Polycam 3D Scans Preserve Ukraine’s Heritage Amidst Atrocious War
The war in Ukraine is grinding on into its fifth month and has been accompanied by the wanton destruction of Ukraine’s heritage and material culture including landmarks, cultural sites, monuments, and Ukraine’s historic architecture. Many of the destroyed buildings or buildings at risk of destruction predate the Second World War and even the USSR itself.
The popular 3D scanning app Polycam is being used to capture detailed 3D scans of this heritage before Russian missiles reduce them to rubble in a project that will help preserve these monuments for posterity.
The project dubbed Backup Ukraine seeks to preserve the wide-varying heritage that includes hundreds of landmarks, monuments, parks, playgrounds, and cultural sites. The initiative is also looking to preserve the everyday things prized by Ukrainians that have been scanned via the Polycam app.
Polycam generates a detailed 3D model of every scanned object. Once scanned, the generated 3D models will be permanently stored as digital archives.
The project was launched in April this year, slightly a month after the war began. It was initiated by Virtue Worldwide, the VICE creative agency, in partnership with Blue Shield Denmark which helps protect cultural heritage sites across the globe. The Danish UNESCO National Commission is also involved in the project.
Backup Ukraine creators say that the Polycam app produces scans of such superb quality that these can be projected through augmented reality on physical spaces for exploration and educational purposes. The scans can also be used in reconstructing the cultural artifacts that have been destroyed in the war.
More than 150 volunteers have participated in the Backup Ukraine initiative and they are scanning up to 10 culturally significant objects daily. The Polycam app has also been downloaded by more than 6,000 users who are accessing the archive.
The Backup Ukraine initiative also maintains contact with the Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative, an initiative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. There is also coordination with 3D scanning industry professionals to enable faster and larger scale scanning of the artifacts and heritage.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, the destruction of heritage as of May 27th was as follows: 133 churches, 66 theaters and libraries, 29 museums as well as a centuries-old Jewish cemetery.
The Backup Ukraine initiative is the first of its kind in an active war zone. It also serves as a precedent for the protection of cultural assets, a major breakthrough for the technology which has previously been put into more conventional 3D scanning applications.
Virtue Worldwide, the brainchild behind the Backup Ukraine project hopes that the Polycam technology can be put into use in scanning and digitally recording vulnerable pieces of heritage in other countries plagued with conflicts and wars where destruction of heritage is rampant.
Destruction of heritage has always accompanied wars from the past to the present, right from the Second World War to the Balkans War and the wars in the Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. In the past two years, a war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray was also accompanied by the deliberate destruction of cultural and architectural heritage in what experts described as cultural genocide.
Read more on the Backup Ukraine initiative here.