket launchers. The impact craters measure up to 3m in diameter and up to 1m deep. The conclusions drawn by our partners from IPHR was that the points of origin for the shelling was chiefly from the southeast, i.e. the territory occupied by Russian troops. As part of the process of evidence retrieval and documentation, we collected numerous parts of rockets and shells. Several barrows near the village of Kamyshevaha (Popasnianskii district) were shelled with heavy ordnance. Here too, the resulting craters are deep and caused extensive damage. The multi-period site of Kapitanovo-I was shelled from the south-east. Factory identifications on several of the recovered portions of rockets indicate that the shells were fired from a BM-21 “Grad”. On the disturbed surface at Kapitanovo-I our team recovered a clay figurine dating to the Copper Age. The multi-period site at  Zanivske-I, which I have worked on since 2000, was also hit, but only once. In the shell crater on the site we are recovered a Late Neolithic flint flake.

Part of the project include a series of interviews with the local populations. It was from them we learned that some of the Bronze Age and Medieval settlements in left bank of the Siversky Donets river are seeded with explosive mines. This information was backed up by the Ukrainian military, who advised against surveying these sites, many of which were in areas held by Russian troops, over fears for our safety. We also noted that the regional government has done little to detect and prevent the destruction of archaeological objects in areas that are away from the immediate war zone (gray area). We observed fresh holes dug by treasure hunters on the tops of almost every barrow we surveyed. The previously mentioned large barrow in downtown Lisichanskhas been severely pitted by treasure hunters and has been used as a local dumping ground.

In the city of Lisichansk we were particularly surprised to record the destruction of many late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings. This is an area that has been relatively free of military activity and the selective destruction of these buildings appears quite illogical.

We also visited the museum in Stanichno Luganskaya, currently among the towns most exposed to attacks. This museum was directly shelled on several occasions from BM-21 “Grad” vehicles, when the local population sheltered in its basement. Portions of the museum’s collections were also stolen during the fighting.

The findings of our mission are currently being written up and will be presented in a special report.

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Below: Barrows near Toskivka, Popasnianskii district, showing various excavated trenches, escarpments, shell craters, and recovered military fragments.









Novoaidarskii district. Shooting range on the barrow:



Shell crater on multiperiod site Zanivske-I:

Part of flint blade and parts of shell from Zanivske-I:

Barrow in Lisichansk city:


Shell damage on the wall of the museum in Stanitsa Luhanska:

Building opposite the museum:

Museum after shelling:

New "artefacts". Rockets fired from a BM-21 "Grad":

Room on the second floor of museum after shelling:

Destroyed school opposite the museum:

House after shelling in Valuyske village near stanitsa Luhanska:

Military debris from barrow surface, near Vrubivka village, Popasnianskii district:


Shell craters adjacent to barrow near Kamyshevaha village, Popasnianskii district:


Fragment of rocket fired from BM-21 "Grad", recovered from adjacent to barrow near Toshkivka:

Old architecture of Lisichansk city: